Frankly Speaking - Adventures in Tech Apprenticeships

Episode 07 – The Secret to Finding Hidden Tech Talent

Episode 07 – The Secret to Finding Hidden Tech Talent

Six years ago, an idea was born on the back of a napkin in a New York restaurant. Instead of relying solely on the same talent pool of computer science college graduates, the IBM zSystems Ecosystem team decided to build its own. Meredith Stowell, Vice President of IBM zSystems Ecosystem at IBM, and her colleagues have been developing and growing the IBM Z Apprenticeship program ever since. 

“We had been doing apprenticeships in other areas for years and years and years, but not in IT. We wondered, how does this fit IT? And it does. It’s fantastic,” Meredith tells Cable Rose, host of Frankly Speaking.  

In this episode, Meredith and Cable explore the evolution of the IBM Z Apprenticeship program, where it started and how it has evolved to help hundreds of people develop IBM Z skills and been adopted by more than 30 IBM clients and counting. 

Meredith explains, We hit a challenge with all the administration, everything behind the scenes. We teamed with Franklin because Franklin has the deep skills and the deep knowledge of the best ways of recruiting diverse talent and the best ways of ensuring success for the apprentices… Having that Success Coach help them along the way, that’s what really ensures the overall success of the program.” 

Fast forward to 2023, and as Meredith explains the program is just expanding quickly. “Holy smokes, this thing is taking off. And not only are we doing this within the U.S., but we’ve taken this framework and we’ve leveraged it to go global. And so now we’re starting to see successes in Canada. We’re looking at Australia. We’re looking at Thailand, right? We’re going all over the world with this program.” 

For Meredith and the IBM team, it’s all about creating opportunity. By forging a new career pathway for people from any background with a passion for IBM zSystems, they are not only changing lives, but also future-proofing IBM zSystems for decades to come. 

“For anything to really be successful, you’ve got to have a vibrant, sustainable, diverse community surrounding it,” she observed. 


Meredith Stowell, Vice President of IBM zSystems Ecosystem, IBM

Meredith is the Vice President of IBM zSystems Ecosystem, helping to build skills and a strong community of partners. Her team works with clients, universities, students, professional developers and partners around the world to build critical IT skills needed in the marketplace by IBM and the broader ecosystem. She leads developer outreach activities including hackathons, meetups, and trial programs to increase awareness of the platform and build a vibrant ecosystem of solutions supported on the IBM zSystems and LinuxONE platforms. She has worked with a broad range of IBM software solutions and much of her background is in the analytics field where she has worked as a business analyst, enterprise implementation consultant, program manager, and leader for Business Analytics technical and sales enablement.

Transcript: Franklin Speaking, Episode 7, The Secret to Finding Hidden Tech Talent – with Meredith Stowell, Vice President of IBM zSystems Ecosystem, IBM 

[00:00:00] Meredith: 85 million jobs could go unfulfilled by 2030. That’s due to a lack of skilled workers. This is at a time when employee loyalty is a true growing challenge as well. What was interesting was the top primary opportunity that was called out was that need to expand your reach in mind for hidden talent and discover untapped skills and talent. I just feel that because we’ve got this program, we’ve got a proven practice, we’ve already had successes, and it’s just continuing that flywheel effect of building and building and building on each other. I think we’re set up for success for the future, particularly given the current environment. 

[00:00:43] Speaker 2: Welcome to Frankly Speaking, the podcast that explores how tech apprenticeships will really work. As a Franklin Apprenticeship Professional success coach, our host Cable Rose gives us an insider’s view from the real people and businesses who are using tech apprenticeship programs to develop the technical skills that the American economy so desperately needs. 

[00:01:10] Cable: Welcome to another episode of Frankly Speaking. I am Cable Rose. Your host, an Uber fan of all things tech apprenticeships. Today we have on our podcast, Meredith Stowell from IBM. Meredith comes to us. She’s the Vice President of IBM zSystems Ecosystem. She’s helping building skills and building a strong community here in the IBM Z realm. She works with clients, universities, students, professional developers, and partners around the world as she’s helping that critical IT skills that are needed in the marketplace by IBM and her broader ecosystem. Welcome to the episode, Meredith. 

[00:01:50] Meredith: Thank you so much Cable. As you know, I always love your enthusiasm, so I was thrilled when I was given the opportunity to join you on this. 

[00:01:58] Cable: Well, let’s talk about enthusiasm because if I’m not mistaken, maybe the world knows, maybe they don’t know. Would you tell us your role at IBM? What is it? What is the IBM Z community and what is it all about? 

