As an active reader and blogger, I’m a big fan of non-traditional forms of education.  Quora, Wikipedia, Kahn Academy, Udacity – I love it all.  I also spend a lot of time thinking about how to get more education to the people who need it most.  That got me to the topic of education and unemployment: two things that should go together perfectly!

The idea first came to me the week before last, when I was down in Baltimore having dinner with my parents (who are both small business owners).  We were throwing ideas back and forth about how to resolve the tension between a high unemployment rate and a shortage of qualified workers.  My dad ultimately came up with the best solution.

The idea for the business goes like this:

The company specializes in cloud-based, free, online education (accessible via a mobile app) and primarily serves two core customer segments:

1)   Companies seeking qualified workers
2)   Unemployed people

1) For Companies

Finding qualified employees has never been easy.  It’s not rare for a fast growing company to spend tens of thousands of dollars per employee on recruiting fees just to find the right people.  These companies know exactly what skills and abilities they want, but they still spend lots of time and effort finding people to hire.

What if these companies could sponsor a class that taught people the exact skills they need to succeed in their open roles?  If there’s a company that needs a lot of analysts, they could sponsor an analytics course.  If there’s a company that needs a lot of sales people, they could sponsor a sales course. And so on.  These “sponsored courses” would be custom built to prepare employees with the exact skills required for the job.

2) For Unemployed People

The value proposition to unemployed people (the students) is a cloud-based, free source of online education with classes that teach them exactly the right skills.  The courses would not be degree granting, but they would give the students direct access to potential employers.  Some students would end up getting hired by the company sponsoring the course.  Other students wouldn’t get hired, but they would still end up getting a free education, networking connections to their classmates, and feedback on their work.

Sponsoring corporations would also have full access to test results and homework assignments for their classes.  Bringing in candidates for a one-hour interview is great, but wouldn’t you get a better idea of their ability to do the job if you had access to an entire class’s worth of schoolwork that relates directly to the job you need done?

The whole thing would work a little bit like the baseball minor leagues or farm teams.  The major league scouts are always watching for the next standout player and the players that don’t get brought up to the big leagues still get the practice and experience of playing ball, which they can take with them to their next team.

What do you think?


New Business Idea: Education and Unemployment
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  • Love this idea. Your dad is so ON!

  • Sure, but there’s a degree of co-ordination failure. Companies sponsoring classes (i) do not guarantee that students will learn exactly what they need to, (ii) will also be qualified for competitors, and (iii) may not want to work the company at all.

    Note that in a public course, companies would not want to tailor the course precisely to their requirements – otherwise their competitors would gain a lot of intelligence about their internal operations.

    It’s more efficient to hire someone with a significant amount of “potential” (e.g. who has some prerequisites, but not the exact match of skills/experience) and then “train them up.” The amount of knowledge gains over time is far greater that way, and – even with a moderate “error” rate – should be more effective.

    You’re really talking about the benefit of education as a public good (benefits everybody). More specifically, a proposal like that would best be implemented as a payroll tax that funds education, specifically education among under- and unemployed (U3, or U6?) people. Hell, you could make it a requirement to collect unemployment (U3) and free otherwise (U6) – sort of like applying to jobs is a requirement to collect unemployment now.

    The government currently collects data on open job positions; it wouldn’t be too difficult to extend that, a little, and collect desired skills as well. From there, determine the best allocation of resources, etc.

    The internet (and things like Coursera) make this easier than ever to implement, though. And given how dysfunctional the US government is, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this implemented as a private system. Hell, it could be part of Coursera’s business model (charge businesses for access to student results, or recommend students based upon course history and results).

    Another small note: I don’t think companies generally bring people in for an in-person interview unless they have some confidence that they can do the job. Phone interviews, etc, can help weed those out. However, “cultural fit” is pretty important for a company – do you like the person you’re bringing on the team? Can you work well together? Can you trust them?

    That’s not something that can easily be solved.

  • Simon Dexter


    Great post, interesting thoughts…

    My experience is that learning is an important byproduct of more profound, pivotal moments, so education – in any form – can only take one to a certain point – (to be fancy, let’s call it ‘Rubicon of Curiousity’) – and if one steps to the other side – they become a pretty good learner else they remain slacking. Some would say such experiences (e.g. pushing parents, demanding teachers, competitions, sleepless nights, etc.) are traumatic and I would not disagree – learning is not about comfort (I think it can partially explain why we have so few good learners). In today’s world, the sought-after spice is curiousity and working memory, not any particular knowledge (true for innovation economy – service economy remains the old way.)

    But I don’t know how to educate/teach/instill sense of curiousity to those who are ‘naturally’ not curious… Make them solve more puzzles? I guess it’s that DLo’s puzzle which makes me say it… For working memory, should they try dual-n-back exercises?

    See Andrew, I don’t know…

  • I heard Daphne Koller, one of the two co-founders of Coursera ( speak a couple of months ago and these are two of the next big things they’re planning to do to monetize their currently free online course offerings. Seems like it makes a ton of sense.

  • Nice! Thanks for commenting. I would argue that everyone is curious about something. The question is finding the right subject :)

  • Damn it! I was hoping no one else was onto this already. I guess that’s a pattern with all good ideas: they’re invented by several different people at the same time. Even while Larry and Sergey were inventing Google in the US, some dude in China was inventing a very similar technology for Baidu (right?)

  • Good points – the devil’s in the details i suppose.