New Resources Accelerate Learning, Employment, and Career Advancement for Adults

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National Non-Profits, Social Enterprises and Foundations Collaborate to Discover How Technologies Can Best Increase Opportunity for Lower-Skilled Adults

This week World Education introduced two new resources to support the use of technology products to accelerate learning, employment, and career advancement for adults.

  • The Workforce EdTech Tools repository is a growing collection of impactful technology tools for use in adult learning and workforce development settings; and
  • A new report, Leveraging Technology to Increase Opportunity and Economic Security for Adults, shares findings and recommendations from the EdTech Center @ World Education’s national field testing of seven technology tools for increasing access to learning and employment opportunity for lower-skilled adults. The findings represent a year of field testing with over 1,500 working learners and job seekers across the country.

The repository is designed to help adult learning and workforce development organizations, as well as employers, better leverage the most impactful technologies to increase outcomes related to: Learning & Training; Mentorship & Support; Assessment & Matching; Job Search & Placement; and Organizational Management.

It was built by World Education with the support of a group of non-profit organizations including the Employment Technology Fund, SkillRise – an initiative of International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE), Jobs for the Future (JFF), Digital Promise, Code for America, the Literacy, Language and Technology Research center at Portland State University, New America ShiftLabs, and the EdTech Center @ World Education.

“By harnessing digital technologies that are mobile, accessible and personal, we can help all adults, including entry level workers, grow their talent and increase economic opportunity,” said Alison Ascher Webber, Director of Strategic Initiatives, the EdTech Center @ World Education.  “Through both our field testing and the Workforce EdTech tools repository, we will increase the effective use of technology and break down barriers to education and employment on a far-reaching scale.”

In the United States, an estimated 40 percent of adults lack in-demand skills and connections to advance in their careers or earn higher wages. While there are many edtech resources for K-12 or higher education, there are few that focus on adult learners and job seekers.

“We’ve heard over and over again that while providers of learning and skill development want to leverage technology to improve access and impact, they just don’t know where to begin,” said Danielle Goonan, Senior Manager II with Walmart Giving. “While there are many edtech products, it can be challenging to determine which ones work best with each worker. The Workforce EdTech Tools repository and the new learnings from World Education’s year-long technology testing will help the field, including employers, better leverage the most impactful technologies to increase outcomes.”

These technologies will increase opportunities for adult learners. For example, students can use their cell phones to learn English during work breaks, use a computer to find how their skills match up to new jobs or career paths, or participate in a virtual chat with a professional in an industry that is hiring. Other tools help improve communication, project workflow and documentation, and financial management and fundraising of organizations supporting adult learners.

“These technologies are poised to change the future of work—especially for the millions of adults living in the United States most in need of increased access to learning and opportunity,” said Yigal Kerszenbaum, managing director, Employment Technology Fund. “We are grateful to World Education, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation for partnering with us to both test and share impactful uses of employment education technology.”

The seven digital tools field tested include companies receiving impact investment from the Employment Technology Fund and proven to help adults enhance their skills and achieve greater workforce mobility, including CareAcademyCell-EdNeprisNorthstarPAIRINSignal Vine, and SkillSmart.

The field testing uncovered five key strategies technologies should leverage to meet the needs of adults with lower skills, including mobility, accessible onboarding, personal connections, screening-in, and rich media. These and other learnings will help more tool developers improve their products to better serve lower-skilled adults, with feedback from workforce development agencies, community-based organizations, adult educators, and employers. The learnings are based on direct feedback from the end users— including frontline service workers, English language learners, diverse adults in employment training programs, jobseekers, and community college students.

The field testing of technologies and Workforce EdTech were made possible through grants from Walmart and the Walmart Foundation as part of the Technology Testing for Adult Learning & Employment (TTALE) initiative.

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EdTech Center at World Education:The EdTech Center @ World Education was launched in October 2015 to leverage technology to increase the reach and impact of education and workforce initiatives and to enable everyone to thrive and be active, informed citizens in the new digital world. Housed atWorld Educationin Boston, the EdTech Center collaborates with diverse partners to accelerate learning, digital literacy, college and career readiness and economic mobility of adults with lower-skills in the United States as well as youth and adults internationally. With active projects in Asia, Africa and the United States, the EdTech Center is one of few organizations promoting learning exchange and partnership between edtech leaders in the United States and international experts. Together they are catalyzing an edtech movement that puts the needs of learners and instructors first.

