Barriers to rapidly upskilling workers

What are the most significant barriers for teams competing in a Rapid-Response Workforce XPRIZE to upskill low-skill, low-income individuals within 100 days?

@Terry, @Diane_Tavenner, @Jackeez, @Sandy, we would love your input on this!

We’re studying a new direction for the future of work prize to cope with the expected economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak. The winning team in this Rapid-Response Workforce XPRIZE would:

  • Develop and deploy a scalable solution to train 100 low-skilled individuals in 100 days for no more than $100 each.
  • Place graduates of teams’ solutions in a new, high-skilled job within the next 100 days.
  • Demonstrate that the same workers maintain their new job for at least 100 days.
  • Demonstrate success across different occupations/sectors and in different localities.

Is upskilling workers within 100 days feasible? We want to set an audacious target - something that wouldn’t be achieved without an XPRIZE. But we also want to set a achievable goal.

What are the problems team competing in a prize as outlined above might encounter in upskilling workers?

Training 100 workers in 100 days for a good paying job is probably not only audacious but likely unfeasible without a ramp-up… One of the barriers of training low-wage workers is that many already work in jobs where they find themselves with shifting schedules. Consequently, consistent attendance is sometimes out of reach and combined with other demands on their time, like family, make attendance a challenge. I ran a free training program in computer-aided design that met online three nights each week for two hours and a three hour class on Saturday. I also videotaped each session so that those missing as class could watch the videotape instruction and catch up. Often the change in their work schedule meant that they could not attend class for several weeks and even with the lessons online it was too much for them to catch up.

One of the necessary components to success is to understand the issues that low-wage workers face. We cannot conduct a successful training program without thoroughly understanding the conditions that the participants are in. With the CAD training program that I conducted, I learned that one can successfully teach a technology skill via the Internet with the right tools. However, an important component to success is that neither they nor you control the world around them.

Even single low wage earners must earn enough to pay for food and a roof over their head. It becomes even more complicated when they have dependents to care for.

I have conducted training programs for maximum-security inmates and even then there were barriers to successful training. Many of them came with considerable baggage and a sense of defeat that needed to be overcome for successful training.

Many low-wage jobs are going to disappear due to artificial intelligence and technology. So research must be done to identify jobs that aren’t going to be swept away after training. The more sophisticated of these jobs requires more training and may require a screening program that would identify those that might succeed.

To conduct a training program where the cost would be hundred dollars for each participant is probably unrealistic. You probably couldn’t do this and have to pay up instructor. Is it realistic to expect the training would be purely technology-based and without any human interaction? Is this possible? This is difficult to do with highly motivated college students let alone low-wage learners. I would like to hear from others who have conducted programs with low wage earners without an instructor that is only technology-based. Is this even possible?

Thank you for your feedback, @Terry! This is a very good point, and it’s also been raised by our sponsors. We may need to look into the possibility of a working/learning track.

Is tis even possible?

I’m not sure, but if people are losing their jobs right now we can’t assume they’ll still have enough savings by the time we’re able to launch this prize (which would be in a few months at the earliest) and to last them through a 100-day training upskilling track, which is what we’re envisioning.

@Matthew_Poland, @LiliGangas, @jpainter, @DCCCD, you may know examples of successful work/learn programs?

@NickOttens I agree with @Terry here that this recession we’re entering (hopefully not a depression) will make it really hard to train people in 100 days for jobs that we have no way of knowing will exist. Another way I could see structuring this would be to develop social enterprises of some sort that train and hire people directly. It would still be pretty hard to hire 100 people off the bat without significant up-front investment though.

According to the Oxford Univ. 2019 report, here are the top 10 declining roles for 2022:

  1. Data Entry Clerk
  2. Accounting, Bookkeeping, and Payroll Clerks
  3. Administrative and Executive Secretaries
  4. Assembly and Factory Workers
  5. Client Information and Customer Service Workers
  6. Business Services and Administration Managers
  7. Accountants and Auditors
  8. Material-Recording and Stock-Keeping Clerks
  9. General and Operations Managers
  10. Postal Service Clerks

@key2xanadu, I’d also like to ask your opinion here, specifically for the health care industry. Is it possible to up-skill workers in 100 days to work in health care? Possibly health-care jobs that don’t require a degree, such as:

  • Dental assistants
  • Medical billing and coding specialists
  • Medical equipment manufacturers
  • Medical lab technicians
  • Therapy aides/assistants
  • Respiratory therapists

in Pennsylvania it takes 120 hours to complete a nurse’s assistant program that pays approximately $27,000 a year

Medical billing takes 69-80 hours training with salary of $35000.yr.

