A Foundation and a Tech Firm Walk Into a Bar Together. Does Anyone Get a Better Job?

Anyone can create a LinkedIn profile, but the predominant view has been that LinkedIn connects “professionals,” as in college-educated people. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, along with vice president and co-founder Allen Blue, want to change that. Meanwhile, workforce-oriented funders like the Markle Foundation are experimenting with ways to expand the pool of workers who can benefit from digital tools.

So there’s a reason that, since 2013, Markle and LinkedInalong with an array of over 50 members and expert advisorshave collaborated on Rework America. The initiative’s stated goals are to extend the benefits of an innovative digital economy to all Americans, including those who work in blue-collar jobs and small businesses. Strategies involve creating tools to better match employees’ skills with the needs of potential employers. LinkedIn is, of course, the dominant player in that field.

In 2015, as we’ve reported, the partnership led to Rework America Connected (now called SKILLFULL), a data-driven platform serving “medium-skill” job-seekers without a four-year degree in Colorado and Phoenix, Arizona. Those places were selected because they have the right stuff: many employers offering jobs, not as many applicants with the desired skills, and large numbers of residents with only a high school diploma and some or no college education.

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This year, Markle and LinkedIn have rolled out SKILLFUL in Colorado and Phoenix. The platform has a big component geared to help workers get training. According to a post by LinkedIn’s Allen Blue, data includes “relevant training programs in their area; which programs are affiliated with employers; whether or not they’re accredited; the program’s employment rate, cost, and duration; the skills the program will teach them; the jobs they’ll be qualified for when they complete the program; and the estimated salary.”

As well, SKILLFULL has leads on jobs. "Hopefully it will become the go-to spot for job seekers that are here," said Zoe Baird, president of Markle, said when the site launched its Phoenix piece in April. The platform also has resources aimed at helping helping employers find qualified candidates.

By focusing on a specific geographic region, Rework America may be able to deliver more helpful services than if it promised national reach from day one. If successful, this may be an interesting counterpoint to the usual digital media polarization: tools that are either too broad or too niche.

On the other hand, if you visit the SKILLFUL website, as beautiful and well-designed as it is, you can’t help but worry that this could be another online clearinghouse that never really gets traction. Foundations and tech companies alike have spent a fortune building such ghost towns.

Regardless, the deeper thinking here is interesting at a time when college is becoming too expensive for many people, while others question our society’s fixation on credentialsand, in particular, the fetishization of the four-year BA.  

In an interview with Forbes in March, Markle Foundation president Zoe Baird emphasized her interest in job descriptions built around specific skills rather than “broad-gauge educational credentials.” Meanwhile, LinkedIn’s Allen Blue writes excitedly about his company’s Economic Graph, “a digital map of the global economy that includes every member of the global workforce and their skills, all open jobs, all employers, and all educational institutions.”

We’ll be checking back on whether this partnership effort actually works, but it’s cool stuff.

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