[00:02:12] Meredith: Sure. I lead our ecosystem group, our global ecosystem group for IBM zSystems and LinuxONE. What does that mean? That means I get to work with partners all over the world who develop applications to run on our platforms. They’re ISVs, they’re global system integrators, there’s open source community. IBM zSystems and LinuxONE, these are infrastructure. They’re platforms. Think of them as very very large computers, very high performance computers that are really known for their uptime, always up. 

They’re known for their resiliency. They’re known for their scalability, so they can scale up very quickly. They are some of the most secure servers that are out there on the planet. These systems, they’re used for your banking transactions. Whenever you go and you get money out of an ATM, whenever you use your credit card, whenever you are out there making an airline reservation, anything that requires a lot of transactions and I mean billions of transactions and they need to be done in a millisecond, that’s what these systems do. 

These systems then have applications that run on top of them. I work with partners that build the applications that run on top of these systems. The other thing that I really get to do that I love is work on the talent pipeline for this platform. Building that future talent that’s really going to futureproof the platform and ensuring that individuals from all different areas have an opportunity to really work on this platform if this is their passion and what they want to do. 

That’s probably one of my favorite areas. Also, building a community because for any platform to be successful– Actually for anything to really be successful, you’ve got to have a vibrant, sustainable, diverse community surrounding it. It’s all about the ecosystem of ecosystems, it’s about the people that are working on the platform. It’s about people who are talking about the platform, but really it’s about bringing that community together. They have common interests and create that overall sense of belonging and sense of purpose for this community, so that’s what I do. 

[00:04:30] Cable: Meredith, there is no way you could come on a podcast and start with a nugget like that. Tell me this. Okay, that is huge. By the way, we talk about companies and we talk about company sizes and blah blah, blah, blah, blah. I don’t want to get into that, but IBM is the largest tech company on the planet, correct? 

[00:04:49] Meredith: Depends on how you look at it. I don’t know that it’s the largest that’s out there, but we definitely are incredibly significant. What I would say is IBM, it’s one of those companies that’s behind the scenes running companies that you’re more familiar with. If you’re at Walmart, or if you are, like I mentioned, financial services, almost every bank that’s out there that you might know of, and other businesses, we’re the machines and the systems and the applications that make it happen behind the scenes. 

[00:05:26] Cable: That’s huge. That’s no small feat. That’s no small role. I said, tell me about your role at IBM. Your role is the Z ecosystem of all of that. We have three things I really want to point out, the ecosystem you talked about, the applications with the partners in which you are bringing into that, we’ll call community now, and then the community of the people who are bringing the applications in, who are supporting that into the ecosystem for the people of the people, of the people. 

That was the big pictures. That’s huge. How do you start a podcast with those three things and say, that’s just what I do. It is. It’s one of the bigger conversations I’ve had on these episodes. One, I can’t just brush over that, I got to break it down a little bit. Do me a favor, we’re going to talk a little bit more about the ecosystem itself and then the people in the eco. 

We’re going to talk about your community there. Do me a favor. I have heard you speak and I have heard the story, but I would love to share your story with the world. Tell me about how this apprenticeship idea of supporting the people who are bringing the diverse backgrounds into your community to support your ecosystem, how it started on the back of a napkin. Can you share that story with us? 

[00:06:40] Meredith: I will. As with a lot of the technology field, skills and the need for skills for the future, it’s a top priority. Finding that talent and where are we going to get that talent and how are we going to build that talent, up until this point we’ve used a lot of the traditional paths. You go to university– The big companies that are out there, they’re going to go to the universities, they’re going to recruit the talent in those universities, bring them on board, and then get them started. 

Well, what if you need more talent than that? We’re sitting around looking to solve this problem. We were at a restaurant in New York City and there’s actually a veteran there. They’re like, “How can we get more veterans involved in this?” “How can we look at different ways to get more people involved in this?” Because we have to find the hidden talent. How do we find this hidden talent? Veterans are fantastic. What a great pool of resources that may be untapped. That’s where it started. 

It was on the backs like well, if we could do these types of programs and look at different ways of onboarding and different pathways to enable these individuals to work on the platform, what would that look like? What does the training look like? What does the mentoring look like? Where do we even go? How do we partner with communities? How do we fit into the overall workforce development initiatives? That’s what we ended up doing was really looking for those workforce initiatives that maybe the government was looking at. How can we leverage that? How can we go talk to universities or to community colleges or to coding schools? How do we bring that ecosystem together? That’s really where it started was how can we do this? We have an idea– 

[00:08:36] Cable: The what if, the idea, the back of a napkin idea, what does that look like? If I may, what year was that? That had to have been years ago. 

