“Now that close to half of young people move on to higher education, a degree per se is ceasing to be an effective signal in the labour market,”
Lord Kenneth Baker, Chairman of the British educational charity the Edge Foundation.
There’s a gap between the education we give our children, and the capabilities we expect them to possess on the job. Even though in 2018 the US had a record number of job openings (over 7.1 million), exceeding the number of potential workers looking for jobs, 45% of employers still complained in a June 2018 Gallup poll that they couldn’t find qualified workers with the right skills. Some have argued this is mere stinginess – if employers want better, more dedicated workers, all they have to do is put their money where their mouth is and raise wages. Meanwhile a 2016 Fast Company report found students are leaving college without “Critical thinking, problem solving, attention to detail, and writing proficiency” skills.
Meanwhile the cost of a four year degree has ballooned to an average of $25,290 per year for in state tuition, rising to an average of $50,900 for a private college. Compare that to the average $3,190 students paid in the academic year 1987-88 (adjusted for inflation). Real wages on the other hand, adjusted for inflation have barely risen from $20.27 in 1964 to $22.64 in 2018, according to PEW Research. And that’s before we even talk about housing.
Whichever way you want to slice the cake, getting a well paying job is extremely important and it’s not clear that traditional routes are going to get you there.
What are some options?
Reimagining the Apprenticeship
Apprenticeships are one proposed solution. “Businesses have told us they can’t find the people that they need to fill critically important jobs,” then US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told CNNMoney back in 2016. “Apprenticeships are a way to address that challenge.” Nor are these challenges unique to the United States. A 2017 report from the British education charity the Edge Foundation echoed that claim, calling on the government to introduce a robust plan for apprenticeships to bolster the employable skills of high school students.
In June 2017 President Trump even announced in a meeting with CEOs a national goal of five million new apprenticeships over the next five years. He issued an Executive Order to empower the state to back the drive for more apprenticeship programs.
But government initiatives aside, the private sector is already stepping in. Meet Praxis. Their tagline is bold and intense. “The degree is dead. You need experience.”
In 2013 Praxis founder Isaac Morehouse noticed the lack of drive his peers had at college, and felt they were simply there because they were expected to be there. He also noticed the frustration young people felt at not finding adequate jobs, and the complaints of business owners. He therefore founded a company that would solve the disconnect between those three situations – a way to get young people engaged, with the skills they need to succeed, and into the workforce.
Praxis gives young people a bootcamp experience to give them the essential skills to succeed in the working world, then launch them straight into the workforce by taking on an apprenticeship at a startup. One of the main advantages of Praxis as compared to other educational programs is the timescale. While a traditional college degree is four years, and other apprenticeships can last many years, Praxis pushes its participants through a professional development bootcamp, followed by a six month paid apprenticeship in just one year.
Lunacy Now spoke with Lolita Allgyer, who does content for Praxis. She was also herself a Praxis participant, before being taken on as an employee. Lolita was extremely excited about the program and about the company. Rarely do you find someone as bubbly about their job and their life trajectory. That in itself is an endorsement of the company, producing happy, engaged graduates.
Lolita told us that she found Praxis after being homeschooled. She didn’t have any desire for a conventional college experience. She just wanted something that would launch her career in practical terms, rather than give her theoretical knowledge.
The word Praxis itself is ancient Greek, and means practice or doing, as opposed to theory. The course lives up to its name. All the skills Praxis participants learn are directly focused on getting ahead in the workforce. They learn writing. Each student creates a website to showcase their work. Frequent repeated writing assignments teach the students discipline, craft, and the ability to turn around regular work to tight deadlines. They cover interview techniques to get better at getting hired. They push candidates to run a project to completion, then assess to see what they learned from it. Lolita says hers involved building an email list for a podcast.
Of course, you can’t keep churning out work without taking in information There is also a content consumption module. Lolita tells me of her love of Homer and Socrates, and explains that in this module they’re pushed to consume as much material as possible. To boost the motivation, skills and resources available to prospective and existing students Praxis also provides a blog, a podcast and video content all for free on their website.
Here’s a breakdown of the Six Month Curriculum:
- How to Win Professional Opportunities. Build a personal website & social media.
- How to Learn With Projects. Complete your first professional project.
- How to Create on Command. Writing bootcamp including daily blogging.
- How to Be an Idea Machine. How to learn more, faster.
- How to Build a Value Proposition. How to highlight your strengths to get hired.
- How to Use a Software “Stack”. How to use all the software tools of the office.
But the most important thing Praxis focuses on is mindset. That’s switching to a mindset of value creation. That means approaching every encounter with a potential employer (and indeed every interaction while employed) with a mindset of “how can I create the most value for the company.”
This mindset leads the applicant to apply their intelligence, diligence and creativity towards solving solutions which the company actually has, rather than simply handing in a resume expecting a degree or some other signal to do the heavy lifting.
Lolita is all about this mindset.
One of the things the apprentices learn is how to create a “value proposition” when negotiating with a company that you want to hire you. That means researching the company and identifying a way in which you can create value for them. This means matching your skills and abilities to a solution to a problem the company has. The precious process, Lolita says, depended almost entirely on the degree, which was no good. This way focuses on you. “Tell me your story not your status,” she says. She says no one knows how to sell themselves, which is one of the main things Praxis teaches us.
She tells us about a young woman who, to get her dream job, dressed up as the statue of Fearless Girl from Wall Street. She stood outside her Dream Job for eight hours waiting for them to notice her, in her costume. Eventually they came down and spoke with her, and she was hired. If Praxis is looking for anything in a candidate, it’s the elusive “x-factor,” someone who is excited about life, who wakes up every morning with the drive to make tomorrow better than today, who is excited to learn and who wants to make a positive difference. Lolita doesn’t think it’s depressing that someone had to stand for eight hours to get noticed and get a job. It was her dream job. She finds it inspiring.
We ask her if this is essentially “hustle academy?” She demures, saying yes that’s part of it, but it isn’t the whole story. Part of it is the ability of Praxis to land candidates real jobs with real companies, no mean feat in this absolute bomb-site of an economy. The startups they will be working for are tech companies (after all, that’s where so much of the growth in the American economy is taking place right now). But they aren’t learning to code. This is to learn all the other roles that a company needs. Office management, operations, customer service, marketing.
Lolita says 94% of Praxis apprentices are hired by the companies they apprentice at. Praxis has a network of hundreds of business partners who are familiar with the program who hire Praxis apprentices and ultimately full time workers.
Not only that, but they are paid to learn on the job. For the apprenticeship part of the program, participants are paid $14,400. They also receive ongoing training and mentorship from the Praxis team while employed as an apprentice.
Since the cost of the program itself is $12,000, that means participants graduate with a net positive.
Praxis is offering a rapid (only one year) on-ramp to the workforce that does not require four years in the stasis of a full time college program.
We wouldn’t be very useful to our readers if we neglected to be critical and honest. The program seems light an intellectual sense. Although lifelong learning and voracious reading are encouraged, the program does not have an obvious heavy academic component. Business structures, tax law, management theories, and economics are not taught. Neither do participants gain a broader conception of their place in the world, the sweep of history or the socio-cultural issues of our time. Those competencies can be highly useful in a business context since they enable bright young things to identify areas of potential growth and problems which need solving.
Nevertheless the program is only one year, and participants have access to the internet, where they can learn pretty much anything they like.
If you want a non-college alternative to get into the workforce quickly then Praxis is one company worth checking out to learn more.
Check out their website at www.discoverpraxis.com.