If you haven’t heard, we here at AfterCollege are passionate about finding students and recent graduates their first jobs and internships. But, more than that, we want to help them find the right jobs and internships. That’s why we focus so much on career exploration—discovering and learning about careers that are available to you so that you find the right fit.
To take this a step further, our founder and CEO Roberto Angulo recently attended the White House 21st Century Jobs Data Jam in Washington, DC. Hosted by Vice President Joe Biden, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Labor, the event was a meeting of the minds with the goal of figuring out ways to leverage government data to better match individuals with the right jobs.
In other words, it was exactly where we wanted to be.
The event had about 60 attendees who consisted of government leaders, non-profits, state policy makers, and people from private enterprises.
The overall goal of this meeting, as Joe Biden stated it, was to help the middle class and give dignity back to people who are struggling to find work.
The government knows how much data they have access to, but they’re also aware of how quickly technology is advancing and that they need help figuring out the best way to transform this data into results.
The White House 21st Century Jobs Data Jam set out to employ the help of the private sector to brainstorm ideas and create products that would help the US population.
The meeting was a day-long, continuous brainstorm session. Attendees were broken up into five different groups and worked within those groups to think of different ways to use government resources to better match individuals with jobs. Each group then narrowed those ideas down to one which they would present to all participants.
So what was the result?
I had a chance to sit down with Roberto and ask him about his group and the idea they came up with, how they plan on pursuing that idea, and other groups’ strategies that caught his attention.
Where to start?
Because there is a need to find people the right jobs rather than just any job, Roberto’s group decided to focus on skill sets; skills people have and skills needed to perform well at certain jobs.
That led to the first question they tackled.
Question Number 1: How do you measure a person’s skills when they don’t know what their skills are?
This was a complicated question because, as it turned out, “skills” are not often easily identified or labeled.
Roberto used me as an example:
“You write pretty well, right?” he asked.
“I hope so,” I laughed (considering writing is my job and he is the CEO).
“Right. But, as a part of that, you’re good at listening, at digesting information, and making it explainable. You can explain it to people, right? So, right there that’s probably an example of, like, four or five skills you have. But you may not be aware of them. So, if I ask you, ‘What are your skills?’ you might not know what to tell me.”
He’s right. When it comes to putting a name to what I can do, I often find that I’m at a loss. I’m a writer, but what does that really mean?
That’s where question number two comes in.
Question Number 2: How do we get that skills assessment data?
So, his group then discussed some resources for finding this information. LinkedIn has a lot of data about where people went to school, where they work, and what their title is, but it’s not all that comprehensive. It doesn’t do a good job of showing what skills that person has. There are endorsements, but are those really that valid? Technically, I can endorse anyone whether they actually possess those skills or not.
Then there are things like alumni associations. These groups may have data on what people studied, where they work, what their title is, as well as other aspects of that person which may be used to identify skills they possess. But, as of right now, there’s no comprehensive way to collect this data to be assessed either.
There’s also the unemployment offices within the states. These offices have a lot of data, but there’s the trouble of actually collecting, organizing, and analyzing it. So, the main issue is being able to actually get ahold of the necessary data and finding a team with the ability to analyze it and turn it into a comprehensive skill assessment.
But just understanding the skills people have is not enough. Let’s say we could get our hands on all this data, organize it, and find a team to analyze it. The next challenge would be, once they’re able to see what skills people have, to figure out how to use that information to determine users’ next steps.
Question Number 3: How do we get someone who wants to improve themselves to make well-informed decisions about how to better invest in themselves to get to the next level?
Roberto offered me another example to explain this challenge:
“Let’s say I’m a cook at McDonalds, but I want to go here [he places his hand at the other end of the table]. How do I get there? What are the steps I have to take to get there?”
This final question led to the idea they actually presented to the entire White House 21st Century Jobs Data Jam: Return on Learning.
Return on Learning
The general concept for “Return on Learning” is giving people a skill measurement tool and empowering them to make better informed decisions on how to invest in themselves to get where they want to go.
The idea is to create an application or program that would calculate one (or both) of two things.
1. It would identify the skills you already possess and then show you the jobs that are available to you with those skills.
2. You would be able to say where you want to go (what job you’d like to have in the future) and it would show you the steps you’d have to take to acquire the necessary skills and the cost of those steps.
So, it’s a similar idea to what we do here at AfterCollege with Explore, but everything is on a much bigger scale. The audience isn’t just college students or recent graduates. Instead it would also be applicable to veterans or people mid-career who are becoming unemployed.
That’s why AfterCollege was asked to participate; we’re already working on this type of thing, but on a much smaller scale.
After hearing the idea for “Return on Learning,” I wanted to know if any steps were being taken to actually create a system that could do this.
“I think my group may have bitten off more than we can chew. It’s a big challenge and we’re all running our own businesses,” Roberto admits, “so, what I committed to was taking back whatever we can use for AfterCollege, and whatever we can do, we’ll do it within AfterCollege.”
What does that mean?
Brainstorming within our own office about different ways we can identify the skills our users (students and recent graduates) possess. Then, using that data to improve their Explore results.
Our Engineering team has looked over the notes from the Data Jam and are already working on ways we could determine our users’ skills; asking users which courses they’ve taken or what clubs they’re a part of and collecting data on what skills are required to take these courses or hold certain roles in these clubs.
Obviously it’s a huge endeavor, but something to work towards to get more and more accuracy with Explore results.
Other Groups’ Ideas:
Are other groups from the Data Jam doing the same thing? Have they taken aspects of their groups’ big ideas and applied them to their individual businesses?
Roberto was pleasantly surprised by the number of other companies who are moving away from the the traditional “search” option and are becoming more and more interested in career discovery.
For example, one of the other groups is working on collecting videos that focus on career exploration and what it’s really like to work in certain industries (basically what we aim to do here at the AfterCollege Blog), so we’re pretty excited to see where this idea goes. It’s definitely possible for us to incorporate these videos onto the Blog as another medium for showing what it’s like to work at a certain company.
Another idea was an apprenticeship program. The Department of Labor has a list of companies that offer these apprenticeship programs which would allow people to actually learn skills on the job and discover what these career were really like. This is also a possible addition to AfterCollege’s Explore—introducing these apprenticeships into students’ job streams.
These resources are available to us, but the issue here (and what these two groups hope to improve) is the interface and overall user experience design. Many of the videos are totally dated (we’re talking someone using an HP Pavilion from like 1995 and watching videos on a player that doesn’t even exist anymore). As for apprenticeships, the links are just listed one after the other on a webpage. No user interface design. Not something that would be fun to go through.
So, it’s about figuring out how to take the resources that are available to us and make them comprehensible and usable.
The good news is that we do have the White House behind us, encouraging people and companies to take these resources and run with them.
It’s exciting to be at the forefront of this movement of career exploration rather than searching but it’s also a nice kick-in-the-pants to develop Explore even further (like figuring out ways to combine machine learning with people’s skills). With these other job search companies growing their data and analytics teams, there’s a definite trend of helping people find jobs that fit them rather than ones that just sound like the right option.
As Roberto says, we’re very lucky to have such a niche audience so that we can really focus on improving career discovery for our specific demographic.
It’s not something that will happen overnight, but the White House 21st Century Jobs Data Jam was a definite catalyst to improve job exploration/discovery technology and allow more people to find jobs that actually fit them.