Edtech Insiders

Building Apprenticeship Nation with Ryan Craig of Achieve Partners

June 05, 2023 Alex Sarlin Season 6 Episode 7
Building Apprenticeship Nation with Ryan Craig of Achieve Partners
Edtech Insiders
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Edtech Insiders
Building Apprenticeship Nation with Ryan Craig of Achieve Partners
Jun 05, 2023 Season 6 Episode 7
Alex Sarlin

Ryan Craig is a Managing Director at Achieve Partners and was formerly an MD at University Ventures. Ryan’s commentary on where the puck is going in education and workforce regularly appears in the biweekly Gap Letter, Forbes, and Inside Higher Education. He is the author of the upcoming book Apprentice Nation: How the "Earn and Learn" Alternative to Higher Education Will Create a Stronger and Fairer America (November 2023). He is also author of A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College (2018), which describes the critical importance of last-mile training and the emergence of bootcamps, income share programs, staffing and apprenticeship models as preferred pathways to good first digital jobs and was named in the Wall Street Journal as one the Books of the Year for 2018. Ryan’s first book was College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education (2015), which profiles the coming shift toward competency-based education and hiring. Ryan is a co-founder of Apprenticeships for America, a national nonprofit dedicated to scaling apprenticeships across the U.S. economy.

Previously, Ryan led the Education & Training sector at Warburg Pincus. His prior experience in higher education was at Columbia University. Ryan also founded and built Wellspring, a national network of boarding schools and summer camps for overweight and obese children, adolescents, and young adults. He began his career at McKinsey & Co.

Ryan received bachelor's degrees summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University, and his law degree from the Yale Law School.

Show Notes Transcript

Ryan Craig is a Managing Director at Achieve Partners and was formerly an MD at University Ventures. Ryan’s commentary on where the puck is going in education and workforce regularly appears in the biweekly Gap Letter, Forbes, and Inside Higher Education. He is the author of the upcoming book Apprentice Nation: How the "Earn and Learn" Alternative to Higher Education Will Create a Stronger and Fairer America (November 2023). He is also author of A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College (2018), which describes the critical importance of last-mile training and the emergence of bootcamps, income share programs, staffing and apprenticeship models as preferred pathways to good first digital jobs and was named in the Wall Street Journal as one the Books of the Year for 2018. Ryan’s first book was College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education (2015), which profiles the coming shift toward competency-based education and hiring. Ryan is a co-founder of Apprenticeships for America, a national nonprofit dedicated to scaling apprenticeships across the U.S. economy.

Previously, Ryan led the Education & Training sector at Warburg Pincus. His prior experience in higher education was at Columbia University. Ryan also founded and built Wellspring, a national network of boarding schools and summer camps for overweight and obese children, adolescents, and young adults. He began his career at McKinsey & Co.

Ryan received bachelor's degrees summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University, and his law degree from the Yale Law School.

Alexander Sarlin:

Welcome to EdTech insiders where we speak with founders, operators investors and thought leaders in the education technology industry, and report on cutting edge news in this fast evolving field from around the globe. From AI to xr to K 12 to l&d, you'll find everything you need here on edtech insiders. And if you liked the podcast, please give us a rating and a review so others can find it more easily.

Ben Kornell:

All right, at Edtech Insider listeners, we have an extra special interview for today's podcast, the one the only Ryan Craig, Managing Director of achieved partners, author of the gap letter as well as the upcoming apprentice nation, also just godfather of ed tech media. I mean, there's a way in which we all walk in your footsteps Ryan, so great to have you here today, excited to talk about what's going on in AI universe as well as university universe. Welcome to the pod.

Ryan Craig:

Well, it's about time and good to see you both. And I'm a big fan. So thanks, it's great to be here.

Alexander Sarlin:

We are very big fans of yours as well. So let's talk about some of the issues you've been covering in the gap letter, you've been beating the drum for a long time about how universities have just not been pulling their weight in helping students for the workforce and a really clear way not giving them direction, not giving them enough skills. You wrote recently about this idea of there being a skills gap, and an experience gap, and how the skills gap may actually begin to be closed by AI because AI can teach people skills very quickly as well as enhance their skills with these co pilots. But there's still an experience gap. And that is where the rub lies it talk to us about the difference between these two? Sure.

