Today marks an important new chapter in the General Assembly story. We’ve had a lot of these big milestones since we started as a team of four almost ten years ago. In that time, we raised five rounds of venture capital, expanded to nearly forty markets in seven countries, launched hundreds of new programs and courses, worked with over 400 companies on large-scale digital transformation initiatives, and were acquired by the largest human capital solutions company in the world.
All of these chapters had a few common threads. Our mission, our vision, our approach to the world — and, me as CEO. So this new chapter is going to be different, which will involve me stepping away from my role as CEO of General Assembly after ten amazing years.
As with any big change, I feel some uncertainty and a level of trepidation (a feeling I know that our students experience every single day as they gain new skills and transform their careers). But I’m also really, really happy, because we’ve found a really dynamic and talented executive to step into the CEO role. Over the past six months, we’ve run a robust and intensive search, with a lot of deliberation and consideration of many talented and qualified candidates.
So: I am excited to announce Lisa Lewin as our new Chief Executive Officer, starting August 17. I have absolute confidence that Lisa is the leader who will ensure that General Assembly reaches its ambitious growth goals, while also contributing to the culture that will ensure its continued success. I am also looking forward to being a part of this process — I’ve told Lisa I’m here for whatever support she wants or needs (while of course not getting in the way.)
At the start of GA, I was just coming out of the painful anxious experience of graduating college into a recession, feeling lost and lonely in the world of work. Being able to translate that experience into an ever expanding pathway for others in the same predicament has been incredibly meaningful to me personally. But to be able to build this among a brilliant cast of thousands — team members, students, alumni, partners, investors — has been the greatest honor of my working life. I cannot think of a better steward for the next phase of this company’s development than Lisa Lewin, and I cannot wait to see what comes next for General Assembly.
To learn more about General Assembly’s new CEO, Lisa Lewin, read our press release here.
“Interactive,” “Engaging,” “Hands-on,” “Relevant,” “Practical,” “Digestible,” “Clear and easy to understand,” or “Fun!”
We’ve asked this question hundreds of times, and the answers are rarely surprising. Yet, when we ask another question, “How many of the classes you’ve taken actually fit these descriptions?” sadly, the percentage is often quite low — but not for our students.
At GA, we’ve mastered the magic of delivering great learning experiences for each student and client.
Interested in what this means? Read on.
Principles of Andragogy
Andragogy is an esoteric term meaning the method or practice of teaching adult learners. If this is the first time you’re seeing the word “andragogy,” you’re not alone.
The reason we mention this term is that we’re often asked about our “pedagogy”, in reference to our learning theory. Considering that the word most commonly used to discuss learning theory (pedagogy) has a prefix that means “relating to children” (ped) says something about the way society thinks about education. Namely, that learning is primarily for children. This has never been less true than it is today, where even successful professionals with years of post-graduate education and executive experience need to continuously upskill to keep pace with our rapidly changing world — now more than ever.
The distinction between andragogy, the adult learning methodology, and pedagogy, the children’s learning methodology, is important because while many good learning experience qualities such as engagement and interaction apply to both adults and children, there are some key contextual differences.
In both cases, excellent educators reference Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy to ground their courses in observable learning outcomes, and aim for active, hands-on learning with multiple opportunities to check for understanding and provide feedback along the way.
However, we all understand that adulthood differs from childhood. As adults, we have an abundance of two things children typically have less of: choice and responsibility.
What does this have to do with learning design? When you start thinking about taking a course or changing your career as an adult, you are plagued with different considerations than you had in grade school:
Is this worth my time and money?
Will I be successful in learning this?
What kind of people are going to be in my class?
Will this be useful for my unique set of circumstances?
Should I just Google it?
Designing for the Adult Learner
Six key actions tend to assuage adult learning anxieties, and help learners construct individualized meaning from a shared learning experience:
We know that adults learn best when they are active in the learning experience, when they are working toward solving a realistic, relevant, and interesting problem, and when they can show up as a whole person with individual experiences, goals, and preferences. Adults are not empty vessels… they are fully developed and experienced individuals.
So how does this knowledge impact our approach to learning? We design classes where the instructor does not just push information to the students; the instructor creates space where students can share their perspectives, be social, build connections, hear from other people, stretch their minds, and enjoy the process.
If you’re having trouble picturing a unique GA learning experience, here is an example of what it looks like in practice:
As a warm-up activity, we ask groups of participants to “be the search engine.” We give them printouts of five different Google search results from a previous search we conducted, such as “lunch.” We then ask them to arrange those printouts in the order they should be returned to the searcher in response to a few rapid-fire search queries, such as:
“Best Restaurant to Take Clients”
“Vegan Lunch Downtown”
This succession of questions leads students to look at the details of the pages — their titles, contents, references to location, date published, etc. — to make and discuss these decisions. These details are factors of how search algorithms work and factors they will need to optimize for in their SEO strategies.