[00:08:43] Meredith: Oh my goodness. Well, it had to have been around maybe 2017, 2018. 

[00:08:49] Cable: Okay. We’re pre-pandemic. We’re pre-COVID. We’re looking at new non-traditional pathways to bring talent. I love the idea, what you said, there’s talent out there. I always talk about, we throw a net. We have this fishing net. We’re throwing this net into a much larger pool, into a much larger opportunity of more people because there are diamonds. I will tell you, we’ll probably share some of these stories. 

You have seen some of these diamonds in the rough that came out of nowhere that were some of the greatest tech talent in the last few years to join these organizations to come on board. You’ve seen them at graduations and you’ve seen the managers go, “Where did this person come from? Where did she come from? Where did he come from?” It was because you had that idea in the back of a napkin to say, “What would it look like?” Do me a favor, what does it look like? Now we’re five years later, what does that look like for– You said a couple things. What would it take, what’s it look like now for IBM, the ZDP, and the Z realm, your ecosystem for apprenticeships? What’s that look like? 

[00:09:54] Meredith: Well, I would say that we definitely iterated. We had a lot of experiments. We experimented a lot. When you experiment, one of the most important things is you need to have your clients, your end users involved. That was one of the biggest things that we did, was we definitely incorporated them and said, “Hey, here’s an idea that we have, what do you think?” “Do you think we should be looking at this?” They were on board 100% but every time we would get into the nitty-gritties of how you actually do it, we would hit a stumbling block of, “Well, we want this to be competency-based.” 

“Well, do we have all of the competencies defined?” “No, we don’t have all those competencies defined.” What we know we have is a whole bunch of education that’s out there. It’s not all necessarily the same. What if we go and talk to all of the clients or a large portion of clients and find out what is it that they need? What do they want? We narrowed it down to two key job roles, the mainframe sysadmin, and the application developer, the mainframe application developer. 

Once we had those, we then pulled the clients together and said, “What does a core competencies [unintelligible 00:11:10] look like?” “What is it that you’re looking for?” We defined what those core competencies were. Then we said, “What about the training?” “What training do you need for those core competencies?” We’ve got all this training that’s out there, does it need it? We put the training pack together. Then how do you actually bring that and register that as an apprenticeship with the Department of Labor? 

We did that but then we came to the stumbling block of how do you actually start an apprenticeship program at a large corporation? Because we do work with Fortune 500, Fortune 100 companies. This is where we came out with that and Ginni Rometty really coined that term of new collar, new collar workers. This is a path where individuals don’t necessarily have four-year degrees but we want to open up technology and open up these opportunities for them. 

This is where apprenticeships come in. We’ve been doing apprenticeships in other areas for years and years and years, but not in IT. Does this fit for IT? It does. It’s fantastic. We had a challenge with all of the administration, everything behind the scenes, how do you get these large corporations to change their recruiting to actually their job requisitions that say require four year degree period, the end? What we did at IBM was we actually implemented ourselves first. 

We tried this out, I actually hired apprentices on my team, some other teams within IBM. I went through all of the training and the competencies, and we had a lot of feedback. We changed things around and then we took it out to our clients and our employers, but once again, it was still not quite the easy button that we needed. We still [crosstalk]– 

[00:13:06] Cable: Some hesitation. Hesitation by the clients. 

[00:13:09] Meredith: Hesitation by the employer, the client’s employers. Some of their hesitation was around like I said, the administrative work. How can we make that administrative work easier? How can we ensure that the apprentices are going to get through this entire process? How do we recruit diverse talent? At IBM, we know technology. We know technology but we wanted to look somewhere else to say, “Well, who really knows apprenticeships?” “Who really can help us with that?” 

That’s where we came to Franklin and teamed with Franklin because Franklin has the deep skills and the deep knowledge of the best ways of recruiting diverse talent, the best ways of ensuring success for the apprentices, for example, especially using success coaches. To me, success coaches are the secret sauce. [chuckles] I describe it as a personal cheerleader. You are the cheerleader for that apprentice. 

You are the cheerleader for the manager because that’s another component is that managers aren’t used to bringing talent in this way. They have to learn it. They have to build that new muscle, and having that success coach help them along the way that’s what really ensures the overall success of the program. It was through a lot of experimenting, identifying where are the blockers, and then removing those blockers to create what I always call the easy button. 

[00:14:41] Cable: The easy button. Well, let’s talk about it because I’ll go a little bit further into some of those things. I remember the day that I saw the post on social medias that IBM had removed, and it was a certain number like X amount of requirements for this amount of percentage of jobs within IBM. We would say, “Hey, we don’t need the four years. If you’ve got the affinity, if you’ve got the passion, and if you have the aptitude, come on, we’ll take you. 

