IBM cloud server, courtesy IBM

This week’s issue looks at big goals for IBM and Verizon’s free skills training programs, with updates on a McKinsey-coordinated task force and a push for incremental credentialing. (Sign up here to get this newsletter.)

Boot Camp, Apprenticeship, Job

Hiring woes in big tech, health care, and retail are key drivers of alternative education and training pathways that have the potential to go big.

For now, most of the experimental programs in this space—including a promising apprenticeship model featured in this week’s issue—enroll just dozens of students. Yet several experts say big-budget skills training programs that Verizon, IBM, Walmart, and Amazon have rolled out amid the pandemic reflect a new level of commitment that’s worth watching.

The newfound urgency isn’t about altruism, or at least not primarily, as some of the companies acknowledge. Severe labor shortages in retail and health care and dismal diversity numbers in IT are helping to prod large employers to get more creative about hiring, training, and retaining workers.

For example, IBM this week announced plans to educate 30M people globally by 2030 with a new free career-readiness program. The news builds on IBM’s existing skills-based work, which includes its P-TECH public schools, dropping degree requirements for more than half of the company’s U.S. job openings, and a recent pledge to train 150,000 U.S. students and workers in cybersecurity

Lilah Burke looks into what a goal of that magnitude really means over at Work Shift.

“Any initiative of this size raises questions about the efficacy and realism of such goals, but on-the-ground partners of IBM say they have the tools and connections to scale up dramatically,” reports Burke, who spoke with several organizations that are among the 170 new academic and industry partners participating in the program. They include:

New Profit, a venture philanthopy firm which will use the partnership to expand its Future of Work project to 16 locations, up from six.

“We’ve got billions of dollars being pumped into this workforce system,” says Angela Jackson, a managing partner at New Profit, who recently called for better targeting of government subsidies for training programs. “We need to make sure the consumers are being trained on the jobs that employers actually need.”

For the full article, click here to read at Work Shift.

Citizen Verizon: Several observers say Verizon is among the more progressive of large U.S. corporations when it comes to opening doors to job seekers from lower-income backgrounds. The company announced last year that it would spend $44M on free, tech-focused career training.

That effort features an unusual three-way partnership with Generation USA, a nonprofit skills training group, and Multiverse, a U.K.-based apprenticeship provider that bills itself as an alternative to college and corporate training. With a focus on tech workers, Multiverse has rapidly expanded remote apprenticeships during the pandemic. 

Generation’s 12- to 15-week programs are free to participants, 80 percent of whom get jobs within 90 days of completing the boot camp–style training. With personalized education plans and wraparound support services, the group says its operational costs are just $3,000 per graduate.

“We’re trying to change the mind-set in hiring by large corporations,” says Sienna Daniel, chief growth and impact officer for Generation, which hopes to train 500,000 students by 2030.

The boot camp is designed to give participants skills and hands-on experience to get hired without a college degree. Classes for Generation’s Verizon project began last November, with training for roles as a junior cloud practitioner, junior web developer, IT help desk technician, or digital marketing analyst. The first cohort of 171 students graduated in February.

The program features a path to work for Verizon as well. Yet Daniel says even with the company’s substantial investment, convincing its various divisions to hire Generation’s graduates remains a work in progress. It requires frequent nudges from champions in the huge corporation.

“They weren’t sure there would be an avenue to hire our learners,” she says, adding that even some participating business units at the company are “probably still on the fence.”

However, Daniel says Verizon is ahead of the curve with its commitment to nontraditional career paths and to hiring Black and Latino tech workers. The company also has been able to build on what it learned through its Project Athena apprenticeship program.

The handoff to Multiverse-administered apprenticeships may be the best path for Generation graduates to work at Verizon. Generation works with Multiverse and Verizon to map out the 15-month process for each apprentice, from the skills boot camp through the yearlong apprenticeship. 

The initial pilot began in June with 20 software engineering apprentices who work and train at Verizon’s offices in Dallas and New York. They are Verizon employees throughout the program, the company says, receiving full benefits and compensation as well as skills training.

Each apprentice gets one-on-one coaching, which is essential to the Multiverse model, says Tim Smith, a spokesman for the company:

“The overwhelming majority of our learning is delivered human to human, with coach-led delivery (in groups) supplemented by regular one-to-one sessions. We think of the coach role as someone not just delivering content, but analyzing performance, giving feedback, and providing personal accountability.”

The cost to Verizon for the boot camp–to–apprenticeship model is minimal, Daniel says. The program should grow to 100 apprentices next year, she predicts, then as much as triple in 2023.

“Verizon is massive. They have a lot of need,” says Daniel, adding, “I really don’t see why this couldn’t work elsewhere.”

Community Colleges: Generation works with community colleges to offer a route for its completers to earn college credits and certificates. For example, the group is tapping support from Verizon so Generation boot-camp completers in cloud computing or IT can apply to tuition-free certificate programs at Miami Dade College, where they get paid professional experience while earning a certificate.

Generation says it wants to create a postcompletion path for 600 of its graduates at each partner community college.

JFF is working to help Generation and Verizon make connections to community colleges, says Kathryn Jo Mannes, JFF’s vice president of impact partnerships. The nonprofit is supporting an initial group of 10 community colleges, with five more on the way, and a goal of recruiting another 10. JFF also is working to evaluate the program, as it is with Google’s IT support certificate.