The exercise illustrated above takes about ten minutes, roughly the same amount of time it would take the instructor to explain how search engines work. However, the exercise primes the students with decision-making, real-life engagement, and meaningful, useful information that can later be built upon. Most importantly, the students have not just heard the information; they have processed it — and had fun along the way.
Instructional Design in the Digital Age
At GA, we deliver learning across two spectrums: the experience spectrum, which ranges from absolute beginners to field professionals seeking to remain current, and the duration spectrum, which ranges from 20-minute eLearning modules to 12-week, 480-hour immersive courses.
Designing a relevant and active learning experience across these spectrums is not easy, but it’s core to our proven success in digital skills education over the last nine years. Our instructional design practices are rooted in:
Modern Digital Design Practices
Learning Theory and Sciences
Understanding each of these fields helps us to better utilize the other.
Modern digital design practices include user research, design thinking, agile development, data analysis, and rapid iteration. These practices are typically core drivers of the last 30 years of technology innovation, yet too many educational institutions have been slow to embrace them. By leveraging these more modern practices into our instructional design process, we can make better use of learning theories and sciences that largely emerged in the 20th century, including the behaviorist learning theory and constructivist learning theory.
For example, Nir Eyal’s book, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” elaborates on a behaviorist learning theory used by UX designers and product teams to keep users coming back to their platforms. Think of that addictive social media feed, or how you can’t resist tapping an app with a big red notification bubble…
This behaviorist strategy is also well-suited for learning beginners just starting in a field, or those independently working through material on a digital learning platform. Through data analysis, we’ve seen this user need come through in myGA (eLearning) lessons via requests for “more knowledge checks,” and we’ve added them accordingly. Those frequent checks help learners gain confidence and validate their understanding, which is particularly important in the absence of a live instructor.
As a learner “climbs” Bloom’s taxonomy into greater depths of knowledge in a field, frequent, short exercises start to become irritating, and gamification attempts can feel juvenile. We’ve seen this in students’ feedback on long-form courses where they’d prefer fewer activities. This feedback led us to consolidate those activities into select, more robust exercises.
Meaningful, more robust exercises are examples of the constructivist learning theory, which suggests no singular “truth,” and each individual will derive a personal meaning through action and reflection. At GA, this shows up in all of our long-form courses, where in the end, students solve real-world business problems of their choice in a capstone project.
Guiding learners to make their own meaning through project work is great when you are leading a classroom of professionals in solving a business problem using new digital skills. Still, it can leave people lost in certain scenarios, i.e., if applied in a room full of first-time programmers trying to understand what a Python loop is. That’s why both constructivism and behaviorism strategies are effective for different purposes.
Through user research and data analysis of the thousands of learners collected over the years, we know how to deploy the right strategy at the right time, and iterate in rapid cycles based on continuous feedback from our instructors and learners.
Bringing Everything Together
We’re passionate about delivering best-in-class education, and hope a deep dive into our approach to learning has provided some helpful insights as you explore an upskilling journey that will ensure both personal and professional growth for your teams.
Alison Kashin is the Director of Instructional Design at General Assembly.
Since 2011, General Assembly has trained individuals and teams online and on-campus through experiential education in the fields of technology, data, marketing, design, and product. Learn more about how we can transform your talent, and our solutions to upskill and reskill teams across the globe.
General Assembly’s mission is to empower people to pursue the work they love, and we recognize that not all individuals have the same level of access and opportunity. That’s why we launched the Social Impact initiative five years ago to create pathways for students from underserved and underrepresented communities into tech, marketing, and data design.
Our newest Social Impact program is a partnership that combines student-friendly financing with additional coaching, mentorship, referrals to local and community resources, as well as access to emergency funds.
The program launched in fall 2019, and I joined the team in late December of 2019 as the Social Impact Program Services Lead, tasked with leading the supportive service programming for students enrolled via our Catalyst Income Share Agreements. Within my first 90 days on the job, the world as we know it changed, and we found ourselves in the epicenter of a global pandemic.
This post was originally scheduled to be released in response to the global health crisis. However, the recent murders of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Abery, and Breonna Taylor have not only shaken us to our core, but have also triggered an immediate response to gather and circulate self care and mental health resources for our entire GA community, but most importantly, our black students and staff members. We recognized the necessity to share information and create supportive spaces; to gather and form communities of healing and strength during this time.
