Last year as I was visiting colleges with my son, I noticed schools often had facilities to train students with a distinctly 20th century bent, but lacked the modern skills training students will need in today’s highly competitive and shifting job market. Early-stage startup, Gradberry, which comes out of beta this week, wants to fix that by teaming with employers and graduates and providing training to bridge the skills gap.
Iba Masood, co-founder and CEO says Gradberry works with graduates and employers. The site has jobs listings and courses, so students can take courses to fill in the gaps in order to land a position, or they can be hired and their employer will sponsor them to take a course to learn a required skill for the job. Masood says the majority of its revenue today comes from the latter. The way it works is that a company hires a recent graduate who looks promising, but lacks a requisite skill. For example, a marketing graduate could lack training in social media marketing. They take the online course, get a certificate and they should be better prepared for the job at hand.
Masood says she and co-founder, CTO Syed Ahmed started the company in 2012. Their original idea was a LinkedIn for students where recent graduates could have a place to apply for jobs, but by earlier this year they realized providing job listings wasn’t enough and they had to address this skills gap, and shifted their focus.
She reports they currently have approximately 38,000 registered users (representing 650+ universities globally), with 1,500 employers using the Beta. Among the first to sign on was IBM, which used the platform in developing economies in the Middle East and Asia.
The company uses a freemium model for employer job ads offering the first three ads free, after which they start paying for ads and training for employees as needed.
They have approximately 30 courses today ranging from languages like Arabic to social media marketing to learning HTML5 and they hope to crank that up to 120 courses by October. Masood says they began by producing the courses themselves, but they don’t want to be in the content creation business long-term. “What we’ve realized with content creation, it’s a capital-intensive, heavy model. It’s also intensive on the side of creation. To have high quality courses in terms of production value we would need a studio, the right lighting and video,” she explained. Moving forward they will oversee content creation, but won’t be creating it themselves.
Instead they are working on partnerships with companies like Microsoft and Adobe to produce the content for them. The software companies gain access to a highly valuable 18-24 market who will be trained in their product sets and there is value in that for these companies, which Gradberry hopes to take advantage of.
Gradberry has 6 employees and up until now they have been bootstrapped through revenue generated from the site and small prizes totaling $40,000 they have won in startup competitions. Currently they are part of MassChallenge, a Boston-based startup incubator, which Masood says has offered invaluable assistance in the development of her company.
“MassChallenge has connected us to stellar mentors and innovators in the Boston community, who have helped us refine our operational strategy, to scale on both sides of the equation –that is, course content and career opportunities,” she said. She added that they also have great connections to multinational organizations, who will be partnering with them to provide employer-led courses and job opportunities for fresh talent.
For now Gradberry sees itself in a different light than MOOC services like Coursera. Research has shown that the average completion rate for MOOCs is around 7 percent, while Masood says her site has seen in early trials that 9 of 10 participants who took Social Media 101 went onto take the 201 course. She says this is because they are incentivized to do this by the promise of a better job or an employer encouraging them to do it.
In a job market gone crazy and colleges sometimes failing to prepare students for the current targets, graduates need any edge they can get, and employers need not just smart graduates, but well-trained ones. Gradberry hopes to appeal to both groups.
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