Tech Training Hubs

An experiment in Brazil taps Big Tech certs for hybrid learning and career development.

A new tech training hub in Brazil that brings together employers, local government, and short-term certificates to connect underserved students with jobs. Also, a nonprofit group’s experienced take on mentoring programs.

Porto Alegre, Brazil. Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

Hybrid Learning With Big Tech Certs

Severe wealth and income disparity. Education systems that disadvantage low-income students. Huge wage gaps between workers with and without college degrees. Low participation in vocational education. Large numbers of young people who are unemployed and not enrolled in college.

The problems Brazil faces with its approach to education and job training are familiar on many levels to what the U.S. is grappling with, but more extreme. For example, just 18% of adults in the nation hold a college credential, less than half the average of 39% among the 39 OECD countries.

Talent shortages also have spiked in Brazil, particularly for IT and tech roles. To try to tackle these problems, a creative experiment to prepare workers for tech jobs has emerged in Porto Alegre, the capital and largest city in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.

The Instituto Caldeira is a nonprofit tech and innovation hub founded two years ago by 42 major companies. It currently includes 500 members stretching across several industries, startups, government, universities, investors, and Big Tech companies. Last year, the education campus at the hub launched a tech training program for students and recent graduates from public high schools, the vast majority of whom do not attend college.

“The gap here is so big,” says Felipe Amaral, director of the Campus Caldeira, the education platform of the Instituto Caldeira. “The majority of the population just needs an opportunity.”

An initial cohort of 750 young people enrolled in the pilot training program, dubbed Geração Caldeira. The state government helped with student recruiting. Participants received a monthly stipend (1,500 Brazilian reals) and 500 hours of online instruction over roughly two months. The five education tracks were anchored around Big Tech certificates—from AWS, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Oracle.

Amaral says AWS and Oracle are sponsors of the program. “We select the ones that provide the opportunity,” he says of the certificates offered.

The training included weekly in-person learning immersion at the physical campus, as well as meetings and interviews with the hub’s employer partners. (See a short video clip about the program here or below.)

“The physical space is so important,” says Amaral. “When they see the institute, they see the size of the opportunity.”

Among the initial student participants, the campus tapped 50 for a scholarship to take an in-person course before being hired by company partners. Lucas Santos, a security guard at the Instituto, enrolled in this program. After completing, he landed a job in the innovation department of SLC Agricola, an agricultural company. “Before the program, I didn’t know what I wanted for my future,” Santos said in a video interview. “People really change; things change.”

The campus has enrolled 5K students in its second cohort. Amaral says the goal is to become the nation’s biggest national hub for training and employing young people in the new economy. Brazil’s labor market gaps and relative lack of opportunities for lower-income students add plenty of urgency to that ambition.

The Instituto is seeking guidance and help from experts in the U.S. Drop me a line if you’d like an introduction to the project’s leaders.

The Kicker: “What we need is to scale it right now,” Amaral says. “Our biggest challenge is to connect and learn from other experiences around the world.”

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The Power of Networks

Awareness has grown in the pandemic’s wake about the crucial role of social capital in any effort to boost the economic mobility of low-income Americans. StreetWise Partners and its quarter century of experience with mentoring unemployed and underemployed workers could be a useful example for philanthropies and employers.

The nonprofit group has tapped 15K mentors to work with underrepresented talent in New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Southeast Michigan. More than 10K mentees have participated in the program. The yearlong workforce mentoring track begins with an employer-driven curriculum of 13 weeks of training that’s designed to build professional skills, industry knowledge, and social capital.

“Social connections matter more than ever,” says Shari Krull, CEO of StreetWise Partners. “As the labor market shifts dramatically, the worth of networks only stands to grow.”

The group’s volunteer mentors help participants develop personalized career maps, résumés and cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, and interviewing skills. An employer advisory board of hiring experts helps with labor statistics and hiring trends, as well as how to update the program’s curriculum.