The Kicker: “It’s definitely a bandwagon effect,” Mannes says of the growing corporate interest in college credit pathways for alternative skills training programs. “We don’t know how far this is going to go.”

‘Opportunity’ Task Force

A group of 35 college and university leaders in March announced the launch of a new task force with a focus on student success in the job market. The coalition includes representatives from community colleges, HBCUs, research universities, and institutions with large online programs. McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm, is serving as a coordinator and project manager for the task force.

By sharing intel across institutions, the group in some ways resembles the University Innovation Alliance, which is also working to strengthen connections between college and work.

“Our membership with this task force is about partnering with other institutions to find and share solutions for our student populations,” says Mark Mitsui, president of Portland Community College in Oregon. “The lessons we learn from this work will hopefully be applicable across higher education institutions, throughout the country.”

André Dua, a senior partner at McKinsey and task force member, says the group’s institutional diversity is a key strength. And he says participation in the task force requires meaningful commitments to either accelerate or expand existing programs, or to create new ones.

“When you join this task force, you are committing to take action,” he says, adding that a few institutions have dropped out, citing a lack of bandwidth or initiative fatigue.

The group’s first batch of initiatives was tied to a goal of preparing the most vulnerable students for success in the post-pandemic economy. One example is Georgia State University’s Data-Driven Career Roadmaps project, which seeks to expose all of its 55,000 students to real-time, industry-specific employment information, including alumni career pathways and accurate salary data.

The recently announced second goal is to support local communities and government on an inclusive recovery. Among this set of projects is a statewide initiative Portland Community College is leading to expand federal, state, and local resources so more low-income students in Oregon can attend and complete community college.

In an essay over at Work Shift, Mitsui writes about the return on investment both colleges and the state are already seeing.

The University of Southern California, one of the group’s executive committee members, is focusing on its role as a major employer and purchaser. The university recently created its Office of Business Diversity and Economic Opportunity, says Carol Folt, USC’s president, which has an open-sourcing policy aimed at doing business with more diverse and sustainable suppliers. Folt says,

“As one of the largest employers in Los Angeles County, we work closely internally and externally to create pathways and opportunities for working adults to engage with USC—whether as students, employees, or business owners.”

McKinsey has provided each institution with a hefty local labor market analysis. As the group works on its third goal of “reimagining” higher education, Dua says it has become more of a learning network of one-to-one and self-generated collaboration rather than a centrally led coalition. But he says the urgency among its participants has not diminished

The Kicker: “The metabolic rate for institutions has gone up because the metabolic rate of the economy has gone up,” Dua says.

Between Certificates and Degrees

In March I reported on a new project that seeks to encourage the development of transferable credentials beyond traditional degrees and certificates. The goal of Credential As You Go is to enable students to earn a credential with value in the job market even if they leave college before earning a degree—and to empower workers to earn high-quality credentials throughout their careers.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences recently awarded a $3M, three-year grant to the project. During the next three years, the project’s leaders say they hope to spur systemic change and the “rapid prototyping” of 90 incremental credentials by statewide higher education systems in Colorado, New York, and North Carolina. As part of that work, the project will:

  • Collect student outcomes data
  • Produce a framework for colleges to create incremental credentials
  • Run a national marketing campaign
  • Identify policy recommendations

“The institutions I’ve talked to are recognizing that they need a new way of doing business,” says Nan Travers, director of SUNY Empire’s Center for Leadership in Credentialing Learning, who is leading the effort. “The current system is not designed for today’s world.”

Open Tabs

Employee Learning

Amid a competitive hiring market and the urgent need for upskilling, corporate investments in employee learning appear to be growing, found a new study based on interviews with 37 HR and learning leaders at U.S. employers. The study was conducted by Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy.

Warehouse Jobs

Retailers are scrambling to hire large numbers of warehouse workers with the holiday season looming, Abha Bhattarai of The Washington Post reported. The warehouse and transportation industry had a record 490,000 openings in July. But hiring woes continue even as companies increase pay and offer perks like signing bonuses or free college tuition.

Nursing Logjam

Some California students are waiting years to be admitted to nursing programs at the state’s two-year colleges, many of which use a controversial lottery system to admit applicants, reported Ashley Smith of EdSource. A recent report found that California is producing fewer nurses despite a serious shortage that is expected to worsen.

Enrollment Grants

Ohio has created a new $3M grant program to provide $2,000 grants to Ohioans with some college credit but no bachelor’s degree. The state is recommending that participating colleges promote the Second Chance Grant to students who are likely to be able to use the support to help earn a credential in a reasonable amount of time.

Digital Networking

Most Gen Z college students and alumni (67 percent) believe it’s not necessary to meet in person to create a meaningful professional connection, according to the results of a survey conducted by Handshake, a career connection platform. The survey found that 92 percent of respondents would offer to help younger students if they reached out for career advice.

Workforce Data

A new data innovation challenge from the Coleridge Initiative will award $5 million to education and workforce projects that use information in the initiative’s data research facility to understand how and why such investments succeed or fail. The nonprofit Coleridge Initiative works with government agencies in the use of data for more effective decision making.

That felt like a busy week. Thanks for reading. —@paulfain

A veteran higher education journalist and analyst, Paul focuses on the connections between education and the American workforce.