The Social Impact 2020 Global Resource Guide was created to provide real-time support to individuals looking for resources right now. This Resource Guide consists of an expansive list of supports covering categories such as:
Bill and Payment Relief
Mental Health and Wellness
Emergency Cash Assistance
The resources are provided by local nonprofits, government agencies, grassroots organizations, private foundations, and corporations. We’ve also included anything that might be useful to our community: from where to find free diapers, tips for indoor socializing at any age, and where to find free storage for students who may be displaced and need to leave their college campuses. We did our best to take into account the unique needs of everyone who may have been affected by the recent events, with support catered to people of diverse races and ethnicities, specific industry/professional backgrounds, various age ranges, all gender identities, and people who identify as LGBTQIA+.
We are committed to standing with our black students and staff members as we fight racism and work to build a more equitable and just society for all. This work is demanding, nonstop, and at times, overwhelming. Knowing this, we have to remember to take care of ourselves. This guide highlights a comprehensive list of black mental health and self care resources that include online directories for black therapists and licensed mental health practitioners, pro bono services, virtual healing spaces, town halls, as well as fact sheets to manage emotions and create opportunities for safe spaces and important ongoing conversations.
As we focus on developing coping strategies, building resiliency, and looking towards a better tomorrow, regional mental health and wellness resources are also highlighted, focusing on providing comfort to anyone who may be experiencing feelings of anxiety, anger, loss, grief, and even confusion. A variety of helplines, on demand or text-based counseling services, meditation resources, and wellness apps are also showcased, offering something for everyone at any time.
The guide covers 14 individual regions, comprising five countries across four continents.
United States: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Washington DC, Los Angeles,NYC, San Francisco, and Seattle
United Kingdom: London
Asia Pacific: Singapore
The Global Resource Guide originally grew out of a call to action responding to the needs of our General Assembly community during a time of crisis. It has blossomed into a comprehensive document that not only supports the needs of the GA community, but a larger global community.
I’m sharing this guide with you because there is a resource in this document for everyone. I encourage you to take the time to take a look, and continue to pass it on.
Black life and Black lives matter. Silence and idleness in the face of systemic oppression are complicity, and we are not complicit. General Assembly stands with those across the U.S. and around the world1 fighting against racism, police brutality, and the widespread, systemic violence against Black people that has taken place throughout our global history. We know that the lives we lost can never be replaced, and we stand with the anger and bravery of protestors and activists risking their lives in the pursuit of justice.
The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Rayshard Brooks, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Michelle Cusseaux, Dominique Fells, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tony McDade, Riah Milton, Nina Pop, Breonna Taylor — and countless others whose many names we may never know — continue to shake us to our cores.
Over the past few weeks, we have taken important internal steps to accelerate the work we need to do as a company to truly create a diverse, inclusive, and equitable GA environment for our employees, students, clients, and alumni. We have a lot of work to do. Still, as a company, we are committed to educating ourselves, supporting racial justice organizations, and engaging in activism and the political process. We have also pushed ourselves to ask: “How can we take more responsibility as a GA community to build a just and equitable world?”
GA helps people find meaningful work by training them with digital, technological skills, but most importantly, we view our work and advocacy within a broader movement towards social justice. That said, we know that we are also a part of an education and workforce ecosystem that often perpetuates the systemic racism that exists in every facet of American — and global — societies.
This work begins at home. We commit to increasing the diversity of our leadership and executive teams and developing professional growth pathways for our Black staff. We are also making a company-wide commitment to hiring more Black talent, and to using our platform to educate employers and other training providers on building inclusive talent pipelines.
In the weeks and months to come, we will speak up and take action to elevate ideas, norms, and values that can dismantle white supremacy2 and move the needle towards justice. Below are three spaces that we believe GA can work within to drive change.
1. Increase access to high-quality education and training for Black students in underserved communities.
The U.S. education system is set up to offer nearly limitless opportunity to those in positions of privilege and far less to those without any. Our responsibility as an education provider is to create pathways to social and economic mobility for communities who have been historically locked out.
We need to be intentional and proactive about building partnerships with community organizations to support students from underserved communities and those who have been incarcerated. This will require further investment in financing alternatives that can reduce the cost of education, and shift the risk away from learners by holding providers accountable for ensuring successful job outcomes. GA must expand comprehensive support for students with wraparound services (such as childcare, transportation, and mental health) that help remove the roadblocks that often prevent people from pursuing or completing their education.
GA’s commitment: We will seek out employers to partner with on the expansion of our impactful Digital Academy and Managed Service Provider Partner Models to attract, nurture, and actively promote Black talent. We will donate our educational products to nonprofit organizations focused on fostering Black talent. We will deepen the support we offer students, such as emergency funds, case management, referrals, and tech equipment. We will formalize the work we are doing to leverage our students’ talents and alumni to support nonprofits and small businesses, focusing on racial justice organizations and Black-owned businesses.
