It’s easy to get lost in the Silicon Valley and Bay Area tech bubbles, where it seems that everyone carries five phones, owns three laptops and just had lunch with a sentient robot. But, the reality is outside of the bubble is a little different. Digital literacy is a privilege, and more the exception than the rule. Not everyone owns a computer or is employed at a startup that just raised $10 million. In fact, California’s unemployment rate for December 2012 was 9.8 percent, significantly higher than the U.S. average at 7.8 percent.
Christina Gagnier, Stephanie Margossian and Carter Fort co-founded JobScout last year to help address this problem — to help combat unemployment through digital literacy. With funding from the California State Library (through the Library Services and Technology Administration Act) and support from the California Technology Agency, JobScout set out to create an online learning platform to help teach Californians (and everyone else for that matter) the basic skills required to help find a job in an increasingly digital world.
JobScout is part of the state’s larger digital literacy effort, iCalifornia, which aims “to promote and foster digital literacy and digital citizenship” in California and, in turn, help to energize local economies, boost innovation, competitiveness and improve the overall quality of life for residents by giving them the tools, skills and education they need to find jobs (and keep them). Initially launched as a web app, JobScout is today officially launching its app for iOS, through which it hopes to bring the power of its web platform to mobile, especially for those who might not have access to a computer.
While the app has broad applicability and seeks to provide value whether one is a first-time job seeker or a Baby Boomer looking to re-enter the workforce, the co-founders tell us that the platform is particularly geared towards Millennials. By offering educational content to help users learn resume building and other related job-seeking skills, JobScout wants to make it easier for young people to navigate the job search process, something that is sure to hit home for Millenials, which have one of the highest levels of unemployment — currently at around 25 percent.
“While people used to be able to check the classifieds or pick up an application at a local employer, these days most of the job search and application process has moved online,” says JobScout co-founder and CEO, Christina Gagnier. “For many people, this is a problem because they do not know how to make the most out of all the Web offers, or, for young Millennials, may not know how to apply their tech savvy to finding work. While this may seem unbelievable, 60 million people in the United States alone are considered digitally illiterate.”
To address this, JobScout makes a variety of lessons on how to best use the Web to look for job opportunities (on the Web and on iOS), supported by a gamified platform that allows users to earn badges for completed lessons (and presumably make the whole experience more engaging). In addition, the app’s “One Stop Job Shop” allows users to search for openings, save listings, apply and track their progress with interview dates and times, while its “ResumeBuilder” offers a simple, easy-to-use, fill-in-the-blank-type resume system.
On top of that, JobScout offers one-click submission with pre-formatted cover letters and provides ideas for how students can earn money through micro-entrepreneurship while on the job search, walking users through TaskRabbit, Etsy and other platforms. It’s also backed by its web-based platform, which offers a social community where users can connect with each other and share experiences, techniques and tips, as well as a dashboard, additional lesson content, and so on.
Of course, all that being said, you may feel as if you’ve heard about JobScout before. Today, it seems as if there are millions of online educational platforms, but the truth is that many of them target higher ed (Coursera and its ilk) or more general academic content for higher ed or K-12 (like, say, Khan Academy), or offer more advanced lessons in entrepreneurship, technical skills, web design or trade-based skills (like Skillshare, Lynda.com and CreativeLive, to name a few). So, JobScout may not be as much of a me-too idea as one might initially suspect.
And, while the gamification of education should be approached with a skeptical eye (especially for tools targeting the academic side of education, for use in or around the classroom), it could prove to be more valuable in JobScout’s context and for an audience of young people. The co-founders believe that, in the end, the platform’s value doesn’t emanate from its badges, but instead the consolidation of meaningful lesson content for a broad range of web-based skill sets.
Rather than targeting schools, districts or high school teachers, JobScout is going after the masses — the 60 million Americans without regular Internet access. “People need to learn what a URL is, how it works and why it’s important before they can learn about HTML or CSS,” Gagnier says. And while that may be cause for eye-rolling for those who spend 24/7 in the tech industry, it’s important.
It’s the same reason that California’s new Udacity-powered pilot for cheap, lower-division online courses could have big disruptive potential — it’s not always all about wowing geeks with sexy tech, it’s about bringing utilitarian, modern tech to everyone else to improve our quality of life. That’s what moves the needle, not just creating yet another online, distance learning platform for well-educated, technically-proficient non-minorities to brush up on the fundamentals of natural language processing — or whatever it may be.
JobScout is a free (so cost-effective), self-guided tour of the job search process for those who may not be overly-familiar with the ins and outs of the Web beyond using Facebook, YouTube and Google — and maybe not even that advanced. Its content is created by the startup itself in correlation with the Basic Digital Literacy Skills Framework developed by the State of California. (More on that here.)
As for JobScout-the-business, the startup is also now offering white-label solutions for institutions that want to offer job search learning resources to their communities. So, while the startup is backed by $800K in federal grants, that’s where the for-profit company plans to begin generating revenue, and it already has a few institutional customers on board. Plus, the platform also includes basic analytics through “COMPASS,” so that institutions can get visibility into activity on the platform and make more informed decisions.
Going forward, the team plans to add to its platform with another app that will provide similar educational and learning tools for healthcare — in other words, to help the novice navigate the byzantine world of healthcare in the post-Obamacare world. JobScout also intends to launch a Spanish language version of its app this year, something the co-founders say is already in high demand.
While it may not necessarily be for you, JobScout is beginning to go down a very important (and valuable road). By offering valuable job training and easy tools to learn digital skills, JobScout or some hybrid thereof will likely make waves in the job market. At launch, it offers 31 lessons, but its resources will grow quickly and it’s smart not to limit itself to California — even though it’s a huge market (and opportunity) to start with — and the more language editions it offers, the broader the potential reach.
Digital literacy, FTW!