Neither require a degree.

@NickOttens, I happen to be working on a health-tech consulting project currently (in an engineering-related role), but am not very familiar with what it takes to work in hospitals. I know that in SF they’re trying to staff up nurses for the current pandemic. A job fair they held recently was invite-only (presumably, for already-skilled folks who may have retired/gone on leave). The points @Terry raised in this thread seem very reasonable (and arose from his personal experiences!). It’s nice that XPRIZE is being ambitious, but we also live in reality (that’s ever-changing). For example, consider the rising costs of college. (And now, some college students are joking that they’re all going to the same school but paying different prices: Zoom University online.)

I did a project with LinkedIn Learning last year, publishing a tech-related video course there. LinkedIn Learning is relatively cost-accessible for learners (~$30/month or ~$300/year for unlimited courses) and the pricing includes some extra “Premium” stuff on LinkedIn for finding jobs. The motivation level has to be high enough for people to take and finish a course. Arguably, the adults who are the least skilled and lowest income might also have lower motivation levels for extracurricular learning (for whatever reasons – not saying that it cannot be changed… but in 100 days with a level of support that would cost ~$100?!).

I know that there’s a lot of demand right now for delivery workers and other folks who are “essential” 'while the rest of us “shelter in place” at home (at least in California). Maybe this means that if the demand from employers for new workers is high enough, there will be both higher wages and higher employer motivation to train new workers.

@Terry - I’m so moved by your post. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

You mentioned, “one can successfully teach a technology skill via the Internet with the right tools.”

From your experience, what are some of the keys to successful online teaching? What are some tools that make online instruction easier/more effective?

Also, we’re concerned for the folks who may not have internet access or a computer at home. Did you ever run into that challenge? If so, did you find a work-around so that they could receive instruction another way?

Ramp-up will be the big challenge, even for those who are now creating initiatives. We’re starting to see the changes in the job market through changes in job postings (great information last week from Burning Glass Technologies through their Labor Insights database). Certainly biotech and biomanufacturing look like “safe bets” thus far for new job creation based on COVID-19.

100 days would be more possible for new business creation - for startup formation, if we can rapidly connect with immediate customer needs and seed funding.

I think that’s this news, right?

Interesting findings!

  • On average, job postings across the United States fell 29% between the week of March 2 and the week of March 23.
  • Entertainment and the arts saw a 70% drop in job postings.
  • Retail industry saw a comparatively modest decline: 11%.
  • Job postings fell 49% in tourism and restaurants.

@Sandy, @Abbie, @rkadel42, @Bart, I wonder if you have thoughts on this as well?

@CindyUNC - What are some of the ramp up items you think the teams will need to focus on in those 100 days?

To name a few ramp-up tasks…

  • Data/impact metrics capture - insuring that we have the right measures determined and are ready to capture in our impact database
  • Focused training materials from faculty that are also vetted by industry (job postings and direct feedback from key contacts)
  • Selection criteria for applicants to be accepted into the learning program
  • Project management and business-side support for budget, purchasing, scheduling
  • Exit criteria for the learners, again based on industry skills requirements/needs as well as educational measures (grading, competency-based education)

It is my thought that the future of work will integrate AI and on-demand learning to the degree that task are technology integrated. There will be elements of relatively short on-demand learning modules (LMs) designed to address knowledge or skill gaps. The level of technology integration and its application in a given task process, the current knowledge and skill demonstrated and measured will be important variables defining and executing a rapid workforce model. As such a determination of AI and on-demand learning will depend on the prospective employees knowledge, skills, and ability from the outset. O*Net ( managed by the US Dept. of Labor is a repository that can provide some guidance with respect to competencies including knowledge, skills, and abilities as they pertain to various jobs and job types.

Thank you @CindyUNC and @DROE for this insightful feedback!