2. Work with hiring partners to end biased hiring and enable new practices that get more Black talent into jobs.
For most people, getting a good job is the ultimate goal of their education and training experience. That makes it easy for employers to blame labor market inequality on the mythical “pipeline problem” and shift responsibility onto education providers, rather than making investments in existing talent or new pipelines of talent.
Employers must do better. To start, that means concrete actions such as removing college degree requirements from job postings and implementing skills-based hiring practices that recognize performance rather than pedigree. It includes practices like “Banning the Box” to open doors for formerly incarcerated job seekers, and eliminating unpaid internships that favor those with the means to support themselves to work without pay. Employers must recognize the incredible potential of their people already employed and create talent pivots and pathways for new roles and functions.
GA’s commitment: We will urge our hiring partners and clients to make public commitments to hiring Black talent and to make investments in upskilling or reskilling existing talent. We will direct Talent Acquisition, Career Coaches, and Local Campus Partnerships to use our voice and position to publicly call attention to biased hiring practices that disproportionately affect Black applicants. We will hold partners who want to hire our students accountable for making these changes.
3. Advocate for policies that boost access and affordability of high-quality education and training for Black people, and mobilize our community to participate in the political process.
From the U.S. Department of Education’s revocation of nondiscrimination guidelines to the outright provocations of violence from the President and his surrogates, it’s clear that we cannot rely on federal policymakers to make meaningful advancements when it comes to equity and racial justice.
Policies can be a lever for change in an election year — they’re more important than ever. We know there’s bipartisan support for ideas at the federal level such as job training tax credits or apprenticeships that can expand access to education. There’s momentum at the state and local level for ideas such as portable benefits that can better protect workers in a changing labor market. It’s also encouraging to see signs of collaboration and movement over the past weeks on urgent issues that aren’t directly related to education, like reinvesting police funding.
As 2020 candidates’ platforms evolve in the coming months, we all have an opportunity to raise our voices to advocate for federal, state, and local policies that can begin to chip away at America’s legacy of systemic racism. We can ensure that incoming elected officials make good on their responsibility to implement those necessary policies.
GA’s commitment: We will increase our efforts to advocate for legislation at the federal, state, and local levels to create pathways into high-skill, high-wage jobs for members of underserved communities. We will amplify amicus briefs in support of social justice issues, and take on external pro bono legal work. We will continue to push for a new social contract to strengthen the social safety net. We will educate our community on ways toget more involved in the political process while boosting voter registration deadlines, and local and federal election dates. We will close our U.S. offices on November 3, 2020, to allow our entire community to vote.
We take our commitments seriously, and understand that sincere and meaningful allyship is an ongoing journey. The truth is, we have many things to learn, so we will continue educating ourselves, speaking up, and embracing challenges to continue our growth process. We also appreciate ideas we may not have thought of that can help us create a more just and equitable world.
1General Assembly is a global education company with campuses in seven countries. We know that the current measures to dismantle systemic racism in the United States are not the same measures to address injustices in other parts of the world. The above statement focuses on the language, context, and our actions in the United States, and we look forward to sharing additional commitments across our other locations that are aligned with their regional political, social, and cultural realities.
“As long as gay people don’t have their rights all across America, there’s no reason for celebration.”
— Marsha P. Johnson, gay liberation activist and central figure in the Stonewall riots
With its iconic marches and vibrant colors, Pride is both a time of celebration, as well as a recognition of the Stonewall Rebellion’s anniversary, which birthed the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. Today — a world of unrest that echoes the very Stonewall riots that gave us the Pride we know — is the time to focus on the spirit of that uprising and save the celebrations for another day.
Marsha P. Johnson, the Black trans woman who catalyzed the Stonewall Rebellion, said it best: “As long as gay people don’t have their rights all across America, there’s no reason for celebration.” As protests across the nation respond to systemic police brutality against the Black community, there is a bright, necessary light on violence against People of Color — including LGBTQ+ People of Color, who experience these injustices differently.
Today, in the United States:
Data shows that Black people who identify as LGBTQ+ have the highest rates of unemployment, lack of insurance coverage, food insecurity, and income below the poverty level than both non-Black LGBTQ+ people and non-LGBTQ+ Black people.
Young LGBT People of Color are at higher risk of homelessness. An estimated 20–40% of homeless youth in the U.S. identify as LGBT or believe they may be LGBTQ+. One study found that among homeless youth who identify as gay or lesbian, 44% identified as Black and 26% as Latino.
Black transgender women are disproportionately victims of harassment and violence; last year, there were 26 reported deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people in the United States caused by acts of violence. Black trans women accounted for the majority of these losses.
The path forward is paved with solidarity. We hope these injustices are rectified soon so that all of us can celebrate and heal — not just a privileged few. In the meantime, we’re here to support you with resources and workshops focused on LGBTQ+ topics. For more information on how you can stand with People of Color, read our post, Why We Should All Be Angry, by our very own Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, James Page.
