Amazon taps Kaplan and Beyond 12 to offer coaching to frontline workers through its free college program. Also, workforce training in the federal semiconductor stimulus and YouScience on career exposure in high school.

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A weekly newsletter about the intersection of education and work. By Paul Fain

Paradox of Choice

As the online education market continues to shift, strong student demand and low tuition rates may not be enough to get good results for credential programs aimed at working learners.

To help ensure that students complete and see an adequate return for their effort, companies, philanthropies, and governments increasingly are paying to attach a broad suite of support services to online programs, including career advising.

For example, Amazon announced this week that it has tapped Kaplan and Beyond 12, a California-based nonprofit group, to provide academic and career coaching to 750K frontline U.S. workers who are eligible to participate in the company’s free college program.

Google made a similar move earlier this year by enlisting two nonprofit training partners, Merit America and Year Up, to offer skills training, career services, and wraparound supports to 20K students the company seeks to enroll in Google Career Certificates. The services will be covered through a $100M fund Google set up to provide no-interest loans to students.

The new funding for career coaching comes as companies face pressure to offer more advancement options to frontline employees, particularly workers of color.

While career navigation remains too siloed as young people move across K-12, higher education, and early-career roles, this crucial form of student support is gaining steam, says Kyle Hartung, an associate vice president at JFF. “For the first time in a long time, the needs of business and education are really aligning.”

Career Choice: Amazon made several requests for proposals last fall, around the time the company expanded its education and skills training program and made the benefit free to employees with a $1.2B investment over three years. Amazon was looking for help with student advising and career navigation as well as college partners.

“We recognize there are times when adults need one-on-one support to navigate the challenges of going to school while working,” says Tammy Thieman, the global lead for Amazon’s Career Choice.

The company announced in March that it had selected 140 colleges and universities to offer degrees and certificates to participating employees. The retail giant is administering Career Choice itself, rather than working with an education benefits platform. And the agnostic approach of the two coaching providers it picked—Kaplan affiliates aren’t offering credentials through the program—was a plus for the company.

“We’re supporting their huge menu of choices,” says Brandon Busteed, Kaplan’s chief partnership officer, by asking, “what’s the best path for an Amazon employee?”

Beyond 12 and Kaplan have been working for three months with Career Choice, which currently has 80K participants, according to Amazon. Beyond 12 coaches have supported roughly 1,700 Amazon employees so far, and thousands of employees have used Kaplan’s services.

Some of the 300K hourly workers Amazon wants to enroll in Career Choice will use skills and credentials they earn to advance in the company. But as Walmart’s CEO, John Furner, said during a recent interview about his company’s free college program, most participating Amazon employees will find jobs elsewhere. And the company has been open about wanting to make sure Career Choice leads to good jobs in high-demand fields.

“They want to maximize that investment in any way,” says Busteed, the global head of learn-work innovation for Kaplan. 

That includes helping frontline workers avoid what he calls “failed success outcomes,” where they earn a degree or certificate through a free college program but fail to get a promotion or a foothold in a new career.

Advising and Ed Tech: Kaplan has followed a different path from its former peers during the for-profit-college boom days. The company long ago stopped offering degrees itself. And the groundbreaking and controversial play it made five years ago with Purdue University Global has avoided the fate of the cratering Zovio, which this week terminated its contract with the University of Arizona Global Campus for $1.

The company stressed its diversified postsecondary offerings, which include an expanded focus on career services. Amazon’s announcement highlighted Kaplan’s experience with test prep, English learning, and international student pathways. 

Busteed says advising has long been a core component of Kaplan’s work. For example, he says students in its pathways program see advisers as soon as they walk through the front door. And the company six years ago moved to a single point of contact for academic, career, and financial aid advising, which means hiring highly trained coaches.

Kaplan’s coaches begin working with Amazon employees as they mull which program to enroll in through Career Choice. Coaches support participants in their academics, as well as with networking, résumé development, job-interview prep, and online brand building.

The company says it’s working with other corporate education benefit programs, with more announcements on the way.

Busteed says academic and career advising doesn’t get much attention compared to online learning platforms, including with ed-tech investors. But when done well, he says, it’s the epicenter of employee student success.

The Kicker: “Learners of all ages are more overwhelmed by choices than ever before,” says Busteed.

