May 20, 2021 – Education

At 2021 SXSW EDU Conference, CKF highlights the need to reimagine work and education


At 2021 SXSW EDU Conference, CKF highlights the need to reimagine work and education

The Charles Koch Foundation (CKF) participated in the SXSW EDU Conference in March. The event, hosted virtually this year, brought together thousands of educators, administrators, and policymakers to discuss innovation and the future of learning. As part of this spring’s conference, CKF Executive Director Ryan Stowers interviewed SkillUp Coalition Executive Chair Josh Jarrett and Climb Hire CEO and Founder Nitzan Pelman about the future of work and education.

“To reimagine work, we also need to reimagine education, including upskilling programs and skill-based certifications,” said Stowers. “Now is the time to embrace learning that is individualized, accessible, and dynamic.”

Climb Hire and SkillUp are just two organizations working to create those types of learning opportunities. Climb Hire combines technical instruction, soft-skills training, and community building to help working adults from low-income communities find upwardly mobile careers. SkillUp gives COVID-19-impacted workers the opportunity to build skills that are suited to in-demand jobs.

While training and skills acquisition are components of each organization’s program, both also emphasize the importance of building a community.

Pelman, who was previously head of content strategy at LinkedIn, explained that 90 percent of all offers for employment come from referrals. Without a strong network, even college graduates can struggle to get interviews. One way that Climb Hire builds an ecosystem around its participants is by asking recent alumni to teach future cohorts. New students are able to see their own potential through the stories and success of recent program graduates.

“People come to us with a lot of anxiety and heartache,” Pelman said. Having alumni come back to teach helps new students “learn their own value.” Before enrolling in Climb Hire, Pelman’s “climbers” earned an average of $24,000 annually. The average income after completing the program is $66,000.

Jarrett said an important component of SkillUp’s approach is to help workers “doubt their own self-doubt” by identifying the hidden talents that will lead to economic mobility. (SkillUp uses a rapid intake platform that helps learners identify potential employment paths.) This effort, and shorter, more-applied programs that provide wraparound services are key to helping individuals overcome employment or educational trauma.

With CKF as a partner, SkillUp also recently launched the SkillUp Together Fund. The fund provides workers with $1,000 grants to help access new learning opportunities, finish programs they are enrolled in, or purchase laptops or broadband to help with a job search. Through its grants and upskilling platform, SkillUp has helped 175,000 COVID-displaced workers.

“The disruption and momentum is contagious,” Stowers concluded.

Watch the SXSW panel hosted by Ryan Stowers:

 The Charles Koch Foundation partners with social entrepreneurs to drive societal progress through academic research and innovations that help all learners realize their potential. Read more about the Foundation’s support for education.