Employment Technology Fund:  TheEmployment Technology Fundis the first impact investment fund to invest in technology solutions that improve employment opportunity for lower-skilled, low-wage-earning adults in the United States. By shaping the future of work, ETF and its portfolio companies will close the employment opportunity gap facing 103 million adults who lack the skills, training and opportunities to access family-sustaining jobs and meaningful employment, including women, minorities, and immigrants. Since launching in August 2017, the Fund has made seven investments including:Cell-Ed,NorthStar,SkillSmartNepris,Signal VineCareAcademy, andPAIRIN. The Fund’s investors include the Walmart Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Joyce Foundation, The W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the ECMC Foundation. 

About Philanthropy at Walmart: By using our strengths to help others, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation create opportunities for people to live better every day. Our philanthropy helps people live better by supporting upward job mobility for the retail workforce; addressing hunger and increasing access to healthier, more sustainably-grown food; and building strong communities where Walmart operates.

Investing in CareAcademy to Upskill Adults for Careers in Caregiving

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By Yigal Kerszenbaum, Managing Director, Employment Technology Fund

As the director of  The Employment Technology Fund (ETF), a social impact fund breaking down barriers to employment for lower-income adults,  I was pleased to recently add CareAcademy to our growing portfolio of companies.  

CareAcademy is a social enterprise that provides innovative mobile learning, certification, and career advancement opportunities for senior caregivers and home health aides. 

This is a game changer. Before CareAcademy, a lower-income person might be interested in the opportunity to become a certified senior caregiver. But, barriers would get in their way. Maybe they didn’t have transportation to a class.  Or maybe they did, but they couldn’t afford to take a week of unpaid time off work to go through the training.

Now, with a cell-phone or tablet, CareAcademy is breaking down those traditional barriers to upskilling and certifications—letting people learn anytime, anywhere.  Through CareAcadaemy’s innovative use of technology, now adults of all socioeconomic backgrounds will have access to enter one of the most rapidly growing professions.

That’s why CareAcademy is such a great fit in the ETF portfolio—its solutions meet two major needs in the United States — a major shortage of certified senior caregivers for a growing senior population and a large number of lower-skilled adults struggling to find meaningful employment. By making training and education accessible, CareAcademy is giving workers in-demand skills to start and advance a career in healthcare.

We are not the only ones who think that CareAcademy is onto something big. Following ETF’s investment, CareAcademy won the Global Grand Prize in the 2018 MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge in the Skill Development and Opportunity Matching category. 

In addition to capital, we provide entrepreneurs in the ETF portfolio with strategic support such as validating sales and revenue models, making introductions to potential partners, improving internal controls and governance practices and supporting efforts to raise additional capital.

We also do something very different for our portfolio companies—funding pilots to maximize the impact of their products in serving low-income adults.  The EdTech Center at World Education,  with funding through the Walmart Foundation’s Technology Testing for Adult Learning & Employment program, has been field testing our portfolio’s tools to learn the best practices in employment technology and education.  Those learnings will be broadly shared next month so that the full industry can better understand how technology can close the employment opportunity gap for our nation’s millions of lower-skilled, lower income adults.

In the case of CareAcademy, we are wrapping up field tests to pilot their online course modules and validate new models of educating and certifying frontline home care workers for career advancement through blended and distance learning. 

If you’d like to learn more, check out  https://careacademy.com/etf/and keep an eye open for future posts on key learnings from field tests. 

Cell-Ed Advances to XPRIZE Communities Competition

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By Yigal Kerszenbaum, Managing Director, Employment Technology Fund

There are 100 million adults in the United States who cannot read above a sixth-grade level, trapped in unemployment or toiling at low-pay positions with no path for advancement.   And 89 percent have difficulty making up lost ground in a traditional classroom because of work commitments, transportation issues or lack of funds.

So what if a company figured out how to effectively deliver literacy with what is already in most people’s pockets or in the palm of their hand: a basic cell phone?   

That’s exactly what Cell-Ed is doing—with powerful results for learners.

Cell-Ed is delivering an easy way for millions of workers worldwide to acquire literacy, language and jobs skills on any device with no internet connection or data plan needed. So people who ordinarily couldn’t get to a classroom would be able to work on three-minute interactive lessons, say, on their lunch break or while waiting for the kids to get out of school. 

