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Solving the education-employment dilemma.
GUEST COLUMN | by Himanshu Aggarwal and Varun Aggarwal
We’ve always been suckers for thorny problems rooted in inefficiencies. That certainly describes the education-employment marketplace. Consider that 8.5 million people are seeking work while 5 million U.S. jobs go begging, according to the latest U.S. Department of Labor figures. Meanwhile, more and more college graduates are discovering that all they are left with after four years of study is a pile of debt and a low-wage job that doesn’t utilize their skills.
Both job seekers and employers could rely on valid, objective credentials, which would increase the value of education.
This is a classic case of misalignment between the needs of employers and job seekers. Employers hire based on credentials that end up excluding a vast trove of students. Just as companies for years would chose IBM as their vendor, knowing it was “safe,” companies lean toward candidates from prestigious colleges and universities. Consequently, talented and potentially skilled candidates from lower-tier colleges often don’t get a hearing. An additional thorn in the side of job seekers is that they are often unaware of their job skills. Getting an “A” in a marketing course doesn’t necessarily translate into a student becoming a whiz-bang salesperson.
Not Doing the Usual
We perceived a problem requiring innovative solutions. The usual fixes of counseling, networking, recruitment agencies or training failed to reduce ingrained system inefficiencies.
Our vision was to create a solution that would improve millions of lives, using technology and science to address the problem at scale. For a reality check, we sought the opinion of Harvard Business School Professor Tarun Khanna, who has written about the employment- job skills gap. He encouraged us to develop our vision, seeing an opportunity to make a big impact.
Combining our skills, including computer science expertise that Varun honed at MIT, we developed a different kind of job skills test – one that is prescriptive and descriptive. For job candidates, it would provide a roadmap of skills they need to obtain a particular job. Finally, job seekers wouldn’t be in the dark about their skills needs. At the same time, both job seekers and employers could rely on valid, objective credentials, which would increase the value of education.
We wanted to ensure that our test would accurately measures the skills that are required for a variety of jobs in the market and that test scores would reliably predict job performance. To accomplish this, we made technological and scientific innovations. Our test is adaptive: it becomes easier or harder based on a test taker’s responses, which improves scoring accuracy. We measure functional skills like programming using a simulation in which the candidate writes code, and we grade it automatically using machine learning. On the other hand, to measure people and management skills, such as customer service and sales acumen, we use situational judgment questions. These questions mimic a real-world situation in which the test taker has to choose the best and worst response.
Knowing What They Know
As a result of our corporate work over seven years, we solidly understand job competencies and the scores needed for different jobs. We work with more than 1,100 companies, many of which are multinationals, that hire based on our standardized test, AMCAT. We know the scores that companies target for particular job profiles and also the scores that predict high performance in a job.
Students and colleges benefit from our knowledge, especially our objective feedback on where skills gaps lie and how to improve. All AMCAT test takers get detailed input on strengths, weaknesses, and the necessary coursework and developmental resources. We also share employability analytics with colleges, universities and governments.
Today, a million candidates take AMCAT yearly to get feedback and access the right jobs. More than 300,000 AMCAT credentials have been posted on LinkedIn, making us the third-largest certifier on LinkedIn. Statistical analysis shows that hiring based on AMCAT eliminates college-reputation or GPA bias.
Working with more than 4,000 higher education institutions, we have consistently engaged college administrators and career centers in discussing evidence-based employability training and its impact on jobs. In addition, we partner with MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) institutions, such as edX, that are transforming education by enabling millions of individuals outside traditional/formal environments to acquire relevant knowledge and skills.
More Work Ahead
Although we have come a long way, much remains to be done. In a major recent step, we opened a U.S. office in Redwood City, California, and made AMCAT available to U.S. employers and job seekers.
We estimate that close to 150 million learners in higher education and 60 million learners in vocational education around the world could benefit from AMCAT. We need to reach more of them. We also need to reach many more companies and help them use AMCAT to improve their hiring processes, criteria and results.
Himanshu Aggarwal is CEO and co-founder of Aspiring Minds, which provides the world’s most widely-used employability test, launched in the U.S. on May 13, with U.S. headquarters in Redwood City, California. His brother, Varun Aggarwal, is CTO and co-founder of the company.
As digital skills become a more integral aspect of our daily life, at home, school and the workplace, student demand for digital skills has increased. According to a 2014 study by Internships.com, 52 percent of students think more practical skills development – including digital and technical skills – should be required. Grovo is a beautiful and effective cloud-based training platform that teaches professional skills in 60 seconds, and has set out to solve the digital skills gap in the U.S. economy. Designed to stay current with evolving technology, the company has mastered microlearning through its short, highly-engaging video trainings created with its proprietary production process. The shorter training time leads to better results and increased retention of information. They currently offer dynamic and engaging courses on more than 150 Internet tools, cloud services and technology topics. Incorporating solutions for the on-the-go student, their training content is available on mobile, tablet and desktop. Through experience gained from delivering more than 3,000,000 lessons to hundreds of thousands of learners across industries and organizations, it has helped individuals, students and educators alike minimize the skills gap in their organizations to ensure employees are equipped with the essential digital tools needed to succeed in today’s tech-infused world. See it in action.
Beware of edtech procurement’s sirens: four ways to navigate around them.
GUEST COLUMN | by Edwin Wargo
Buying stuff. That’s what we like to do as a people. It’s our economy. Sorry baseball, Facebook, and the Kardashians. You’ve got stiff headwinds on how we like to spend our time. It makes sense why marketplaces have popped up all around us. We can find, review, and buy stuff more quickly using topical marketplaces. We also want our stuff right now. Speaking of now, Amazon, Uber, AirBNB get all the press because they have in part perfected Johnny-on-the-spot service. But there are others. Lots of others.