General Assembly (GA) is a community committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We aim to provide a welcoming environment for everyone at GA: students, staff, instructors, clients, and anyone who walks through our doors, physical or virtual. No matter what, we strive to uphold our work value to “Keep Getting Better” in our diversity journey.
In the United States, where many in our community are located, there is a long history of violence and harassment against People of Color. Now that many people carry cameras with them and have instant access to social media, these acts of violence and harassment are more likely to be swiftly and readily exposed. In recent weeks, we have experienced a shared sense of grief and horror over the untimely deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and the harassment of Christian Cooper.
We stand with Black and Brown People and are fully committed to creating physically and emotionally safe spaces for our entire GA community. Black lives matter. We do not tolerate racism or racial harassment of any kind — and we never will. In that spirit, we share this reflection by James Page, General Assembly’s Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion:
As a Black man in America, I’ve been aware since my teen years that others’ fears are closely linked to my skin color. While I found some humor when a White woman would clutch her purse as I walked by, there was also significant frustration. I was a nerdy Catholic school kid who liked to crack a joke. However, my identity as a Black man was perceived as dangerous and threatening in a way that superseded anything else about me.
In 2016, I took a trip to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture with my 13-year-old son. I will never forget the Emmett Till exhibit, where an open casket holds a photo of Emmett’s beaten and deformed face. I was frozen. I held my son’s hand, and without any real awareness, tears began to roll down my face.
My son asked me what was wrong. I explained that Emmett was a 14-year-old African-American boy who was visiting family in Mississippi in 1955. A White woman accused him of whistling at her, and he was brutally beaten and murdered by two White men. The killers were found not guilty, even though they admitted to killing him one year later. They were confident that the American legal system would protect them. Sixty-two years later, Emmett’s accuser admitted she lied — he never whistled at her. Her false accusation was enough to end that young man’s life with no recourse to his accuser or his murderers.
Fair-minded people can agree that taking another human life is wrong, and share the sense of outrage at the senseless, recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. However, the story of Emmett Till and its connection to the story of Amy Cooper speaks to a much deeper pattern of racism, exploitation, and injustice that is pervasive and prevalent in our society.
Why am I angry at the justice system and our police force? Why am I angry at Amy Cooper? Why should we all be angry? Because she shared the same sense of privilege and entitlement as Emmett’s accuser when she called the police on Christian Cooper. She knew that if she called 911 and expressed fear as a White woman threatened by a Black man, she would be believed, and a Black man would be punished, regardless of what actually happened. She weaponized her racial advantage and it could have been lethal to Christian Cooper: just as it was when Carolyn Bryant lied about Emmett Till, when Eleanor Strubing accused Joseph Spell of rape, and when Tom Robinson was accused of raping Mayella Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Black men have been conditioned to fear the police, the U.S. justice system, and White women. It is well known that when the cops, or “the posse” show up, the Black man — a 14-year-old Black boy visiting family, a Black man in a consensual relationship with a White woman, a Black character in one of the greatest novels of all time, or a Black Harvard grad birdwatching in a park — can be arrested, beaten, jailed, abused, and subjected to extreme acts of violence. His Black body can be deemed disposable, be made an example of, and deemed unimportant, a piece of property for the public; another piece of “strange fruit – blood on the leaves, blood at the root.”
While fear is closely linked to my identity, passed on from generation to generation, it is a fear that I must submit to — unbelievable in 2020. I must learn and follow the unspoken rules. I must fear the police, the justice system, bank lenders, the President of the United States, and the White woman clutching her purse — innocuous people or protectors under any other circumstance. As Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote, “It is not necessary that you believe that the officer who choked Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body. All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be Black.”
The only way to end this ongoing cycle is to educate ourselves, show up for People of Color, and get involved in the political process. This is not a new moment in our nation’s history, but part of the ongoing suffering, injustice, and inhumane treatment of minorities; these acts of aggression, violence, and unequal rights we are experiencing right now create real trauma for communities of color who have to live every day in fear. All of us have a role to play in dismantling institutional racism in this country; all of us must help address — and heal — that trauma. Now is the time to stand together and say, “No. More.”
If you are looking for ways to show up as an ally in this time, here are some places to get started — we share a handful of resources and it is by no means exhaustive:
Spend time reading and learning. Read the work of James Baldwin, Ta-Nahesi Coates, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Richard Wright, and Malcolm X. More recent books like How to be Antiracist, White Fragility, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, and White Rage provide contemporary insight on how to show up for communities of color. Purchase them from your local bookstore, and check out more resources here. They are truly eye-opening.
Support organizations that are moving the needle on racial justice. Color of Change, Campaign Zero, the Anti-Racism Project, the NAACP, UnidosUS, and the ACLU are but a handful of the organizations working nationally and locally for social justice issues facing communities of color. Sign up for their mailing lists, donate, respond to their calls to action, and find other ways to get involved.