From Work Shift

The “Chips and Science” Act Is Big on Jobs, Slim on Training
The “Chips and Science” Act Is Big on Jobs, Slim on

The recently passed bill aims to boost the U.S. semiconductor industry by providing subsidies for chip factories, R&D, and some workforce training.


Career Exposure

High school students have aptitude for success across in-demand fields but typically lack interest in possible careers, if they’re even aware of them.

That’s the bottom-line finding from a newly released nationwide analysis by YouScience of assessments taken by nearly 240K U.S. students during the recently completed school year. The student engagement platform found a yawning “exposure gap” among students about career options, which it says is contributing to a strained labor market.

For example, students overall have more than two times the aptitude for computer technology careers compared to their interest in those roles. Health sciences had a similar gap, according to the report, with bigger ones for energy and advanced manufacturing careers.

“While students use technology, they may self-select out of technology careers because they either don’t think they can do them, don’t know enough about these careers, or may not see real people doing those jobs in real life,” says Edson Barton, the CEO and co-founder of the student engagement platform YouScience.

Barton’s comment reminded me of something I’ve heard from people who work on corporate tuition benefits or alternative credentials—that potential students will say they’re interested in careers in HR or accounting, because those are the only people in office jobs whom they see regularly.

Career guidance in high school typically relies on personality and interest surveys, which Barton says are limiting and can reinforce biases. YouScience uses brain games to measure aptitude in numerical reasoning, comprehension, spatial visualization, inductive reasoning, and other areas. It can use those results to offer personalized career guidance and even certifications across job fields.

The result is about helping students make informed decisions, says Barton, not steering them into careers. “It gives them a greater sense of opportunity and a positive belief that they can do great things,” he says.

Utah is among several states that increasingly are sold on aptitude assessments in K-12 education. The state approved $3M in funding for the next school year to use aptitude exercises and certifications from YouScience. State officials said the funding will help students in Utah discover their natural talents and receive better direction toward future education and careers, including CTE classes.

Aptitude assessments are only one piece of the career navigation puzzle, says Hartung from JFF, who warns against reading too much into the report’s findings.

A key problem in this country is that career support and advising structures break down between high school and college, he says, a disconnect that repeats when students move into the workforce.

“What is needed is a vision for advising and navigation that spans lifelong learning,” says Hartung. “We need to bring all of them together.”

Open Tabs

Social Networks

Friendships across class lines matter more to economic mobility than almost any other community-level factor—including educational outcomes in local schools—according to the latest study from Opportunity Insights. The data, which comes with an interactive tool, provides the most substantial empirical support to date for the importance of social capital in moving up the economic ladder, wrote scholars at the Brookings Institution.

College ROI

Phil Murphy, New Jersey’s Democratic governor, has signed legislation to create gainful-employment rules for all career-oriented college programs operating in the state. The law is aimed at program pricing and requires the establishment of performance standards based on the ratio of tuition rates to typical earnings in a field. They will apply to both credit and noncredit career education programs.

Tech Certs

The Louisiana Workforce Commission will offer the state’s residents free access to online courses and certificates from Coursera. The new program includes Coursera’s Career Academy, which offers guided projects and roughly 20 entry-level certificates from Meta, IBM, and other large tech companies. The commission also is opening up 60 job centers across the state for people without reliable internet to access the courses.

Education and Work

Engagement between higher education and employers in California is often sporadic and tenuous, according to a brief by California Competes. Interviews the nonprofit group conducted with stakeholders uncovered barriers to closer collaboration, including institutional disinterest in students’ workforce success and hesitancy among employers about the value of collaborating with community colleges.


Arizona State University will participate in the CompTIA Apprenticeships for Tech program, which is offered in partnership with the American Institutes for Research. The federally registered apprenticeships receive funding through the U.S. Department of Labor. ASU is a multiemployer sponsor for the program and is recruiting both employers and apprentices for tech project coordinator positions.

STEM Immersion

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, located in Memphis, is hosting local high school and college students for an eight-week paid summer internship. The program pairs interns with mentors who conduct research in basic science, psychology, pharmaceutical science, and data science. It’s designed to introduce underserved students to STEM fields and to help them see potential career paths.

A career aptitude assessment I took in high school suggested I’d be a good drill press operator. But I knew I’d be attending a four-year university, so I had plenty of time to figure out my vocation. How about you? Where did you first learn about your chosen career? Please send thoughts my way. —@paulfain

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