Episode #15: An Interview with Naguib Attia on How IBM Helps Universities Prepare Students for the Workforce

It was January 2014 and Naguib Attia, Chief Technology Officer at IBM, was facing a difficult task related to a project in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). There  was a lack of talent in the region to deliver on a particular project’s objectives.

To address this challenge, he considered the following question: how can I take an individual and after just six months, prepare that person for an IBM career? Naguib convinced his senior level colleagues that he could leverage his background in academia and experience as a practitioner to create an educational experience that would deliver on this ambitious goal. 

As Naguib explained on episode 14 of the Informational Interview 2.0 podcast, the plan worked. He created a practical experience that not only developed the talent for this particular project in the MENA region, but also laid the groundwork for what is now a global educational initiative that has enabled IBM to address the skills gap in the marketplace. After 11 years as CTO of IBM’s Industrial Sector, Naguib was appointed VP of Global University Programs. As part of this initiative, IBM partners with institutions to provide technology, support research and create assets to advance relevant skills for today’s workforce. To date, 68,000 people have been trained worldwide.

“We want to take an individual from point A to point B – be a practitioner – in areas like data and cloud computing,” he said. “We provide background to understand the topic. We give them the opportunity to understand the tools of the field and we provide hands-on experiences.”

According to Naguib, IBM doesn’t replace faculty content, but rather complements it through a partnership. This could involve coaching faculty, embedding IBM’s content in existing curriculum and providing some 2,900 IBM subject matter experts who are available to be guest lecturers in classrooms around the world. 

“It is a matter of survival – companies need expertise,” he said. “What does the future of each country hold if you don’t have talent?”

As an example of impact, Naguib points to a university in Kenya in which the students earned their digital badges – credentials showcasing earned skills – even before their professors. The students shared with Naguib at a ceremony that the course experiences inspired them to take action and start a company around data security.

Regardless of what industry a student wishes to pursue, it is imperative that they have an entrepreneurial and innovative mindset. To develop this, Naguib advises that students “get outside of the box or curriculum. Explore the world behind the course title and collaborate with students across different disciplines. When you have this interaction, it creates the spark for you to innovate. The world doesn’t revolve around you; it revolves around the collaboration with others.”  

Learn more about IBM’s Global University Programs at the following link.

The Learning and Development Stories Podcast is brought to you by the Global Innovators Academy’s Workforce Development Partnership. Recent college graduate employees, new hires and/or young hi-potential talent conduct interviews with senior leaders. Based on that conversation, a short article is written and disseminated via different internal and external communications channels. This fosters meaningful mentoring conversations, knowledge sharing and employee engagement. Learn more at the following link.