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Programs for Post-Secondary Success: A Landscape Scan of “Last Mile” Training

May 23, 2018

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors recently had the opportunity to research the landscape of organizations and programs supporting young people to secure career-track jobs, particularly those serving low-income, first-generation-to-college young people who have graduated from or are engaged in post-secondary education. To conduct this landscape scan, RPA spoke with leading funders in the workforce and youth development fields, spoke to leading nonprofit providers, and conducted a literature review of articles and publications related to this issue. Below is a summary of our key findings.

The nature of first jobs for college graduates has changed over the past decade.

  • Wages for entry-level jobs are below their 2001 levels, contrary to the growth of the rest of the economy:
    • In 2001, on average three years after graduation, an Associate’s degree holder earned $34,000 and a Bachelor’s degree holder earned $45,000.
    • In 2014, on average three years after graduation, an Associate’s degree holder earned $26,000 and a Bachelor’s degree holder earned $40,000.
  • Skills and competencies required for entry-level positions have shifted from academic requirements to more concrete skills (e.g., marketing automation, coding, Tableau, Google Analytics, etc.) These required skills change with the frequency of technological innovation, which makes then challenging to incorporate into traditional higher education curriculums.
  • Graduates seek alternate pathways to learn these “finishing skills” in order to qualify for entry-level positions.

Post-graduation employment training (or “last mile” training) is a growing field.

  • “Last mile” training providers focus on the technical and soft skills employers need, but which colleges and universities do not teach.
  • The leading model of last mile training is the “boot camp.” Boot camps are most prevalent in the tech sector, but are emerging in almost every sector, including sales, medical devices, insurance, and others.
  • Most last mile training providers are for-profit companies structured in one of the following ways:
    • Tuition-based: Student pays up-front for technical skills training and is essentially guaranteed employment upon completion (job placement rates tend to be over 90%).
    • Income-share agreement: Student pays nothing up front for the technical skills training. Upon completion of the course and successfully gaining employment, the student pays the training provider a portion of his or her salary for a set period of time (e.g., 10% of salary for two years).
    • Staffing model: Training provider offers free training, then hires graduates and staffs them out to clients.
  • There is debate in the sector about whether colleges and universities will eventually offer last mile training, and on whether it could replace value of a traditional bachelor’s degree.

Low-income young people face barriers to employment and to participation in traditional last mile training programs.

  • Employers want diverse talent, but traditional recruiting and hiring practices are not designed to access and support diverse young people.
    • Large employers typically have recruiting relationships with a subset of universities, not often drawing from the public institutions most low-income young people attend
    • Low-income and first-generation college graduates often lack the social networks through which many young people secure their first jobs.
    • When diverse candidates get interviews, they are often not hired because of cultural fit due to implicit bias.
  • The high tuition for last mile training programs (from $10,000 – $20,000), excludes many low-income young people.
  • Many boot camps use very selective admissions processes that admit the young people most likely to succeed, thereby helping programs maintain high job placement rates. Young people with fewer resources and prior exposure to relevant skills have a harder time getting in.

Last mile training specifically for low-income and/or first-generation-to-college young people is an emerging focus for funders and the nonprofit sector.

  • The finish line of “success” keeps moving: Traditionally, funders and nonprofits were focused on college access for low-income populations. As more and more students gained access to college, the focus shifted to getting those students to graduate. After witnessing the challenges many of these young graduates face in taking the next step, some funders and organizations are now beginning to focus on employment and careers.
  • This sector – specifically for college graduates – is generally underfunded and under-resourced.
    • The workforce development sector is robust, with many programs available for people facing employment barriers (e.g., low educational attainment, homelessness, mental health or substance abuse issues, former incarceration, etc.), but few programs are designed specifically for college graduates.
    • Traditional college access & success organizations have attempted to move into this field by providing career programming to their college participants and alumni. Typically, these programs offer resume writing support, internship placements, and professional networking opportunities. However, these organizations were not developed to address this specific need, their services are often ad hoc, and they usually only reach the young people who were already part of the program.
    • The field is very young and is led by only a handful of nonprofits created specifically to address this population’s needs.
  • Last Mile programs for this demographic tend to offer one or more of the following types of supports:
    • Hard-skills training, often with strong links directly to employer needs
    • Building professional networks
    • Internships
    • Social capital/soft-skills (e.g., leadership, interpersonal relationships, communication, etc.)
    • Wellness

Figure A. Spectrum of supports offered by “last mile” programs

This growing sector is one to watch for donors interested in a number of issue areas, including education, youth, workforce development, and economic development. The issue spans geographies and employment sectors, and has the potential to greatly increase the career trajectories of many young people. There are many ways for donors to get engaged, whether it be through raising awareness, supporting programs, or facilitating learning across the field.

If you are interested in learning more about this research or other work RPA or our clients are doing in this area, please email [email protected].

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