Think back to when you were in college. How did you land your first meaningful internship? What did your school do to help you develop real experience that augmented the lectures on theory and other classroom learning required to earn your degree?
If you were like me, your answer may have been dumb luck.
It's a challenging task for any Higher Education Institution to get businesses really involved on campus. It's even more challenging for professors and administrators to build and nurture relationships, professional networks and ongoing programs that light the pathways for students to gain valuable real-world experience that opens the door to their career.
For this week's Digital Skillscast episode, our guest and his partners believe that technology can provide the answer. They believe it so much that they're building an experiential learning platform that is helping to close the skills gap.
In last week's episode, I flew solo. Throughout the show, I shared information and ideas on how to apply podcasting in a higher education context. A podcast can be a useful tool for a broad range of activities, such as student recruitment initiatives to engaging with alumni to creating a flipped classroom experience.
We briefly talked about how Apple's iOS will be changing to deliver better analytics around podcast consumption. Why is this such a big deal? Well, Apple iTunes hosts 55% of all podcast listeners.
We are changing gears this week. Our guest, Dana Stephenson, is gong to give us some insight into an experiential learning platform that is helping to bridge not only the digital skills gap but the skills gap in general.
Dana Stephenson - CoFounder and Director of Partnerships at Riipen
Dana considers himself a lifelong learner and a radical doer. He has an ability to bring out confidence and trust in every client, even those who are more skeptical. Dana set a goal to graduate from the University of Victoria without any student debt or support from parents. That's when his entrepreneurial journey began.
As a full-time student, Dana was an outside sales representative for a variety of B2B/B2C sales, marketing, and HR providers. Because of his outstanding performance, Dana was soon promoted into management positions.
Dana was up to his eyes with job offers at graduation when he realized that he was the exception, not the rule for the generation that is suffering from the highest graduate underemployment, widest skills gap, and highest employee turnover rates in history.
Through his work experience as a student, Dana learned how hard it is for students to transition from education into a career with a lack of real-world experience. He thought back to all of the student projects that he and other students had completed in his time as a student and realized that most ended up in a recycling bin. However, most have industry merit that would benefit local companies in addition to helping students build experience and skills.
Combining his interests in social entrepreneurship, education technology, and HR, Dana set on the path to improving education and recruitment systems in order for future generations to transition more easily into successful careers. He wanted to create a way for companies to easily find talent to help create future growth and success. At graduation, he combined his talents with that of his peers to launch Riipen - an online educational platform that enables schools to provide relevant work experience learning at scale.
Dana's Entrepreneurial Start
At the University of Victoria's Pete B. Gustavson School of Business, they operate on a "two plus two" program. This means that you don't take any of your core business courses until your last two years. The electives fill up the first two years while the last two years are very condensed.
Dana was attracted to this program because it allowed him to explore different paths and also work full-time while going to school. Though his grades were fantastic during the first two years, once he arrived in his third year, he began falling behind. He began thinking "What do grades even matter?" That's when his attraction to entrepreneurialism was realized.
One of Dana's professors brought in a company that does exactly was Riipen empowers. The CEO was a friend of the professor and he presented them with a business case. The class was instructed to figure out how he can make $20 million in three years. After the initial shock wore off, the engagement of the students skyrocketed. They knew that after they figured something out, they were going to be pitching to a CEO of an actual company.
Even though they were grilled throughout the presentations, they learned more in those few days with the practical experience that any theory could have taught them.
So many people are so quick to jump to conclusions; millennials are lazy, entitled, etc. But the reality is that we are living in a different world than twenty or thirty years ago. Back then, if you graduated with a degree, landing a job upon graduation was easy.
But now everyone has a degree because it's a requirement to just get an interview. More than one-half of college grads are working a job that is completely unrelated to their degree.
Dana recently attended a conference in Boston. A man from Gallup stated that a recent study showed that 96% of chief academic officers today believe that their students are adequately prepared for the workforce. The top business leaders across North American disagree - only 11% of them would agree. This massive misalignment is more than likely what is causing the gap in skills and the highest graduate unemployment rate in history.
What's the purpose of education? According to the another Gallup poll, 88% of students say they went to college to get a job. If the industry continues to iterate faster and faster, how do we help our education systems keep up? That's the problem that Riipen is trying to solve - graduate students with the right employable skills and the right experience to land meaningful jobs upon graduation.
Riipen is an online marketplace that has brought together organizations, students, teaching professionals in order to close the skills gap and create relevant work experience for students. They have brought real world learning opportunities onto campus and into the classroom and directly into course curriculum so that students can get the grades and the degree but can also apply it to a real-world setting.
An educator from a partner institution can log onto the platform with the hopes of their students getting a real-world learning opportunity. They are in full control and can design a learning experience that aligns with the learning objective of the course. After the student has completed the assignment from the instructor, they post their assignment to the marketplace. It is then marketed to Riipen's industry partners who has indicated interest in that type of project.
Organizations can come onto the site and submit project scopes that they believe align with a specific course. The course instructor can go through a scope and match a student or group of students to an organization. The student(s) and organization can collaborate through the entirety of the class. Not only does the organization gain insight from the next generation of decision makers and employees, but access to the talent itself.
Though a lot of schools want a face to face relationship with the companies that they partner with, the world we live in allows schools to partner with companies across the country. Students in rural New York can collaborate with tech companies in San Francisco.
Riipen's mission is to eliminate graduate underemployment. As a for-profit organization, in order to solve this global issue, they need to prove that they are a viable, profitable business.
Riipen is free for students. Organizations post open challenges which students from any school can complete to build up their portfolio. For an instructor, they can try it out for their class at no cost.
The organizations fund Riipen. If they are successfully matched with a student participation group, they pay a participation fee. This can range anywhere to $250 to $1,000 based on the scope of the project, the level of the student, or the length of the project.
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Academic institutions can choose to upgrade to a premium model. This model not only allows instructors to save time, but it allows the school to have full visibility to all experiential learning that is happening across the campus. Where it is happening, with what industries, with what organizations, which students, which skills they are developing, their strengths and weaknesses.
There is full reporting for the instructors so they can better understand where each student stands in regards to their strengths and weaknesses or how they can adapt their course curriculum. It helps the school understand areas that they can implement experiential learning or create interdisciplinary courses.
Riipen truly believes that their platform will help schools better align their course offering with industry needs. It will speed up the feedback loop that connects the industry to educators and back so that students are equipped with what organizations are actually looking for.
Riipen is beginning to move beyond just the classroom and campus. Students will build up their portfolio, which they can show off to employers, but they will always have it to come back to. Even after they graduate, they will still retain their portfolio. There are online programs that they can continue to take or open challenges they can do - it's really about lifelong learning.
As Riipen grows, they're striving to continue helping students long after they graduate and help them build themselves by taking on challenges to continue expanding their portfolio. They will develop new skills which can help anyone who is attempting a career change.
Want to Know More About Riipen?
Riipen.com is the best place to go to learn more, where you can see everything from students, employers, and educators. You can sign up for webinars and newsletters or if you're an educator who is interested in participating, simply sign up and a connecting associate will contact you right away to set up an exploratory call.
If you're interested in becoming an industry partner, you can explore the marketplace or sign up directly and you'll also be contacted by an industry partner specialist who can help match you to the right projects.
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