Stand up for People of Color.When you see wrong, stand up for what is right. Call out racist actions — explicit or implicit — when you see them. When justice is compromised, protest, and challenge it until it creates change. You can learn more about how to be an ally here and here.
Get involved in the political process. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, demand accountability from your elected officials and advocate and support candidates who share your values. Most importantly, vote (register here) – and encourage others in your community to do the same.
At General Assembly, we will never compromise on ensuring that everyone within our community gets treated with dignity and respect. In the spirit of our shared commitment to learning, we urge all of you to engage on these issues with curiosity, humility, empathy, and self-awareness in service of active dialogue, brave allyship, and the human goodness that can be brought out by all of us.
Over the years, GA’s career coaches have helped thousands of students from our full-time immersive programs land jobs with our A-list hiring partners. Now, with a transformed hiring climate, many career changers are faced with more uncertainty than ever about the likelihood of getting a new role, let alone navigating a job search remotely.
The good news is that there are reasons to be hopeful. In this recorded session, get expert advice from GA’s U.S. career coaches on how job searching has been transformed by COVID-19. Whether you’re on an active job search or curious about what the U.S. job market is like right now, you’ll gain valuable insight about how job seeking has changed and how you can stand out amongst the competition—regardless of your work experience.
The often-used terms diversity, equity, and inclusion have distinct meanings. Here’s why that matters, and how they work together.
Diversity. Inclusion. Equity. These words and the issues they point to loom large in tech. It’s hard to go a week without reading an article about a company touting its dedication to diversity, while another is called out for tolerating oppressive comments and workplace practices.
From 2014–2016, Google spent $265 million to increase its diversity numbers (to little avail), a number that has become even more well known after the company recently fired an employee who wrote a memo against diversity efforts. In a 2017 survey of tech employees, 72% reported that diversity and inclusion was important to their company. In another report, which surveyed over 700 startup founders, 45% of respondents reported that they talked about diversity and inclusion internally in the last year. The majority of participants in that survey believe that the tech industry’s employee makeup will be representative of the U.S. population in 2030, though that’s a far cry from where we are now.
With all this talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in tech, there is no better time to dig deep and establish shared, fundamental understandings of these terms and their meanings. In my work as a DEI facilitator working with tech companies and in many less formal conversations, I’ve found that there’s widespread confusion. People get tripped up not only on definitions, but on how to use these terms to create goals and action plans for themselves and their organizations. When we can’t get on the same page, we can’t take the next step. So let’s start at the beginning and create a shared understanding of DEI together.
Embarking on a career change is a major investment. To say it’s a tough endeavor is an understatement, as it usually requires time, money, and effort to bridge skills gaps and make inroads in a new field or profession.
At General Assembly, we’ve helped over 13,000 individuals with finding a job and launching new careers through our full-time Immersive programs in coding, data, and UX design. GA courses aren’t cheap, but they have a high return on investment and are specifically designed to prepare students to be successful and secure high-wage, high-potential roles as web developers, data scientists, and UX designers.
However, many students can’t financially afford this education out of pocket. About 40% of our full-time students use third-party funding sources — including loans, scholarships, GI Bill® benefits, and government programs — to attend GA. There are more seeking who would like to do the same, but half of those who apply for loans get turned down, and our pool of scholarship funding is not big enough to meet demand.
The fact of the matter is that many of our students already have debt from past education or credit cards that affects their ability to secure new financing. Today, the typical college student borrower graduates with an average of $22,000 in debt. A recent study revealed that over 30% of recent student borrowers are facing serious struggles with repaying debt loads. The combination of existing repayment obligations and the looming risk of default leaves many adults with extremely limited funds to devote to continuing education. It’s a frustrating cycle — individuals are stuck in low-paying jobs they don’t love, but they can’t afford the education that will fast-track them into a new line of work.
At GA, we never want a student’s financial struggles to stand in the way of their motivation to break into a new profession. In order to create more access to our rewarding programs, we sought out new ways for career-changers to financially fund their education.
One concept that caught our attention was income share agreements (ISAs), a model of income-based repayment that’s gaining traction among education and training providers. After nearly two years designing this program, we’re excited to launch Catalyst, GA’s ISA program. Since many people are curious about ISAs, we wanted to share some insight around why they’re a viable option for many students pursuing this program, regardless of their income, credit history, or background.
You can read about how and why we created the Catalyst program in more detail in our white paper, Untapped Potential.
How GA’s Catalyst ISA Program Works
The gist of the Catalyst program is this: Students can accomplish taking a full-time GA Immersive course in web development, data science, or UX design at no upfront cost. After they graduate and land a job earning at least $40,000 annually, they’ll start paying back 10% of their income over 48 monthly payments.