IBM proved that out the gate. Being a large IT company that did send some ripples through the planet to say, “Wait a minute. If IBM can do this, what are they doing?” Or, “What do they know that we don’t know?” I’ll talk about a couple of other things. You mentioned a four-year traditional pathway. Again, I support that as well. Some people do very well in a four-year traditional pathway. You said it, the largest companies out there were all fishing from the same pond, the same applicant pool of graduates every year were being looked at by the same corporations. 

What you’ve strictly– Excuse me. What you’ve done right there is you’ve just taken down that barrier, that wall, and you opened up the front gate, you’ve said, “Hey, this is other opportunities and let’s look,” and you found that talent out there. The other one I want to mention as well is the fact that I didn’t realize you were very humble when you said that IBM has some financial support and has some of the larger companies that you support them. 

IBM runs the planet. If I could be honest if I go pull up something on a document here on my phone for a banking transaction that’s probably going to go through a Z mainframe somewhere. If I need to go do something [unintelligible 00:16:20] guess what, it’s probably going to go through Z mainframe. You very humbly said, I love it, you’re a very large corporation that supports the world. I do think that’s absolutely true. You wanted to find a different path from that same pool, that same pond. I always think of– Oh, men, my brain goes all over, Meredith, I’m so sorry. What was the game when we were kids, and it was like a little plastic toy and it had fish going around. It was chomping and you had a little–[00:16:46] Meredith: Oh, yes. 

[00:16:47] Cable: I don’t even know what it was called. You had fish out of the same pond. When I talked about this and when I envisioned what IBM is doing and how colleges, universities were graduating a pool, that’s what I pictured, was that little game where you were trying to pull those little fish out of that little tiny pond. Now it’s an ocean, you’re out there in the Pacific or Atlantic, or you’re out there, and everybody’s out there now. 

That’s not a bad thing or a good thing. I don’t mean it that way but the talent that was out there that wasn’t in that pool is now having the opportunity to come forward, show their affinity, show their passion and IBM said, “Yes, we want you on our team.” I thought that was a great way of you explaining that to us in your story there as to the back of a napkin, really. Then you did. What worked and what didn’t work. I love the fact that you had iterations, you had iterations. 

The biggest piece I would love to point out is the way that you explain that you got the input and feedback from your employers, your technicians, the men and women who were in the trenches, who said, “Yes, you want to bring us somebody, but what are we going to teach them?” “What are we going to train them?” “What are we going to show?” “What is that?” You narrowed that down to that golden goose egg. We call it a framework, but that golden goose egg thing. 

[00:18:02] Meredith: [crosstalk] It’s the framework. It is a proven formula. It’s that winning formula in my opinion of how do you create a sustainable workforce. I want to add something. 

[00:18:15] Cable: Please. 

[00:18:16] Meredith: Each year, IBM puts out their five trends. This year, IBM has five trends for 2023 report that was embracing chaos and taking charge the number one trend was talent shortages, and salary pressures that are crippling growth. 85 million jobs could go unfulfilled by 2030 and that’s due to a lack of skilled workers. This is at a time when employee loyalty is a true growing challenge as well. 

What was interesting was the top primary opportunity that was called out was that need to expand your reach in mind for hidden talent and discover untapped skills, and talent. I just feel that because we’ve got this program, we’ve got a proven practice, we’ve already had successes. It’s just continuing that flywheel effect and building and building and building on each other. I think we’re set up for success for the future, particularly given the current environment. 

[00:19:24] Cable: I love that. Current environment, that’s a very soft way of saying where we are in both the market, I don’t do politics, and I don’t do finances, and I don’t do all of the big stuff, however, that’s exactly right. We’re talking in a very turbulent time in people’s careers and growth. I will tell you, I have seen some [unintelligible 00:19:47]. My brother is in the collegiate realm. He’s in academia, and I’ve seen him work 30 years to get to this point in the academia realm, and it’s starting to shift on him. It’s starting to look different for him. I don’t plan for anything Meredith. If I just show up I can figure it out from that point. I’m pretty good at this but I don’t plan for anything. Where I am today has nothing to do with where I had thought about yesterday because I just dove with the flow. However, someone like my brother who methodically or someone like the market or someone like the industry for 40 years who did it a certain way, and now things are starting to shift. 

I’m looking at some information. I saw some articles. IBM is committed to $250 million of both monies towards apprenticeship support as well as y’all’s new collar concept of bringing in members from a different background. Why is IBM so committed? I know we just got the big picture stuff but why are y’all really jumping in headfirst into something like that? 

