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How do we close the gap between the skills people have and the skills companies need?

Many argue that there are not enough candidates with the high-tech skills needed for today’s economy. A recent PwC surveyfound that half of global CEOs are looking to hire again after years of headcount cuts, but 63% of those CEOs see the availability of key skills (or lack thereof) as the biggest threat to business growth – up from only 5% in 2013.

In the US, employment in STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math) fields is expected to grow 17% from 2008 to 2018, according toChange the Equation, a CEO-led effort to improve STEM education. This is compared to 10% growth for overall employment in the same period.

The solution seems obvious: students earn STEM degrees, companies hire them. The global economy improves.

But it’s not that simple. The cost of college has skyrocketed, limiting access to technical degrees. Few students are exposed to computer and technology fields from a young age, especially young girls. We need more direct pathways to promising careers in IT.

SAP has found one such pathway in the early college high school, a six-year program where students earn a high school diploma and an associate degree at no cost. Just this month SAP opened the doors at BTECH (Business Technology Early College High School), a school developed in partnership with the NYC Department of Education, The City University of New York (CUNY), and Queensborough Community College.

About 125 freshman students have enrolled in the Queens, NY school, which follows IBM’s acclaimed P-tech model. In six years these students will earn a high school diploma, internship experience, and an associate degree in engineering technology or business systems, with both majors tailored to entry-level development and sales roles at SAP. Students are also mentored by SAP employees and exposed to SAP products to prepare them to work with us or any of our customers.

The curriculum is designed to give students the skills to thrive after graduation. They take traditional high school classes in the morning and focus on business or technology courses in the afternoon. By 10th grade the students start taking college coursework, but soft skills, including literacy and critical thinking, are emphasized throughout. The final two years are spent at the Queensborough Community College campus and at internships with local companies.

The BTECH model shakes up the established education system in the US by truly emphasizing career skills at the high school level. Early college high schools aren’t going to solve the global skills gap alone – we still need many more education efforts, including e-learning programs like Academy Cube, investments in emerging economies, and efforts to boost the reputation and visibility of STEM careers among young people. But for every student that graduates from a school like P-tech or BTECH, the skills gap will get just atiny bit smaller.

Jennifer Morgan, President of SAP North America, will welcome BTECH students, parents, and staff at the BTECH grand opening event on Oct. 3. What will the Future of Work look like? Click here to get the latest curated content.