We chose this income share amount because it’s comparable to what students might pay for a loan, based on our typical starting salaries. According to PayScale, average starting salaries for web developers are $54,365 nationally, and data from Climb Credit, one of our loan partners, shows that GA graduates report median starting salaries of $60,000 after taking an Immersive course.
Payments are maxed out at 1.5 times the initial cost of tuition (currently about $15,000), meaning that higher earners may end up paying as much as $22,425 total, while lower earners will pay less. We’re working with Vemo Education, the largest provider of ISAs in the United States, to manage the program’s day-to-day operations and administration.
We think these terms benefit career-changers for several reasons:
Approval based on future potential. Many loan applicants get rejected because of low credit scores or other debt. Acceptance to Catalyst instead depends on students’ drive and readiness to thrive in the course and on the job.
Employment first, payments later. Students can devote their time and energy to excelling in class and job searching — without the looming stress of upcoming payments.
Career focus. ISAs and career support go hand in hand. GA’s Career Services team is dedicated to making sure students land a job in their field of study through one-on-one coaching, exclusive hiring events, networking opportunities, and more.
Flexible career pathways. The $40,000 minimum salary allows students to accept a lower-paying job they’re passionate about, cultivate a freelance business, or even start their own company without the pressure of loan repayments.
Life happens? Payments stop. Students can pause payments at any time if they stop working, whether due to unemployment or personal, family, or health-related reasons.
Our Approach to ISAs
We took a student-centric, research-based approach in deciding whether to introduce ISAs. It was essential to develop a model that does not put the burden only on the student, but also ensures that GA is incentivized to help participants meet their career goals. First and foremost, we wanted to introduce an option that would be attractive to all individuals, regardless of income, credit history, or background.
Data from the ISA industry at large informed our approach to designing the Catalyst program, but our own unique experience serving thousands of students defined our terms. Here are some of the considerations we made while exploring ISAs as a payment option:
Student feedback. We reached out to alumni to understand whether or not an ISA-type structure would be appealing to them. We learned what features resonated with our community and built them into our program. More than anything else, students valued not having to make payments while in school and during their job search.
Current payment performance data and trends. After analyzing data from past GA applicants and students, we knew that affordability was still a frequent barrier. Loans, government funding, and scholarships are increasingly popular options for our community, but we couldn’t meet demand due to obstacles like a small scholarship pool and applicants’ inability to secure loans.
A strong focus on career outcomes. It’s incredible what GA students can achieve after taking one of our full-time programs, regardless of their educational and professional backgrounds. We strongly believe that ISAs can’t work without outcomes-based programming, and GA’s Career Services team is solely focused on ensuring that students in our full-time courses have the tools and skill sets they need to land a job after they graduate. We track student progress, have a Big Four accounting firm audit our job-placement data, and share our outcomes reports publicly every year.
Likelihood of students’ success. Students’ actions prior to enrollment reliably indicate how they’ll perform in their course and job search. To ensure Catalyst participants are prepared, applicants must complete our admissions requirements, course pre-work, and a readiness assessment. Our data shows that good performance on the assessment is the best predictor of success in the program and the job search.
Commitment to transparency. ISAs are new and we know there’s still a lot to learn about the model, but we’re optimistic. Because of this, we’re pledging to define key success metrics and make them publicly available.
Thanks to funding from the investment firm Kennedy Lewis, we’re able to serve 5,000 students through the Catalyst program in the coming years. We chose to work with the company because of its alignment with our mission and the goals of the program. “The positive social impacts of ISAs are extensive because they align the quality of the education with the cost,” said David Chene, co-founder and managing partner at Kennedy Lewis. “ISAs avoid the debt trap associated with student loan debt as a student will never be asked to pay more than they can afford.”
We’ll learn a lot along the way and are committed to maintaining transparency with our students, our partners, and others interested in the future of ISAs for accelerated career training and work experience. We’ll share updates regularly as we learn, iterate, and improve so we can continue to create greater access to GA’s programs and empower students to pursue professions they love.
Ashley Rudolph is GA’s Director of Consumer Operations and Financing, overseeing global campus operations, as well as General Assembly’s loan and income share agreement programs.
Tom Ogletree is Senior Director of Social Impact and External Affairs and manages GA’s communications, public affairs, and social impact initiatives.
Since 2011, General Assembly has trained individuals and teams online and on campus through experiential education in the fields of coding, data, design, and business. We believe everyone should have access to leading-edge education that will transform their careers — and their lives. Learn more about our Catalyst ISA program and other financing options, and find out what we’re doing to break down barriers to employment, diversify the workforce, and close the skills gap.
Six countries’ skill-building programs and policy initiatives in the age of automation.
