The CEOs of Year Up and Generation USA aren’t shy about encouraging companies to look beyond the college degree.
, a former Wall Street banker, founded Year Up in 2000. The nonprofit has provided free technical skills training and paid internships to 30,000 lower-income young adults. Graduates have an average starting salary
“We’ve seen a real shift in companies recognizing the need to create more opportunities for Black Americans and other underrepresented groups, including by moving away from degree requirements,” Chertavian says.
Likewise, 80 percent of students who graduate from Generation’s 12- to 14-week boot camps get jobs within 90 days of completing the program, which is free to participants. Sean Segal
, the group’s CEO, says too many young Americans are pushed toward attending college. And he’s agnostic about whether the certifications and credentials students earn with Generation eventually lead to a college degree.
“What I care about is that there’s a clear pathway so you can keep stacking those credentials and move into the higher-paid jobs very quickly,” Segal said during a recent virtual event
hosted by the Education Writers Association.
Yet both groups also work to ensure that participants can earn college credits—evidence that the debate over alternative education pathways often features the same sort of false binary we see in arguments over the existence of a skills gap.
Generation estimates it will train 6,000 students at its 15 U.S. community college partner campuses this year. The nonprofit, which first had success in other countries, says it looks for mismatches between skills needed for in-demand jobs and what job seekers bring to the table.
“Where is there entry-level demand that’s not being met by the market?” asks Segal. “We actually go watch people do those jobs. We see what are the skills they need to do them successfully on a day-to-day basis.”
The boot camp programs
feature wraparound student supports, such as help with transportation and housing. Every participant gets a credential, such as a professional license, with Generation covering any related fees and working with students on job placement.
Segal says it can be a slog to create college credit options for Generation students, pointing to faculty member councils and accreditation as choke points.
“There is no way to roll out programs like Generation for credit, at scale,” he says. “It requires negotiations campus by campus.”
Generation also seeks to offer credit through prior learning assessment
and articulations with online colleges. And in a particularly promising model, graduates of its boot camp at Miami Dade College retroactively get college credit after completing, with an option to stack up credentials.
“We’re bringing in a population that wasn’t otherwise accessing the college,” Segal says.
Graduates of the online program
at Miami Dade earn a level-one cloud practitioner certification. They can then take four courses at the college to earn a level-five cloud architect certification. Graduates with that credential typically earn $90K to $120K a year, says Segal.
Companies pay a per-hire fee to the group, which helps it offer the programs to students for free. Operational costs are just $3,000 per graduate and job placement. Generation’s corporate partners range from Verizon
to smaller employers, like ConSol
, a tech start-up. And Segal says the need to do better on diversity in hiring is a shared priority across the group’s paying corporate partners.
Generation’s goals are ambitious, with a plan to train and place 500,000 people into jobs over the next decade. Segal says:
As the economy continues to shift to professions that will require constant learning and upskilling, we need to think about the interplay between stackable credentials and credit. This could be a world where a series of stackable credentials could lead to credits and unlock a degree.
is a recent Generation grad. A student at Southwest Tennessee Community College, which is located in Memphis, Thompson is studying computer information services. He heard about the two-year college’s partnership with Generation and enrolled in the IT help desk administration program.
Thompson completed, earned a certification
, and quickly landed a local job in customer support with VMware, a large cloud computing company. The job is a step up for Thompson, who grew up in foster care, was incarcerated, and previously was making $9.50 an hour at a job with 11-hour shifts.
He says “no” was a word he heard often when searching for jobs or housing. “I did not let that stop me,” says Thompson, who would recommend Generation to his friends and family. “It gave me hope.”