A Rough Entrance to the World of Work
It was my first day as an attorney. A senior partner had stopped by my desk and dropped a grenade.
“Take a look at this contract, work out what changes the other firm made, and then call our client and let them know what has been proposed. I also need you to draft a limitation of liability clause into the contract."
“And you want me to call the client?”
(Long pause staring at me like the firm had made an unthinkable mistake by hiring me).
I remember thinking, “How do I even speak to a client on the phone?” I then realized that despite five years of studying law, I had never actually drafted a clause in a contract before. In that split moment on my first day of work, I discovered the world’s worst-kept secret: higher education doesn’t do a great job preparing you for the world of work. I felt anxious, out of my depth, and completely unprepared.
The Stats That Tell Us What We Already Know
Universities are good for society, but our reliance on them as the sole pathway to most professional jobs is not healthy. A recent report prepared by Wiley revealed only 46% of surveyed US employers believe university prepares students for the workforce. In that same survey, 45% of employers said they rarely or never extend job offers to candidates without a 4-year college degree. Given this, employers need to ask why they continue to require a four-year college degree as a prerequisite for most jobs. Business’ reliance on universities is particularly unfortunate when these institutions aren’t accessible to those who face discrimination based on gender, race, education, or socioeconomic background and haven’t done a great job of driving social mobility. (Read my tweet thread on universities and social mobility here).
If employers believe the college system is broken when it comes to job preparation and want to build a more inclusive and representative workforce, they need to either build or use alternative credentialing and workforce training systems that are accessible, or find new ways to collaborate with universities to ensure curriculums are responsive to workplace needs.
Unsurprisingly, the answer is they need to do both.
A New Model: Train, Then Hire (then Train Forever More).
Companies need to flip the hire then train model on its head and embrace a train then hire, then train forever more approach.
Businesses are uniquely positioned to deliver workforce training with a clarity of purpose. Companies want work-ready candidates from broad and diverse backgrounds. Employers aren’t encumbered by the historical baggage that universities carry in terms of building a learning experience that tries to reconcile academic development with the commercial need to produce work-ready graduates.
Of course, employers already deliver great training. However, they focus on delivering this content to people they already have hired. The hire then train model doesn’t make a ton of sense when you consider that universities do not serve as a workforce training ground for employers and students. As a result, candidates only understand if they actually like a job and an employer figures out if they have made a great hire after training and onboarding.
Both sides of the ecosystem benefit when companies pre-train candidates. Candidates can build the skills and confidence to apply for roles that they are actually suited to, and companies can attract high-intent, work-ready candidates from a broad and diverse audience. In an age of interactive and adaptive software, this has never been easier. Companies can now train candidates at scale using accessible technology and content, while enabling them to collect high-fidelity signals on which candidates are actually the best fit for them. Employers have the opportunity to develop last-mile career training initiatives, collaborate with universities to ensure curriculums are responsive to workforce needs, and to build their own credentials entirely.
Bold companies are leading the way
Some of the most iconic companies in the world are already moving in this new direction. And when these companies move, others should take notice.
Google, for example, announced this year its ‘Google Career Certificate’ program. This new credential is designed to prepare candidates for in-demand jobs and is treated as the equivalent of a four-year college degree despite being six-months in length. Kent Walker, Senior VP of Global Affairs at Google, wrote that "College degrees are out of reach for many Americans, and you shouldn't need a college diploma to have economic security. We need new, accessible job-training solutions—from enhanced vocational programs to online education—to help America recover and rebuild." IBM also hosts thousands of digital certification programs with their IBM Digital Badge Program.
Google sees the purpose of a new credentialing system as two-fold: firstly, to attract and upskill great talent, and secondly, they recognize that companies are in a unique position to effect social change through mass workforce training given the current system is broken.
But creating new standalone credentials is not the only way companies can pre-train talent. Companies can collaborate with existing (and non-traditional) education providers to ensure curriculums are optimized for employment outcomes. IBM, for example, has partnered with community colleges over the past four years to offer job-specific curriculums focusing on in-demand IT skills such as cybersecurity, cloud computing, and data science.
There are universities that have done a great job collaborating with industry partners to ensure their students are prepared for work. For example, the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, has developed a world-class reputation for its co-op program where students complete two years of work experience as part of their four-year college degree. About 72% of Waterloo students participate in the co-op program and receive exposure to the workplace long before they apply for a full-time job.
At Forage, we see companies such as JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citi, Deloitte, Microsoft, GE creating micro-courses on our website to help millions of students learn and prepare for careers at their companies while also generating an exceptional pool of talent. While companies initially tentatively dipped their toes into creating their own online credentials on Forage, it’s incredible to see the velocity in which they have expanded their use of them to upskill and identify talent.
Moving towards a level playing field
For the first time in history, companies can leverage software to upskill and inspire millions of people by distributing accessible and impactful workforce training experiences. It’s hard not to get excited about the potential for this change to drive social mobility, increase career satisfaction, and connect companies to more compatible talent. The companies that will build the best workforces in the future are the ones who figure out how to give more than they take during the recruitment process, and after. Education and training will sit at the heart of the giving.
At Forage, we are all in on this future, because in the future, the best companies will train, hire, then train forever more.