How one nonprofit seeks to bridge the gap between jobseekers and employers.
Photo by Acton Crawford on Unsplash
ActivateWork offers free tech training and a year of coaching to its graduates after they land a job. Also, an analysis of new federal data on the payoff of college programs and hints about what an emerging ROI tool might measure.
Recruit, Train, and Coach
ActivateWork isn’t a coding bootcamp, although it offers tuition-free tech training. Instead, the Denver-based nonprofit describes itself as a bridge between companies and a diverse pool of job seekers.
“We bring employers to our learners,” says Helen Young Hayes, ActivateWork’s founder and CEO. “Employers need to be open to the thought that they might not have it all figured out.”
The group focuses on unemployed or underemployed workers. It recruits through digital media and at workforce centers, the Denver Rescue Mission, and other community organizations. Candidates participate in an eight-hour behavioral and aptitude assessment before they can enroll in ActivateWork’s 15-week training program. Only 20% are accepted.
Roughly two-thirds of training participants lack a bachelor’s degree. With a median age of 30 to 35, 70% are people of color. A third are women, and 22% are immigrants or refugees.
The group’s approach to training is based on the model of its partner, Per Scholas, a well-established tech skills development nonprofit. ActivateWork offers courses in software engineering, security fundamentals, IT support, AWS re/Start, and full-stack Java developer. Some of the 12- to 15-week tracks lead to a CompTIA A+ certification. All are free to learners—ActivateWork covers those costs through philanthropy and employer placement fees.
Its corporate partners tend to be open to hiring for potential, skills, and passion, says Hayes, not just pedigree. “Employers that have a long-term strategic approach versus a short-term reactive approach to solving their IT talent gaps,” she says.
So far 214 students have completed the program. The group is on pace to train 650 learners over the next three years. Graduates see an average annual wage gain from $20K to $46K.
Participants receive coaching for the first year after they are hired into a job. The support is designed to help them make the adjustment into a new role, in part to reduce turnover for ActivateWork’s employer partners.
Hayes says the group curates the match between employers and graduates.
“We coach our individuals on how to develop social capital and set the stage for them to develop close connections through our alumni gatherings,” she says.
ActivateWork has created three federally registered apprenticeships for graduates, which it offers to employers as a “turnkey” approach to on-the-job training. The group’s goal is for half of its graduates to move into an apprenticeship, which Hayes describes as the “surest and shortest path to economic mobility.”
Hayes is a former investment banker who at one time oversaw $50B in assets as a portfolio manager for Janus Capital, a Denver-based mutual fund company. She would like to see the federal government invest more in work-based learning and backs a proposal for a new workforce training grant.
The concept would draw money from higher education subsidies to create an annual employer grant of $10K for each trainee who splits their time between work and formal training. Hayes also says she would like to see government support for low-income learners who are enrolled in accredited workforce programs that provide evidence-based upskilling, employment, and economic mobility.
In both cases, she says, quality controls are a must, including the decertification of underperforming training programs.
The Kicker: “No funding for organizations that do not provide employment,” says Hayes.
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Tracking the ROI for College Programs
The U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard last week released wage data on how much graduates earn four years after completing college programs. Michael Itzkowitz has crunched the new data and produced a downloadable spreadsheet to show which college majors and credentials pay off for students.
“College is still a good investment,” says Itzkowitz, who was director of the College Scorecard during the Obama administration and who recently founded the HEA Group. Yet he says it’s crucial that prospective students have information on ROI when choosing a college program.
Two-thirds of graduates earn at least $40K a year within four years of completing a college certificate or degree, according to his analysis. About 80% of bachelor’s degree holders meet that $40K threshold, compared to 50% of those with associate degrees and 31% of those with certificates.
Among the third of certificates that produce relatively high earnings, programs serving large numbers of students include those in fields like vehicle maintenance and repair, practical nursing, and precision metalworking.
The College Scorecard data only includes earnings data for people who received federal financial aid. And the HEA Group analysis does not factor in program cost. Itzkowitz cautions that students should consider costs relative to earnings—or the overall ROI—when deciding what programs to enroll in.
The wide variation in payoff for certificates makes them the “riskiest credential” for prospective students, he says.
Checking In With EQOS
An evolving project from JFF and the Burning Glass Institute will seek to help jobseekers and employers make sense of the ROI for certificates and other postsecondary credentials.
The Educational Quality Outcomes Standards (EQOS) framework, which JFF acquired last year, is getting a $2.9M infusion from the new GitLab Foundation. JFF says EQOS is still in the initial discovery phase. But the group shared some ideas about what to expect.
The plan is for EQOS to move quickly into areas with significant amounts of existing but underutilized data.
“We see those opportunities in both regulated markets such as healthcare and transportation and also in newer occupational areas like data, IT, and computer science/engineering,” JFF says in a statement.
That means EQOS could tap data on licenses and certifications in regulated areas. “In newer roles there are a large number of new providers and credentials that we can use to create new outcomes data,” says JFF, including through the use of “real-time labor market data.”
The original EQOS framework for measuring outcomes is being updated and will likely include categories such as placement and mobility, earnings, learning, costs, and alignment.
“Regarding placement and mobility and earnings in particular,” JFF says, “we imagine using this data set to identify measures like job and occupation after credential attainment, work history after credential attainment, the employer, and measures of long-term mobility and rate of promotion.”
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