We need to look at the real-world trends around us and we need to look at the current state of edtech procurement.
Before the swell of marketplaces, we used Google to find stuff to buy. We’d search and search using this keyword and that keyword (thank you high school media specialists for giving me these skills!) But it was and still is laborious. The results are dependent on optimized keywords and rankings. Then folks realized we could easily use technology to play matchmaker connecting buyers and sellers. Google has noticed this shift launching their “buy buttons” that will soon appear in search results.
Where does edtech fit into all of this? Interestingly, the marketplace concept that is making waves in many other sectors hasn’t fully reached the edtech procurement shores yet, albeit there are some docks that are promising. It’s curious on a number of seemingly disparate levels that need to be connected. As a country, we spend about $20B per year on edtech. Moreover, for our students we invest a lot of time talking about being Future Ready and 21st Century Skills. In order to connect these dots, we need to look at the real-world trends around us and we need to look at the current state of edtech procurement. Not an academic exercise, for sure, but one of real student impact.
On balance, edtech purchasing is still at sea in search of a marketplace port where schools can find and buy edtech. This has real impact. Beware, though, there are Sirens out there singing their beautiful songs. There are four buoys that are needed to steer edtech procurement into port. This global trend of marketplaces is sure to reach edtech. Let’s take a look at the Sirens and buoys. Argh, matey!
- Identify the EdTech Procurement Process
- If You Build It, They Will Come? Human Nature
- Seeing the Benefits
- Understanding the Reality
1. Do we need a map even though we can see land? Identifying the Edtech Procurement Process
We need to establish a community language around this process. Those of you in the edtech business may say, “Thanks, Captain Obvious!” It is through seeing this end-to-end process that we know the best way to model the edtech marketplace. Without it, it is easy to look at the land far away but get hung up on a sandbar right in front of us.
As a former K-12 teacher and district tech administrator this has been the process I have observed:
- Discovery – Finding the right solution
- Vetting – Making sure it’s the best
- Pricing – Learning how much it will cost.
- Decision – Yes, no, or maybe with stakeholder input.
- Review – Sharing your experience with others.
The $20B question is whether technology should imitate the process or if the process can be changed using technology? We have seen the emergence of sites like Graphite, EdNak, BidNet, and Learntia that are good starts towards marketplaces but don’t yet provide the end-to-end experience for schools and providers.
I think the answer is a hybrid of both scenarios dependent upon the one constant in all of this — the human element.
2. If You Build It, Will They Come? Human Nature
We humans are an interesting species. We need not look further than our world – the world of education and technology. The change arc we embrace doesn’t always follow the available technology. Just look around. The current edtech procurement process and marketplaces are good examples of this. Adoption rates are slow.
Marketplaces are only good if buyer and seller humans actually use them. This applies to brick and mortar as well as cloud-based marketplaces. Changing ingrained behavior that has nearly crystallized over many years is hard to do. We humans have to see the benefits of using a technology and going a different route before changing course.
3. What’s In It For Me? The Benefit
In his book Change Function, author Pip Coburn talks about technology adoption. He contends users adopt technology when the total pain of adoption is less than their current pain. In other words, if pain is high and the new technology is easy to adopt, people will use said technology.
The same can and does hold true for edtech marketplaces. The benefit has to be clear for schools and solution providers. Edtech marketplaces have to be real about their audiences.
4. Reality Element
There are two distinct parts to the reality of edtech marketplaces. The first is a reality bubble. The second is about practice.
I think we are in the midst of an edtech bubble but not the economic kind. It’s a reality bubble. There seems to be a disconnect between what we think is happening and what is really happening. School and district decision makers are extremely busy people, I know, I have lived it, given their wide range of responsibilities. Edtech marketplaces need to be designed with this daily reality in mind.
For example, the discovery process has to be made easier. It should allow a busy tech coordinator or principal to find a solution using their language and thought processes. Having another flat directory that provides some reviews doesn’t match the reality.
Here’s a real example. There are great tools that sync student information systems with a school’s Active Directory. Try that in a Google search? And for a busy administrator- that may not know such a thing exists – it’s hard to simply articulate.
We collectively spend a lot of time talking about 21st century and preparing students for the future. There are a lot of great educators doing great things. Here’s the irony: The very tools that we are leveraging to make students ready for the world are found in such archaic methods. We just need to look at how we are buying stuff outside of school.
As long as buyers are buying and sellers have stuff to sell, marketplaces are here to stay in the world around us. As schools and their providers dip their toes in the water of edtech marketplaces, we need to step outside our bubbles, considering the Sirens out there, which can delay the true benefit of them. We need to dive in the water leading with the reality in schools and humanity. Otherwise, it will be like a cannonball – a lot of splash but no grace.
Edwin Wargo is CEO and co-founder of 3rd Quote. He is a former K-12 teacher with a Masters in School Leadership who has held district and school technology coordinator positions. Write to email@example.com or follow him @edwinjwargo with any comments or questions.
Virtual Nerd Mobile Math is a free math app that provides on-the-go access to a video library of more than 1,500 high quality math tutorials. Available on the App Store, this app’s interactive tutorials, aligned to the Common Core and other rigorous standards, review fundamental math concepts for middle and high school students. Students, teachers and parents can tap into math refreshers on their iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Organized by topic and standard, the app makes it easy to navigate and find the video on the concept a student needs to practice. On-screen instructors provide clear and approachable explanations; students and teachers can mark “favorite” videos so that they can instantly return to them in the future. In addition, schools using a lot of Pearson’s Common Core math programs including ‘digits’ — can search the app by the program’s table of contents. Requires iOS 6.0 or later; compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Have a look.