Last-Mile Training to Prepare Students for Digital Economy Jobs

By Pam Golden

Universities prepare students with cognizant skills, but most entry-level jobs require digital skills. Traditional education can leave students floundering to find their first career jobs, and that’s if the students even graduate at all. How can America disrupt traditional career paths to help students prepare for digital jobs without them going into thousands of dollars of college debt?

CompTIA Tech Career Academy takes on that question in our new Alternative Pathways to Tech Careers video series, sharing insights and perspectives from industry experts, alumni and employers.  The series kicked off this month with a fireside chat between Nancy Hammervik, CEO of CompTIA Tech, and Ryan Craig, founding Managing Director of University Ventures which invests in higher-education-related businesses. A long-time advocate for reimaging the future of higher education and creating new pathways from education to employment, Ryan is also the author of College Disrupted and A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College. 

During the video, Ryan shared his perspectives and philosophy regarding what education young people today need in order to secure their first career jobs. “With the acceleration of digital transformation, the nature of entry-level jobs has rapidly shifted from what higher education colleges and universities excel at -- preparing students with the cognitive skills, critical thinking skills, and executive function skills needed to be successful,” Ryan stated.  “Today, for most entry-level jobs, that isn’t enough. You need to have a specific combination of digital skills knowledge and soft skills. For many entry-level jobs, that’s actually more important.”

He explained that if you look at most job descriptions, technical skills and digital skills now outnumber all other skills combined virtually across every industry. For example, most entry-level sales jobs require knowledge of Salesforce software, which most colleges do not teach.

University Ventures focuses on helping people obtain jobs and created the term Last-Mile Training -- a combination of digital skills and business skills -- because they felt that was what was missing. They invest in last mile skills training models, including coding boot camps, free last-mile training programs and apprenticeship-type models.

For a country that is focused on skills, Nancy shared that we are currently in a huge skills gap across all industries but especially in the tech industry where there are hundreds of thousands of open jobs.  She explained that CompTIA Tech was created to train and place people to fill these jobs and works with companies to place students.

Ryan believes that employer hiring behavior is the key. “Employers have gotten into the habit of requiring a bachelor’s degree and specifying all of these skills. I read an article analyzing entry-level cybersecurity positions, and if you add up all the skills they are saying are required in those positions, it’s the equivalent of three years’ experience in the sector. It turns an entry-level job into an oxymoron. As a result, you have hundreds of thousands of unfilled jobs and no clear pathway to entering that career.”

To change employer behavior, University Ventures is focusing on apprenticeship-type models where they invest in companies that can essentially act as the employer of record for a period of time, such as business services, companies, and staffing companies that operate in skill gap sectors. One of the companies they partner with, Revature, is a software developer staffing firm that essentially got into the entry-level talent sector. They invest in last-mile training on specific tech stacks that clients are looking for and have launched apprenticeship programs across 20 campuses. 

“Revature acts as the employer of record for up to two years for given clients, so there really is zero friction for the candidate. Over time with this model, we found we were able to change employer hiring behavior. They began to trust Revature for their hiring needs. And Revature began to increasingly

throughput community college graduates and as well as candidates with no post-secondary education at all.”

Both Nancy and Ryan pointed out that in the U.S. we used to hire on skills, not on the degree and that we need to get back to doing that. “What I'm confident about is that technology is going to help us get there as digital technology, the digital revolution, has changed the nature of work and made the skills gap worse,” Ryan stated.

“I think we may be at the apex of the skills gap because there are lots of ways in which things like digital assessments and digital credentials are going to allow employers to have much greater visibility as to what the skill sets are of applicants and make it much easier and actually preferable to hire someone with a discreet micro-credential or skills-based credential or set of skills-based credentials than someone with a macro-credential, like a degree, which really doesn't say anything about what the candidate,” added Ryan.

While he isn’t advocating for less post-secondary education or that it’s advisable to have less, he believes we need to change how we consume post-secondary education from all you can eat in one sitting to what we need when we need it.  And for many entry-level jobs, since they are digital, a faster, less expensive skills-based pathway may be more helpful in getting the first job.

Getting the word to high school students is critical so that they know there are alternative pathways to the good tech jobs that college graduates are having an increasingly difficult time getting because they don't have the specific digital skills.  These include the programs University Ventures funds as well as CompTIA Tech.

Check out our YouTube channel to see the full video of the fireside chat.


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