When Alexis Ringwald exited her last energy startup, the U.S. labor market was still in the long hangover after the Great Recession. The country’s unemployment was about double what it is today and millions of had lost their jobs in the wake of the financial crisis and housing crash.
So Ringwald went on a long listening tour over six months. She visited unemployment centers throughout Silicon Valley, talking to people looking for work. She went into the heart of Central California, where some communities had unemployment rates that were close to 40 percent.
“What I found is that people apply incessantly to a lot of places,” she said. “But they never hear back. They’re always unqualified. There’s no clear pathway into a job.”
Moreover, she found that three-fourths of the jobs available in the labor market don’t require a college degree. So Ringwald wanted to create something that would help most job seekers, not just ones with college degrees or good social ties into upwardly mobile jobs.
She started looking at how entry-level employers hire and filter out candidates.
Out of that came LearnUp, a training platform that helps entry-level candidates learn some basic skills before they apply.
One of their early partners was Staples. LearnUp provides a batch of three- or 10-minute learning modules containing questions about things like office equipment and copying machines. Candidates go through this one-hour training and learn a little bit about the position before interviewing. It also helps employers filter out candidates who are more motivated or who have taken the time to go through a training.
Now LearnUp has scored another big partnership with Gap’s Old Navy brand, that it says will help it reach more than 200,000 job candidates. Old Navy will use the LearnUp platform to prepare workers for jobs at its 350 stores across the United States.
They’re building an initiative called ‘LearnUp the Ladder,’ which will provide free online education for anyone wanting to learn entry-level and management skills in retail.
“I think the only thing we can continue to do with the changing job market is keep training workers and having them acquire new skills at the pace at which work is changing, whether that’s in retail or banking,” Ringwald said.
LearnUp is backed by $1.9 million in funding from NEA, Greylock, SV Angel and others.