[00:20:48] Meredith: It truly is, in my opinion. This is my opinion is it’s because we recognize that there is this skills challenge and we also recognize that there is this untapped talent and we want to be the leader and show through example. Show through example that there is this hidden talent out there and available if you go after it. There’s another study that was done just recently. It was by IBM and Morning Consult. It was conducted with approximately 5,000 students, 5,000 job seekers and 5,000 career changers. 

They were from 13 different companies because IBM international business machines. We’re focused on the global view. It found that while job seekers they’re interested in STEM they don’t think that they have the right academic degree, they don’t know where to start and they aren’t familiar with the STEM jobs that are out there and available. 

Providing not only the opportunity for these new pathways for this talent that we know is out there it’s also getting awareness and working with the local communities working with and ensuring that there are opportunities and there’s opportunity for training as well, through open training. That’s where we’ve pulled together what we’ll call IBM SkillsBuild. We partner with communities all over the world because it’s about getting into the local communities. IBM once again we know tech. We know tech really well. 

We have got some of the absolute most forward thinking tech that’s out there. Most innovative tech, first of a kind. If you look at our history of all inventions that we’ve brought, all of the first, what I call the first. We have a lot of those but if we really want to reach our communities and really get to this hidden talent, we’ve got to work through other organizations and through those communities and provide them the training, provide them those opportunities. 

We not only are we focused on investing in apprentices and apprenticeships within IBM but also overall upskilling in general around the entire world. Really building out skills. 30 million individuals by 2030 we want a skill. Really doing what needs to be done in the economy, what needs to be done in our communities, what needs to be done to uplift the entire world. IBM has always been very very committed to communities and building out those communities. This is just one component of that. The stronger the community, the stronger we are as individuals and the stronger we are as a business and as a world. 

[00:23:48] Cable: Meredith, I had a guest on and she made a comment one time and it really resonated. Upskill and reskill. I had never really thought of it that way. If you are a DIY person and you upscale or upskilled like something that you’re working on or you– I think that’s the right term for DIY. When they take something and they remake it and repurpose it into something else, I love it. You said IBM’s we’re just going to upskill the world. Let’s get everybody involved and we’ve got IBM SkillsBuild out there. Let’s go. Let’s go [unintelligible 00:24:20] 

[00:24:21] Meredith: We’re in a position to do that and we have a corporate responsibility and we take that corporate responsibility very, very seriously. 

[00:24:31] Cable: I will tell you, I wholeheartedly confirm that that is exactly what you all are doing. I think it’s amazing of how much of an impact you’ve had. You talked about communities, one of the first ones that pops into my head is the Buffalo area. I don’t need to mention anything in Buffalo but Buffalo’s tech is rising in the men and women who are coming to both IBM and Franklin and just the community regardless. If it’s not us, great but there’s more tech coming, there’s more support. I think that some of the companies that are there they are building a culture in their community to do exactly what you’re talking about. 

They’re using the skills. They’re using the opportunities that are there. They’re just building a community of people that want to learn, of people that want to upskill, the people that want to just do something with tech. They’re fully on 100% onboard supporting it. If that’s just one little corner as you said international business, as one little corner of the IBM spectrum, you’re in– I don’t know. India. You’re in Australia. You’re everywhere. You’re on the globe. I imagine you’re in every corner of the planet. That’s exactly what [unintelligible 00:25:35] 

[00:25:34] Meredith: Sometimes I feel like physically [laughs]. 

[00:25:36] Cable: Right. Because we’re all over the [unintelligible 00:25:37] Now, I will mention something and again you’re very humble as you get into this. As you talk about the way that you’re going to start to make those impacts to those men and women and the skilling the upskill and kind of those things you talked about. Again you guys are investing. You’ve got 250 million into apprenticeships and your new collar and you’re going across the board. You did tie it in earlier. 

I want to go back to it because you’re going to tie the same thing into, those employers that weren’t quite on board. How does it look now in five years later, six years later you’ve seen some successes, you’ve had some, there’s a taste out there now that employers are like, “Oh, okay. Buffalo’s on their fifth cohort. They’re coming back for more.” Why is that? And are we using or leveraging that to show other employers this is the success we have? What does that look like in the apprenticeship space out there? 

[00:26:30] Meredith: I think it’s something that’s very important to bring up in the talk about. You’ve got early adopters. You’ve got companies that are willing to go try something new. They’re willing to take the risk. They’re willing to partner with you but it has to be with somebody that they trust. You have to build those trusted relationships. They’ve got to know that you’re in it together. 