And Thursday, they were named a finalist in the Adult Literacy XPRIZE, a multi-year, multi-phase competition focused on transforming the lives of the nation’s 36 million low-literate  adults  (reading below a 3rdgrade level) by tackling the largest obstacles to achieving basic literacy–access, retention and scale.

Launched in 2015, the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE, presented by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, challenged teams to develop mobile applications for existing smart devices that result in the greatest increase in literacy skills among participating adult learners.  From 109 teams across 15 countries, Cell-Ed was one of a handful of tools selected to participate in a 15-month, 12,000-person field test with adult learners in Los Angeles, Dallas and Philadelphia.  

While they didn’t take home one of the grand prizes, they take home something invaluable—new data and insights to better meet the learning needs of the low-literate adults they serve. And while all four finalists proved that literacy can be taught through mobile applications—Cell-Ed also demonstrated the value of providing a call-in cellular option for the hardest to reach.

And now they are gearing up to for the XPRIZE’s Communities Competition. This 15-month long national competition will challenge organizations, communities and individuals to recruit adults with low literacy skills to download and use the finalist tools—like Cell-Ed—toward a goal of engaging and transforming the lives of one million adult learners in the United States.

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Cell-Ed through my work leading the Employment Technology Fund, the first social impact investment fund targeting technologies that train, upskill or improve access to lower-income adults struggling to find meaningful employment.  

Talk about a perfect match—a mutual desire to use technology to improve employment opportunity for low-income, underprepared adults (on the go). 

Cell-Ed was our first investment in 2017 and I’ve been inspired at their trajectory over the last two years—from continuously improving their offerings to uniquely serve low-literate adults, to their partnerships with employers who want to see people reach their full potential, to the increase of learners using their platform.  

Cell-Ed’s products are truly meeting learners’ needs where they are—literally and figuratively—offering ‘skills-on the go’ anywhere and aligned to the needs of the individuals (as proven in these field test findingsof Cell-Ed with healthcare and hotel workers, conducted by the EdTech Center at World Education, through the support of the Walmart Foundation).  

I would like to personally thank the XPRIZE Foundation, the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation for your commitment to transforming the lives of low-literate adults.   Your work to improve literacy and our work to improve employment opportunity will truly make a difference for millions of underemployed, low-income adults and their families.  

For more information about the winning teams and the Communities Competition, visit  adultliteracy.xprize.org  and  communities.xprize.org.  

About the Employment Technology Fund (ETF) 

The Employment Technology Fund is the first social impact fund to invest in technology solutions that improve employment opportunity for lower-skilled, lower-income adults in the United States. By shaping the future of work, ETF and its portfolio companies will close the employment opportunity gap facing 103 million adults who lack the skills, training and opportunities to access family-sustaining jobs and meaningful employment, including women, minorities, and immigrants. Since launching in August 2017, the Fund has made seven investments including: Cell-EdNorthStarSkillSmartNeprisSignal VineCareAcademy, and PAIRIN. The Fund’s investors include the Walmart Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Joyce Foundation, The W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the ECMC Foundation. Learn more at  www.employmenttechnologyfund.com

SkillSmart—Improving Employment Opportunity with Skills-Based Hiring

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What happens when employers start to look at a whole individual—and not just traditional education and work experience on a resume?

A mother finds out that years at home caring for her paraplegic son has prepared her with skills to work in insurance customer service.

Or an unemployed Milwaukee resident who is good with his hands gets the chance (and a bit of additional training)  to help build the city’s new arena for the NBA’s Bucks.

That’s exactly what SkillSmart is doing—helping create pathways to employment for skilled workers who would typically receive an outright rejection. The robust skill-matching platform uses skills as a consistent measure of candidate proficiency for specific jobs and provides opportunities for targeted upskilling, leveling the playing field for applicants and improving outcomes for employers.

I’m proud to have partnered with SkillSmart though my work with the Employment Technology Fund(ETF), a social impact fund breaking down barriers to employment for lower-income adults.

ETF invests in early-stage companies that use technology to remove barriers holding these workers back from growing their talent, connecting to meaningful work, and thriving in the economy.   SkillSmart’s model does all three—connecting job seekers to opportunities in which they are best fit, identifying clear pathways to upskill, and helping communities better solve their regional skills gaps.