Today’s workforce and the workforce of tomorrow is not just changing. It’s undergoing a seismic shift that, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, “is happening ten times faster and at 300 times the scale, or roughly 3,000 times the impact” compared to the Industrial Revolution.
The reality is that professionals grapple with a volatile economy where the shelf-life of skills is shrinking, hybrid jobs are increasing, and fears about automation’s disruptive impact on the job market make headlines every week. In the U.S., despite surging stocks and historic GDP growth, people’s incomes and wages haven’t kept up and income inequality continues to accelerate.
Around the globe, governments and employers alike recognize that areas such as AI and automation are quickly reshaping the global workforce. And the gap between the skills workers have and the skills companies need is growing wider as workers struggle to keep pace with emerging technologies in fast-growing industries.
In my role at General Assembly, I get the opportunity to speak with U.S. policymakers and analysts who grapple with employment and workforce development issues, and formulate solutions to ensure Americans can succeed in the new world of work. In these conversations, examples of education and workforce investment models spearheaded in other cities and countries often come up, and how we might repurpose them. Global training providers like GA are also partnering with organizations to craft upskilling and reskilling programs that arm professionals with cutting-edge skills, and also generate creative sources for talent in an increasingly competitive market.
We know technology is rapidly changing and transforming the global workforce. What’s less clear is how this transformation will take place — and what policymakers, learning and development providers, and business leaders should be doing to prepare for the future in the labor force.
Navigating the Future of Work Through a Global Lens
In our new white paper, which we developed in collaboration with Whiteboard Advisors and features a foreword from former Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Seth Harris, we uncover a lot of useful insights about how the U.S. and other industrialized nations are navigating these employment and workforce issues. Our study examines the experience and policy initiatives of six countries — Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Singapore, and Switzerland — and their strategies to improve upskilling, economic mobility, and employability in an evolving, and, at times, turbulent marketplace.
While the U.S. economy and labor market have unique characteristics with a diverse workforce, we discovered there are lessons to be learned from other developed economies pursuing workforce development programs and initiatives.
As American politicians, educators, and business leaders, we must ask ourselves: How can the startling impact of these innovative approaches be applied within a U.S. context and environment? It’s a question industry stakeholders and experts have posed to the General Assembly with increased frequency since we were acquired by The Adecco Group in April 2018. As the largest human capital solutions company in the world, The Adecco Group is an active participant in the highly successful Swiss apprenticeship model, a government-led initiative that provides young Swiss professionals paid apprenticeships designed in partnership with Swiss companies, and that’s recognized around the world as a paradigm for work-based learning.
Nobody has it figured out. Even when there are highly sophisticated programs in place that combine the best of the public, private, and social sectors, these programs haven’t always had the desired impact. For example, France’s Personal Training Account (“Compte personnel de formation” or the CPF) enables private and public sector employees to track work hours, which turn into credits for vocational and professional training schemes. On paper, access to training dollars with no strings attached seems like a surefire way to ensure French citizens can consistently upskill and reskill. However, just 6% of French workers took advantage of the training, despite the reality that 64% of that population would like to retrain in different fields or career paths.
Exportability is great in theory but tough in practice. Most of these programs are inextricably linked to the highly specific dynamics among labor market actors — companies, unions, and education and training providers — within each country, making it hard to replicate the best ideas elsewhere. Denmark’s “Flexicurity” model has some incredibly compelling features. Workers have greater security through generous government-funded unemployment benefits and education, retraining, and job training opportunities that help them return quickly to the labor market after they lose a job. Employers also win thanks to flexible contracts that allow them to hire and fire at will without incurring excessive costs for dismissing employees. As a result, litigation due to dismissals is rare. It would be difficult to imagine this program functioning in a large, heterogeneous country like the United States, which lacks the same tight alignment between government, employers, and trade unions.
There are still many good ideas worth exploring further. That’s not to say there isn’t massive potential in these models, which can inform U.S. domestic education and workforce policy. Given the breadth and variety of American industry, it would be hard to imagine the level of coordination and cohesion, which has made the Vocational and Professional Education and Training System (VPET) such a success story in Switzerland, working stateside. With that said, many of the guiding principles — stackable credentials, designated learning pathways, and funded apprenticeships — could be replicated in the U.S. It’s already happening: the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce, along with Accenture, delivered an in-depth report in 2017 that demonstrated how various Swiss companies have adapted the VET program, some for more than 10 years, for their U.S. operations.
Today’s increasingly global workplace demands a more nuanced, comprehensive understanding of the different ways governments and industries are addressing and responding to economic mega trends. Our hope is that this paper can begin a conversation about the lessons, ideas, and insights that other countries have to share with U.S. policymakers, employers, and practitioners on how to respond to and anticipate the future of work and education.