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Today's Jobs Demand an Updated College Education

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I've spent a lot of time in the higher education environment: first, earning advanced degrees and now having the privilege to work full-time with colleges and universities.

One thing I've learned is that higher education rarely invests in new curriculum if it won't be relevant for at least a decade. But with the pace of today's technology, colleges and universities are looking for ways to be more flexible and adapt their curriculum to the changing requirements of businesses and governments in a global job market.

Services are the largest sector of the economy in most industrialized nations, and are fast becoming the largest sector in emerging markets. More than 80 percent of the world's businesses offer services rather than just products, yet most universities are only slowly shifting their focus from primarily products and manufacturing. That has to change if colleges and universities are to graduate students qualified to take on today's challenges.

For that reason, IBM has been working with universities for six years on a new academic discipline called Service Science, Management and Engineering, with the goal of studying, improving and teaching services innovation. SSME also calls for academia, industry, and governments to focus on becoming more systematic about innovation in the service sector.

So far, 450 universities in more than 50 countries are teaching service science related courses or degree programs that combine disciplines including computer science, operational research, engineering, business management, strategy, communications, and social and cognitive sciences.

More needs to be done.

More research is needed, but momentum is building for colleges and universities to blend business, technology and social sciences, which traditionally were taught in different colleges within a university, into new curricula that includes a focus on service.

The work is going on worldwide. We have reached agreements with policy makers and legislators in the United States and 20 other governments to prioritize SSME as their part of their national Ministries of Education initiatives. This is happening all over the world, including emerging market economies of Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, South America, Central and Eastern Europe.

This new curriculum complements existing courses in business and technology, delivering materials to help provide students with the skills sorely needed in today's world to build new infrastructure, manage critical environmental issues, and focus on research for some of the challenges in healthcare.

Service science can also be a foundation for skills needed to make natural and man-made systems more intelligent. Jobs of today and of the future -- like city planners, water managers, and transportation commissioners, not just those held by engineers and scientists -- will require knowledge about technology to provide real-time data about the infrastructure and systems that run the world.

The need for graduates with computer programming, software development, and mainframe computing skills will not change, but students with both business and technical skills will be able to step into jobs and begin to contribute immediately in emerging areas such as business analytics, mobile technologies and cloud computing, as well as business and technology consulting.

The need for universities, businesses, and governments to work together has never been so apparent. Working together, we have a chance to better prepare the next generation of students to help address some of the greatest issues facing the world today, as we all work together to build a smarter planet.