The Challenge: Despite a record number of job openings, millions of adults are struggle to succeed in our nation’s labor market.  While people are quick to point to the skills gap as a big part of the problem, the team at SkillSmart believes the traditional hiring process is also to blame. 

Job seekers—lacking transparency into the actual skills required for a job—apply for numerous opportunities for which they may or may not be qualified. Employers receive an average of 144 resumes for a single job posting and spend less than
six seconds reviewing each of those resumes. All while workforce development agencies, educators, and trainers are tasked with developing workforce pipelines without a good sense of the actual needs of employers.

And without a clear understanding of the skills required for an open position, employers rely on traditional—and often unnecessary—proxies like degree requirements which arbitrarily reduce the pool of applicants and disproportionately impact underrepresented individuals.

How SkillSmart Works: SkillSmart was built on the knowledge that job seekers have important skill-building experiences that qualify them for work opportunities that don’t often appear on a resume. Using a proprietary skills index, SkillSmart helps employers map, define, and prioritize the skills needed into job descriptions. Through this process, employers start to uncover how certain skills can be earned and validated through previous work, education, or other life experiences.

Job seekers can use the platform to explore job opportunities, understand exactly what skills those jobs require, numerically match to specific jobs based upon their skills qualifications, better understand their own personal skills gap, and learn about regional training opportunities to gain skills to become more competitive for a job opportunity.

The SkillSmart team has proven the model effective for employer, industry, and region-wide use—in markets across the country—demonstrating that the strategy has the capacity and scale to impact unlimited individuals.

Outcomes of the SkillSmart Model in Action:

  • Helping a Mother Uncover In-Demand Skills Gained at Home: A Massachusetts mother, who hoped to reenter the paid workforce after staying home to care for her paraplegic son, worried she lacked enough prior work experience to qualify for any good opportunities. By answering questions on her non-work experiences, the SkillSmart platform identified that she had significant experience handling insurance paperwork and a deep understanding of health insurance systems. She was uniquely qualified for a number of medical/insurance customer service opportunities.
  • From Ushering on Sunday to a Job with a Top Hospitality Company: A new resort hiring 4000 local workers determined that customer service skills were a top priority for a specific job type. After using SkillSmart’s matching algorithm, the company discovered that many of its top candidates had earned that skill outside of the traditional classroom or workplace – developing the skills instead through volunteerism, such as being ushers in their places of worship.
  • Helping the Bucks Hire 40% Jobless or Underemployed Milwaukee Residents to Build New Arena: In Milwaukee, the SkillSmart model helped the NBA’s Bucks meet their objective of connecting local job seekers who were living in poverty to family-sustaining wages supporting the team’s new arena. The Bucks leveraged SkillSmart to hire and train at least 40 percent of their construction team who were previously underemployed, jobless or even unskilled Milwaukee residents.
  • Helping Detroit’s Workforce Development Pros Connect Job Seekers to the Pistons:  SkillSmart’s team was recently asked to create a pipeline of qualified local workers to support the construction and operations of the Detroit Pistons’ new practice facility—and to help prospective employees gain skills needed for future employment. Chris Purnell, a workforce development specialist with Southwest Solutions, helps Detroit residents re-enter the workforce with training and  job placement. “This is exactly what my clients need to connect to great employment and training opportunities in Detroit,” he said, after trying it out himself. “Extremely easy to use, I love how the system asks questions to uncover in-demand skills that people might leave off a traditional resume.”
  • Helping Western Massachusetts Upskill Job Seekers with In-Demand Skills:  Western Massachusetts is using the SkillSmart model to transform the way the region’s employers, industries, and communities identify, develop, and hire talent. The skills-matching platform connects job seekers with available positions from more than 25 employers in the region. At the same time, the system is gathering real-time insight into where actual skills gaps exist in Western Massachusetts to share with training and education providers.

Field Testing of SkillSmart:  The EdTech Center at World Education has been field testing the ETF portfolio of  tools to learn the best practices in employment technology and education.  In the case of SkillSmart, the field testing is comparing and contrasting both the applicant and employer experience of a traditional hiring process versus SkillSmart’s hiring model.

Look for future postings on the those learnings from field testing can improve technologies’ ability to close the employment opportunity gap for our nation’s millions of lower-skilled, lower income adults.