I think that that was one of the things that’s most important here is it’s not just IBM. It’s IBM, it’s Franklin and it’s the client employer. We’re all in it together. Not only one client employer, it’s multiple client employers. It’s bringing that community of client employers together. In fact, this was one of the challenges that we had when we first looked at this was when you’re doing apprenticeships, not every company has the need for the scale, the number of apprentices to make a truthful cohort. 

Or maybe they haven’t fully bought in. They’re not sure yet. They just want to dip their toe in the water. That’s why us as a group bringing these employers together it was, you can hire one, you can hire two, you can hire as many as you like. You can hire anywhere in the US, anywhere you want to go. What we’ll do is we’ll bring them all on board as a single cohort so that we can create that sense of community. 

That was one component that I think was very very important was enabling the ability for employers to try it out because they want it to be proven. That’s even an early adopter is like, “Okay. I’m willing to try this out but maybe I’m not going to go all the way in the deep end. I want to go into the shallow end first.” 

[00:28:17] Cable: The baby pool. 

[00:28:18] Meredith: The baby Pool. That’s why it’s so important. You get those first early adopters. You make sure that you’re working together with them. You continue that trusted relationship. You continue continuous learning about the program and pivoting with the program if needed. Then once you have those successes, that’s when you go to that next group of employers that are like, “Oh, wait wait.” “Oh, look at who’s doing that over there.” “You’ve done it and you’ve had success?” 

“Wait a minute, every one of those employers has come back for another cohort? Wow, this thing must be working. I better give it a try.” It’s having that proof point if you will that’s what’s really needed to get the momentum going. That’s where we are right now. Holy smokes this thing has taken off. Not only are we doing this within the US, but what we’ve done is we’ve taken this framework and we’ve leveraged it to go global. 

Now we’re starting to see successes in Canada. We’re looking at Australia. We’re looking at Thailand. We’re going all over the world with this program, Africa to really once again leverage this winning formula to find that hidden talent and enable that hidden talent to, for new opportunities that they thought they may never have. That was one of the things. When we are at the graduations, the theme that we hear over and over again and it’s just so heartwarming. 

That’s the other thing I’m so passionate about this because you’re truly making a difference in somebody’s life and they are so excited and it’s just you’ve helped to enable that which then of course then makes you feel really great too. It’s just great to see that the number one comment I think that we have back over and over again is opportunity. Thank you for this opportunity that I thought I would never have because every time I wanted to go into IT, there was a requirement for experience or there was a requirement for academic degrees. 

There was this, there was that, there were all these blockers and I never had the opportunity and I looked at this and I’m like, this is too good to be true, but then I did it and it was great. Thank you for the opportunity. Every apprentice that I need is so enthusiastic. They are so excited by the technology and the other thing is they’re working on something that matters. These are systems, the systems that they’re running, the systems that they’re administering. As you mentioned, they not only run their companies, they run the global economy. 

[00:31:04] Cable: Yes. 

[00:31:05] Meredith: It’s a little heavy because you know that if that thing goes down for one second, one second, it’s millions of dollars. You’re working on something that truly matters and not only that, it’s the most sustainable green server that’s out there. You’re working on something that’s helping the environment as well. 

[00:31:28] Cable: Meredith, let’s talk about that big picture you just painted for us. You said employers needed a taste. They wanted to see it. They were early adopters. They wanted to come in, “I trust you IBM, we’ve worked together, but now let’s see if it really does.” We’re not talking the six-week boot camp, we’re talking 12 months of our apprenticeship. 

Then that’s commitment between IBM, commitment between Franklin, the success coach, the apprentice, the managers, the mentors, the framework. That’s 12 months. We’re not talking an overnight, “Hey, it looks good. We’ll move on.” We’ve committed to an employer for 12 months and you’re absolutely right. They’re starting to see that that 12-month program, we’re getting rock solid technicians, we’re getting rock solid, professionally adapted members onto their team because we do our professional development skills. 

We’re looking at the new collar and agile concepts that IBM is both ingraining as well as supporting, everything that those all that’s coming together, the employers, IBM. I love sitting on the group calls and we have everybody in the room and we’re doing our quarterly business and we’re talking, employer, you’ve been here for a couple months, how’s it looking? 

What’s great? IBM, what’s your thoughts? Employer, what’s your thought? Everything’s going great. Oh, you want a little tweak here? Great. There’s some feedback for everybody. We tweak it. We move on. The next quarter we come back and we see those improvements. We see that acceleration and we get to it. 

