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Better reskilling can future-proof jobs in the age of automation. Enter SkillUp's new coalition.

Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.

  • Outplacement is an underperforming $5 billion dollar industry. A new non-profit coalition by SkillUp intends to disrupt it.
  • More and more Americans will be laid off in years to come due to automation. Those people need to reorient their career paths and reskill in a way that protects their long-term livelihood.
  • SkillUp brings together technology and service providers, education and training providers, hiring employers, worker outreach, and philanthropies to help people land in-demand jobs in high-growth industries.


With COVID-19 ravaging our economy—leaving 40 million workers seeking unemployment benefits and 55% of Americans reporting lost income—the country desperately needs a better set of solutions to help workers reorient in the face of an uncertain future.

Employers have historically provided outplacement services to employees they lay off. Outplacement is a $5 billion industry in normal years that spikes dramatically during recessions. Companies that provide outplacement services typically charge $3,000 to $10,000 per worker.

But the standard offering is paltry. Employees who have been laid off or are about to be laid off receive a bit of coaching, access to job listings, and resume reviews—and that's about it.

Yet we know that a couple of short coaching sessions, job listings and resume reviews don't result in jobs. Research shows that 70% of all jobs aren't posted on job sites, and 80% of jobs are filled through connections, not blind applications.

Nor do these services result in the sort of higher paying jobs that allow individuals to become more productive working members of society on sounder footing, ready to navigate the twists and turns of a future that will see more technological unemployment and a vastly different set of required skill sets to future-proof jobs.

Instead, those who are laid off require something more: reskilling, relationships, and navigation to step it up and make progress in their lives.

Against this backdrop, a new effort, SkillUp, is launching to help workers select and prepare for career paths that align with the economy of the future. SkillUp is a non-profit leading a coalition of technology and service providers, education and training providers, hiring employers, worker outreach, and philanthropies to support laid off and furloughed workers.

The coalition SkillUp is assembling is ultimately more than a set of solutions around outplacement that should persist past the current pandemic, but the coming promise of a more flexible, affordable, and convenient set of solutions to support individuals' upskilling and reskilling throughout their lives to fulfill their human potential.

SkillUp offers a three-pronged approach:

  1. Career navigation: Technology tools and coaching resources to help workers choose a productive pathway and orient around jobs and careers that will grow in the future of work.
  2. Training programs: The coalition helps workers find educational and training programs matched to their career goals to help them upskill, so that they do not just go back into frontline or entry-level roles, but can make progress in their career and fortunes.
  3. Job opportunities: Using relationships with hiring employers and technology to match workers with open positions, SkillUp pairs workers with available opportunities.

In addition, SkillUp is leveraging the technology of Next Chapter, an offering of Guild Education, where I'm a senior strategist, as well as Guild's partner network of large employers—many of whom are in a position to hire employees—and education providers. These relationships will help SkillUp move quickly to serve workers with a ready-made solution.

SkillUp's solution shows how employers can transition parts of their workforce to more productive pursuits over time. Employers have an incentive to drive this work to refresh their workforces in intentional ways that manage employee churn; to bolster employee morale; to preserve their company brand; to aid in personnel recruitment; and to ultimately help power the country's consumption-driven economy.

The coalition SkillUp is assembling is ultimately more than a set of solutions around outplacement that should persist past the current pandemic, but the coming promise of a more flexible, affordable, and convenient set of solutions to support individuals' upskilling and reskilling throughout their lives to fulfill their human potential. What that necessitates is a much broader shift in postsecondary education and a reshuffling of how higher education works.

Rather than just bank on existing colleges and universities and sources of debt-driven funding to disrupt themselves, the future of higher education will also rely on novel programs and arrangements, like SkillUp.

New funding mechanisms to pay for more education—from leveraging employers' willingness to pay in order to reap a return on investment to income share agreements that align incentives around the success of learners—will emerge to fund the education of learners.

On-ramp and last-mile programs along with hybrid colleges that marry online, competency-based learning with learning model innovations, no-excuses mindsets, and non-academic supports are emerging to alter how we prepare students to enter the workforce. Mobile learning solutions are making learning far more bite-sized and accessible on the job.

Source: McKinsey Global Institute analysis [PDF]

Work in understanding the skills at the heart of the new digital economy is leading to novel assessments that allow individuals to prove mastery to faithfully represent their abilities—but also to give weight and stackability to the emerging ecosystem of micro-credentials that make education more seamless across time and education providers. And we are seeing the beginnings of a renewal in the liberal arts, focused on building human skills in affordable ways that are accessible to many more individuals and far more effective.

Amidst these dark times, there is much opportunity to refresh the nation's education and training solutions to support the success of individuals and society writ large.

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