“The future is not going to leave the good people of Kentucky behind,” promised Naguib Attia, vice president of global university programs at IBM, in announcing a unique partnership with the University of Louisville on Wednesday.
University, federal, state and city leaders were on hand at UofL’s Miller Information Technology Center as UofL President Neeli Bendapudi with Attia introduced the creation of an IBM Skills Academy on campus.
Attia said the partnership with UofL is the first of its kind for IBM in North America and is modeled on similar efforts in Africa, where governments have learned that they cannot develop their nations if they do not train their people.
IBM will provide about $5 million worth of technology, faculty training and other services to the institution, though Bendapudi said that the “value of this relationship far exceeds this figure.”
The initiative came about after Bendapudi connected with IBM officials, including Attia, last year at a gathering of business and education leaders in Washington, D.C. The UofL president said she was invited to that event by the Louisville venture capitalist David Jones Jr.
Bendapudi called the new academy a “game changer” and said it would allow the community to bridge the digital divide that exists between the country’s heartland and coasts.
Classes will begin this fall in some of eight key areas: artificial intelligence, blockchain, cloud computing, data science, cybersecurity, design thinking, quantum computing and the Internet of Things.
Attia said that businesses already are struggling to find workers with the proper skills in many technology areas, and the gap between business demands and worker availability is going to increase in the next few years.
He said 2.2 million AI workers will be needed in the next three years, far more than schools are graduating. For places such as Kentucky to thrive in tech fields, they have to build their talent locally, because they cannot compete with the coasts on salary.
“The future of companies and the future of states depends on this movement,” Attia said.
IBM and other companies have to step up if they want to make sure that their future hires are equipped with the right education and skills to continue to drive innovation, he added.
Attia emphasized that he wants all students — not just those in engineering and computer science — to attend classes at the new IBM Skills Academy.
Bendapudi said that she wants all faculty to interact with tech and said, only partially in jest, that she may make members of the university’s board of trustees take courses.
UofL said in a news release that the academy would transform “how cultures and people will operate with digital technology, including ethics and human bias in coding.”
The academy will be housed in the newly created Center for Digital Transformation, which will be in Miller.
Though no government funds are involved in the project — other than those from the university — representatives from federal, state and local governments attended to voice their support.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the new academy aligns with the city’s focus on creating high-paying tech jobs. He said his administration hoped to quintuple the number of people receiving tech training, and the partnership between UofL and IBM could not come at a better time.
In a tweet, Fischer said: “To keep our economic momentum going, we need more engineers & scientists who specialize in software development, robotics, AI. @IBM Skills Academy at @uofl is the type of partnership great cities are built on. Great news for Louisville!”
Editor’s note: David Jones Jr. is an Insider Louisville board member and contributor.