I want to share one story with the world because I haven’t shared it yet. I’ve got the woman on the call that I would love to get her perspective. You asked me, in Virginia, Tysons Corner, we were at Northern Virginia Tech Council and we were coming to showcase IBM Z and IBM apprenticeships that were already in place at one of the council’s employers. They already had apprentices on the team. They were already going into six or eight months into their program and the rest of the council wanted to hear about it. 

In the room we had, of course, the director, John Ladd from the Department of Labor who runs the North American Apprenticeship program for our certifications. We had in the room the Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Gary Pan. We had Gary in the room and we had managers, CEOs, we had the apprentices there. You were there sharing with your IBM apprenticeship with the room. 

As John talked about apprenticeships. Gary talked about apprenticeships for the state and everybody was talking and you asked me a question. You said, “Cable, can you tell us what a success coach does because some of the men and women may not know what it is?” My response and I’ll never forget it, because Kim, my boss, looked at me. She was like, why would you answer it that way? I said, “No, Meredith, I cannot tell you about a success coach, but I can show you.” 

Then if you recall, we went through this very quick story of the director, the commissioner, the men and women who put the council together, the directors of the program, all of the CEOs in the room. We had you from the IBM perspective. We had the managers and everybody talked and I said, “If anybody heard anything from anybody else in the room, nobody paid attention to the one person in the room who said the most profound thing.” Meredith, not that what you said wasn’t profound, and not that what John said wasn’t profound. I don’t mean it that way, but the apprentice. He only spoke for just a few moments. He shared his ideas, he shared his perspective, but he said exactly what you just said. He said to a room, there was 60 people in the room and a hundred on the call. 

There was some clout in that room and that young man stood tall and he says, “I appreciate the opportunity and I come to work every day and I work my ass off to make sure that I deliver on that opportunity.” I thought, what? Nobody heard that. Nobody. As soon as I went back and pointed that out, if you remember, I didn’t even tell them what a success coach did. I missed the entire point of the question. I didn’t even tell them what a success coach did, but I showed them that the value in the apprentice, that net that we threw, the talent that we’re finding, the passion that we’re getting in our men and women that are coming under the Z program, that are coming into their apprenticeship. I will tell you what, every person in that room ran over to Gary and ran over to Johnson. 

How do I sign up my company to be a part of an apprenticeship that I can get tech talent like this young man? I’ll tell you what, you did it five, six years ago on the back of a napkin. You raised the question, how do we do this and find the talent that’s out there and I think that whole story is like, if you’re a comedian or you follow George Carlin or Dane Cook or anybody, they start with the punchline of a joke and then they come back and they tie it in. 

Your story of that napkin is that young man standing there at that council sharing the fact that he has the passion to do it. I think you said it, IBM knows how to go global. You’re a big company and y’all going to take the upskill and reseal and you’re going to get the world a better place. 2030, great, but let’s do it every day and every day until then. I love it. That’s not where it’s going to stop. I get that. 

Then you said your employers are finding out that they’ve got those early adopters and now everybody else is peeking around going, what did Walmart do? What did that bank do? What did those other companies do? How do I get to be a part of having the talent come onto my team? Then you said Franklin does it with our success coaching. You said the secret sauce. I love it. That secret sauce. I’ll tell you what, 12 months is a long commitment to be with a apprentice, to be with a manager, to be with an employer. That’s a long commitment, but you’re absolutely right, Meredith, when we stand tall, you and I show up. 

What’d you call us? The dynamic duo that one of our high fives at one of our graduations, you called us the Dynamic duo. You’re Batman and I’m Robin, and I love this. You said, hey, that secret sauce is that success coach supports them, the employer sees the success or the impact that a success coach has and now that apprentice is ready to go. Six, eight months in, they’re ready to– let’s just take the barriers out of the way and let them go. Let’s see where they’re going to take their career. 

I think it’s a huge point. You’re right. There was a question in our little, do you think we’re at a tipping point for apprenticeship? You know what, you’re damn right, Meredith. We are at a tipping point and you’ve seen it and you’re starting to see that– It’s not traction. Now you’re starting to see that snowball just get bigger and bigger and bigger because of the communities you’ve built, because of the men and women who are supporting these programs, and because of the success of those apprentices, managers, employers, and IBM, as you guys stand tall for those graduations, you see it. I got to share with you too, I don’t know if this, but I read a room pretty well. 

[00:38:07] Meridith: Yes, you do. 

[00:38:06] Cable: I can tell you as from feedback, you genuinely, you have this vibe and energy around you when you are in a room full of managers, mentors, and apprentices because on the back of a napkin, you sat and had a conversation and IBM took it to heart, ran with it. You built it, you supported it. You’ve got the right men and women supporting it from IBM, you had the right traction and now you’re seeing what that return on your investment is. Which by the way, please, please, please tell me. Do you have that napkin? 