StreetWise Partners touts a ratio of two volunteer mentors for every participant. The group’s mentors hail from its industry partners. They meet with participants in person at corporate sites every week during the 13-week training session. For the rest of the year, volunteers are in contact on a biweekly basis—either in person or over the phone—to offer mentorship and encouragement as participants navigate job searches.

The 440 mentees who went through the program in 2021 saw their annual wages jump from an average of $11K to $54K.

Krull says the group has a wide variety of company partners. But she says midsize firms often “can engage more deeply due to the collaboration between the human resources and corporate social responsibility departments.”

A key draw for companies is direct access to an untapped pipeline of qualified, diverse talent, says Krull. Employee volunteers get mentoring experience and training on code-shifting, unconscious bias, and bridging socioeconomic divides.

The group recently announced a $1M commitment from Global Atlantic Financial Group to expand its job-placement services in NYC and to launch them in Washington. Krull says the goal is to use proactive candidate matching and hiring events to launch 1,900 careers by 2026.

Many mentor programs are too open-ended and loosely defined, says Krull, and they rely on volunteers to set the agenda. This can be a particular drag on creating strong relationships in a virtual environment.

“Organizations can overcome these barriers by taking a structured approach to their programs,” she says, “using a defined and culturally relevant curriculum designed with feedback from the community served.”

Open Tabs

Manufacturing Jobs
After decades of deindustrialization, the U.S. lags powerhouse manufacturing nations like Germany in developing pipelines of skilled workers. This is even a challenge in Tennessee, which has experimented with free two-year technical college, Mackenzie Hawkins and Reade Pickert report for Bloomberg. Yet the state appears to have a head start in attracting and training workers for industries like electric car and battery production.

Skills Training
China has created more than 30 of its Luban Workshops, which offer vocational skills training programs in 25 countries, largely in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, Shibani Mahtani and Joshua Irwandi report for The Washington Post. The programs feature practical training in a wide range of fields, including robotics and manufacturing that incorporates AI. Some are connected to China’s Belt and Road project or to its Confucius Institutes.

Perception Crisis
Americans’ confidence in higher education has fallen to a new low point of 36%, down from 57% in 2015, according to a new survey from Gallup. The dip stretched across all major subgroups, led by Republicans. However, Gallup also found waning confidence in other institutions—higher education ranks fourth in confidence among the 17 measured, with small business, the military, and the police in the top three spots.

College Majors
Black, Latino, and Native American students have become more concentrated in low-wage majors, according to new research from the Brookings Institution. University policy is driving the trend, with an increasing number of institutions putting additional admissions requirements on STEM and other high-demand majors. At four University of California institutions, the researchers found that these policies led to a 20% drop in underrepresented students’ earning high-wage degrees without producing any measurable gains in completion rates.

AI Training
More than half of workers expect AI will help advance their career—saving time and helping them be more strategic. But 62% say they don’t have the skills to effectively and safely use the technology, according to a new survey by Salesforce. Two-thirds of workers say they expect their employers to provide training on AI, the survey found, but the same proportion also says their employers aren’t doing so yet.

Multiple Pathways
The inflexible U.S. education system does not work for the majority of Americans, Ryan Stowers, executive director of the Charles Koch Foundation, writes in RealClearEducation. “Higher education leaders, employers, philanthropists, and lawmakers need to improve opportunity for all learners by taking an all-of-the-above approach that supports multiple pathways, from college to employer-based upskilling programs.”

Vocational Learning
So often in our country, we think there’s either college or vocational learning. In fact, there are many ways to go to college. There are many ways to do vocational learning,” Maud Daudon, executive leader of Career Connect Washington, said in an interview with Yale Insights. The program is a hub for career-connected learning that’s serving 16K students this year. Most of its funding comes from employers and the federal government.

Job Moves
Mildred García is the next chancellor of the California State University system. García is president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and previously led Cal State’s Fullerton and Dominguez Hills campuses.

Aaron McCullough has joined 2U as the ed-tech company’s chief product officer. McCullough previously was Coursera’s vice president and general manager of the consumer segment.

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