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  • IBM Accelerate Reinvents Virtual Learning Opportunities for Underrepresented College Students

    January 09, 2023 | By Kevin Gray

    College Recruiting & Hiring
    An employee at IBM works with an intern.

    TAGS: technology, best practices, recruiting methods, diversity and inclusion, candidate selection, nace insights, talent acquisition, coronavirus, nace award winner

    After witnessing the devastating impact that the global pandemic had on early undergraduate students from underrepresented groups in the technology industry, IBM scaled up its early talent identification program and offered an inclusive giveback initiative to help equip these students with the knowledge, skills, and readiness for future jobs in the technology industry.

    “The problem was [that underrepresented] students were not receiving the training and opportunities they needed to receive internship offers,” explains Carly Keller, IBM Accelerate program manager.

    IBM is the employer winner of the 2023 NACE Award for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Excellence for its Accelerate Progam. For more information about the NACE Awards program and the full list of award winners/honorable mentions, see

    “IBM set out to provide these students with the learning resources and networking connections to help deliver the knowledge they needed to kick start their professional development. Our early professional hiring talent acquisition team wanted to develop a program to foster diversity and inclusion for students who come from  underrepresented communities, for example, with regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or other characteristics.”

    The program, IBM Accelerate, is an eight-week, live-instruction, remote learning program that offers high-potential undergraduate students a virtual learning experience with real-world applications.

    The purpose of the program, Keller notes, is to better position students to compete for coveted internship opportunities at IBM or any company in the technology field the following summer. Students receive training; hands-on coaching; and live, IBM-led discussions to facilitate their professional growth. 

    IBM Accelerate also allows the company to build a diverse and inclusive workforce of exceptional talent for IBM.

    “This is a crucial and an important part of the organization's overall diversity hiring strategy,” Keller says.

    “As one of the world's largest technology employers, IBM is working to build a diverse pipeline of talent, not only to address the skills gap, but to create new pathways for talent to enter the industry.”

    IBM Accelerate’s live sessions are led by IBM professionals in an interactive setting. Participants receive coaching from these professionals, who help guide and advise students throughout the program and help them to map out their potential career path.

    “There are countless opportunities for the students to network with their peers and build relationships with IBM professionals,” Keller points out.  

    The weekly sessions focus on the knowledge and skills that are applicable to their interests and career aspirations. In addition to technical skills, the students also learn foundational skills that will help them stand out in interviews. Examples of the foundational skills topics include:

    • Relationship building and mentorship;
    • Growth mindset;
    • Learning agility;
    • Adaptability;
    • Communications;
    • New ways of working with agile and design thinking;
    • Diversity and inclusion;
    • Professional branding and resume building on LinkedIn;
    • Personal advocacy; and
    • Interviewing.

    After successful completion of IBM Accelerate, students receive an industry-recognized IBM digital credential to add to their LinkedIn profile and resume.

    Prior to IBM Accelerate launching in 2021, the company had a successful program geared toward upskilling HBCU students.

    “Building upon the momentum of that program and our learned best practices, we scaled a 35-participant program up to 1,000 participants to include diversity in all forms,” Keller explains.

    “We have refined our talent acquisition sourcing and selection process as well as the curriculum to ensure the topics remain relevant to the knowledge needed in today’s ever-changing market for careers in technology.”

    IBM measures the effectiveness of the program, in part, by seeing how many of these students can use the skills they learn over the course of the program to excel in the application and interview process for internship opportunities at IBM and beyond.

    “We’ve tracked a growing conversion rate over the past two years of students who graduate from IBM Accelerate and then receive offers to join IBM as an intern,” Keller says.

    “There is a large, untapped population of underrepresented talent in the United States who are eager to learn new skills if given the opportunity. In addition to learning technical skills, IBM Accelerate participants are given the resources needed to tailor their resumes and improve their interviewing skills. With support from our talent acquisition team and their IBM networking connections, the participants are prepared to apply for roles that really excite them.”

    Keller suggests that other organizations considering providing virtual learning opportunities for underrepresented students invest the time and resources into the networking component of their program.

    “The personal connections the students make have a long-lasting impact on their confidence and career readiness,” Keller says.  

    “The key to our success with IBM Accelerate program is we keep the student participants at the center of everything we do. We want to provide these students with the learning and networking opportunities that can really set them apart when they start out on their career journeys.

    “The virtual learning program has many benefits for the company, but the purpose must be a commitment to developing a wider range of talent and expanding pathways for student success.”