[00:38:44] Meredith: No, I don’t. [laughs] 

[00:38:49] Cable: We need to find that napkin. If it’s in a folder somewhere, it’s probably at the bottom of a trashcan from whatever restaurant y’all were sitting at and it was maybe two drinks, three drinks in. I’m making that up. I have no idea, but I’m just saying, man, how cool would that be in the hallways of IBM to have that napkin framed? You know when they do timelines on corporate hallways and there’s that napkin of a back of a napkin framed. 

[00:39:18] Meredith: That would be great. 

[00:39:19] Cable: Meredith, I think you’ve done an amazing, amazing impact to the planet to show the importance of apprenticeships, to show what it can take to do it because I’m going to tell you, it’s no easy feed. If we’re talking, I’m going to– 

[00:39:33] Meredith: It takes a village. It takes that ecosystem. 

[00:39:35] Cable: It really does. The ecosystem and your community, you’re absolutely right and to see it come to fruition and to see it come and make an impact. I’ll tell you what, it’s really amazing to share the stage with you. It’s amazing to sit here this afternoon with you. I love hearing you talk about it. I love to hear your stories and I’d just love to see you see those graduations. I think it’s fantastic. I do have one final question. One final thought. We’ve talked about big picture, we’ve talked about the Z ecosystem. We’ve talked about the individuals such as the men and women who are on program for apprenticeships. We’ve talked about what it took and what it’s going to take, and we’ve talked about where it’s going. That net, I think IBM, basically owned the net. Y’all have that net and have figured out that there is talent out there. 

We here at Franklin, our tagline is potential unlocked. The idea that somebody has potential, and they always do, but how do we unlock it? I always ask my guests, what would those two words mean to you? What does the term potential unlock mean to Meredith, and how would you reference that in regard to this episode? 

[00:40:43] Meredith: I think that, in order for you to unlock your potential, you need to follow your passion, and you need to find your passion. You may not know what that is, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that, but get out there and try. Be fearless. Be willing to take the risks. Be willing to learn something new. You may find you don’t like it at all, and that’s all right because that’s a big step forward is knowing what you don’t like. You just might find something that you didn’t realize you loved and that will unlock your potential. 

[00:41:23] Cable: I love that passion. Just get out there and find your passion and run with it. Meredith, I will tell you, I will do this every time. If you ever want to have a conversation, and you want to come on and share your thoughts. Hell, we might have you back in six months and figure out where the Z program’s gone in six more months, and what’s the newest biggest success that we’ve seen out of this. Maybe next time we bring– 

Oh, I’m running with this now. I have no idea. I’m just making stuff up. You and we bring an employer and we bring an apprentice on, and we put all the members in the room and say, “This is what it looks like to be successful.” Maybe we do something like that. I do 100%, Meredith, I appreciate your time. I appreciate your thoughts. I appreciate you sharing with the world. It’s been a great episode. Again, I do. I just want to say thank you for being here. Is there anything, any final thoughts you want to share to the world and tell the world out there for what you’re doing? 

[00:42:19] Meredith: Just thank you and give it a chance. It’s amazing. Give it a chance if you’re an apprentice or give it a chance if you’re a job seeker, or you’re looking for your new passion. Give it a chance if you’re an employer. Give it a chance if you’re a tech company that’s out there and are looking for ways of building talent and new talent. Give it a chance. Because it’s awesome. 

[00:42:43] Cable: I do. I get to see it every day. I’m already preferential because I see it every day. I get to see the men or women who are having the successes, the employers who are having the successes. I get to go to these quarterly conversations when they’re like, “Well, let’s talk about the next cohort. This one’s going to graduate in five months, let’s already look at the next projection.” To everybody else who is out there, give it a chance. I love it. 

[00:43:05] Meredith: Give it a chance. 

[00:43:06] Cable: All right. Meredith, thank you for being here. Thank you for being on the episode. To everybody else out there in podcast land and tv land, we’ll catch you guys on the flip side. 

[00:43:14] Speaker 2: Thank you for listening to Frankly Speaking, adventures in tech apprenticeships. This podcast was produced by Franklin Apprenticeships, a woman-owned tech apprenticeship company on a mission to unlock the potential of the American workforce. 

Franklin offers apprenticeships for a range of tech roles such as cybersecurity, Help Desk, IBM Z, network engineering, and software engineering. Help us spread the word about tech apprenticeships by leaving a review and telling a friend about our show. Don’t forget to subscribe to be notified of new episodes. 


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