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LearnUp: eLearning Startup’s Potential Cure for Skills Gap and U.S. Unemployment

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Alexis Ringwald spent six months in the unemployment lines of Silicon Valley. She realized a core problem was that unemployment offices trained people with skills they thought would help them get jobs. But applicants sent resumes and never knew why they were never hired. That’s when Ringwald realized the crucial stakeholder was missing in the training process — who knew better what skills applicants need than the companies themselves?

“The skills gap is an information gap,” Ringwald said. “The current system is broken. Our education system is not adapting quickly enough to keep up with what the labor market needs.”

So Ringwald and co-founder Kenny Ma started LearnUp. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Pilot program in San Francisco Bay area, started in 2011
  • Clinton Global Initiative goal is to give 100,000 young job seekers access to online job training
  • Employers offering training: Staples, Gap, Safeway, Wholefoods, Starbucks, Banana Republic, Wells Fargo, KPMG, and Ringwald says they have a wait list.
  • Rolling out training (most run 2 hours) to partners Corporate Voices and California Community Colleges‘ 3 million students
  • Training videos free to applicants, revenue comes from employers for successful placements, and perhaps more advanced features.
  • $1.9 million in funding. VC funded by Floodgate (Mike Maples), Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock (Reid Hoffman), NEA, SV Angel (Ron Conway), TechFellows Fund, and other angels.
  • Competitor skilltesting provides more technical competency testing of potential hires.

Bottom line: It’s nice to see that LearnUp has partnered with California Community Colleges, but it also begs the question, what is the value proposition for the community colleges? If employers can directly train future employees, this is the further erosion of community colleges. For sure, LearnUp mostly meets the need of entry level positions right now. But is there any reason why the platform doesn’t scale up to include more technical or advanced positions? Starbucks and Staples both list manage positions on LearnUp.

From Forbes:

Companies like LearnUp have partnered with big box employers to develop curricula that allow someone with an undifferentiated or out-of-date degree, to learn the relevant skills necessary for a job, and to signal intent in a crowded marketplace. Students can turn what could be a loose proxy for smarts and responsibility, say for example, an Associates degree in English, into a strong signal and skills-based orientation that tells the retailer that the individual has not only the talent, but intention, to be a floor-manager at a big box retailer.

From Wired:

Here’s how LearnUp works: A prospective job applicant can look at an employer’s open jobs, each of which has a set of recommended “trainings,” which can include videos, written tutorials, magazine articles, and links to classes and certifications offered outside of LearnUp. Staples’ trainings for its manager position include a YouTube tutorial on QuickBooks, a Harvard Business School “Working Knowledge” article on “Making the Move to General Manager,” a Buzzle.com article on “Retail Store Management Tips,” and a TED talk on the “Eight Secrets of Success.”

As the prospective job applicant completes the trainings, she builds a “skills resume” on LearnUp she can use to apply for open positions.

Video cheat sheet:
Skip to 3 minutes for how Ringwald developed the platform idea.
Skip to 19 minutes for Ringwald on LearnUp’s growth trajectory.

[ Forbes: On Digital Literacy, Wired, Forbes: On LearnUp Launch, TNW]

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