Ryan Craig:

Well, let me just start by saying that, you know, I try not to be too negative about colleges and universities and that I do think that they're doing as good a job as they've ever done at equipping students and graduates with sort of key core cognitive skills, problem solving skills, communication skills, executive function skills. The problem is the fault lies not with colleges and universities per se, but with digital transformation that is, you know, caused the economy and employers and jobs to kind of run away at increasing speed from the skill set that colleges and universities have equipped students with. So you know, whereas in the 1960s, you know, you might graduate looking to get a job at a firm like, you know, the advertising agency portrayed in madmen. Or in the 1980s, you might try to, you know, look at graduating trying to get a job at a law firm like in LA law, those jobs, they kind of look at useless, they'd say, Well, you have the degree, this macro prudential signaling a set of broads cognitive skills, problem solving skills, communication skills, but not really asking for anything more specific than that, obviously, at the law firms, you're going to need a law degree. But a lot of it is, you know, do you have those things? And, you know, are you able to get along? And are you, you know, fun to have a three Martini lunch. So we don't have three Martini lunches anymore. As far as I know, I don't get invited to them. The workforce has changed in other ways to digital transformation has caused, you know, almost all good jobs are digital, in some form, or fashion, they require digital skills. And it's that digital skills gap, which is really a combination of specific platform skills, as well as business knowledge, right? You know, you can't really be effective in using a platform unless you understand the sort of core business functions and processes that that platform is kind of replicating in digital form, right. So that's kind of where we stood. And then you know, Chad GPT came out. And it's pretty clear that digital skills gap is likely to narrow right, because all of these platforms are likely within a year or two, to have natural language interfaces, where you don't really need to know the specific instruction and mechanics in order to accomplish a task, you'll be able to basically get to the result by communicating in natural language with the platform. So I'm not saying that all digital skills gap will disappear, but it will narrow. But at the same time, what's likely to happen is that AI and being able to use AI and prompt AI correctly is going to require experience in that specific sector with those business processes and functions. And if you don't have that experience, you won't know what to ask. Right and so, and because the AI is effectively going to save you from doing the menial tasks that in many cases comprise much of what entry level positions are, are all about. What will happen is that expectations for entry level positions are likely to increase it will raise the bar for entry level jobs, whereas an entry level job in a couple years will look a lot like a job that today is asking for two or three years experience, meaning you're going to have to know a little bit about the industry at least, you're going to have to know a little bit about the job function, you're going to probably ask you to demonstrate at least It's in the space because otherwise, what good are you? Right? You don't need to be there doing those repetitive menial tasks that have been automated by the AI, you're going to be there to make decisions and judgment and network and do other things that people who've been on the job two or three years are able to do. You know, that's why I say that I think generative AI is likely to narrow the skills gap, turning the experience gap into a bit of a chasm. That's a big problem, right? And those of us in the tech space, we spent, you know, much of the last decade trying to narrow that skills gap. And you can do that through education and training. How do you narrow How do you close that experience gap? Right. So in our view, a lot of that is going to have to come through work integrated learning, so that you're actually having actual work experiences or work life experiences while you're going through formal education, and apprenticeship. So meaning that a lot of people who today are coming right out of, you know, tuition based education model, and going to work for the company, they might end up working for, for, you know, years or decades, in some cases, are going to end up finding themselves in some kind of, you know, work pathway, or an unlearned pathway, where the intention is that they're going to be doing a job, not necessarily the job they're ultimately going to be doing. And they'll be learning along the way. And that probably, they'll progress through that pathway to an ultimate unlikely different employer on the other end. So those are of course, the apprenticeship programs that we're building at achieved. In our portfolio companies like our former portfolio company Ravager, skill storm, optimum healthcare IT cloud for good, Helios and the like. So these are business services companies that we've acquired, and are building apprenticeship pathways into them in order to become talent engines for their talent starved sectors. So we think that's likely going to be a more important model, meaning that all of those sectors right cybersecurity, Salesforce, data science, software, development, Salesforce workday, they're going to look more and more to programs and pathways and companies that have built that infrastructure, as they think about talent sourcing strategies and where their next generation of workers is going to come from, because it's through Pathways like this, that they're going to be able to bring in new talent that will have the equivalent of two three years experience that they'll need for entry level jobs.

Ben Kornell:

Yeah, when we were first talking about this, I likened it to, you know, the US economy transforming to the Spanish economy, where you basically have like massive unemployment of 20 year olds, as they try to break in. One thing that I've been thinking about is, I thought we were already heading that way with free college new way we are, we are, we're well on our way, you know, Europe is ahead of us in so many ways. That's not one where I think we want to catch up with them. One thing that is really challenging, too, is the labor force dynamics. Because of AI, I'm on a school board. I've been thinking a lot about labor union movement, and what AI means for labor union movements. And a very common trope you see in labor unions is, you know, protecting the jobs of your existing people against new entrants that are lower costs. And so I also think I'm

Ryan Craig:

gonna just jump in, my wife is a television writer, and she's on She's literally on the picket line right now as I speak, because one reason is that the television and film studios have not agreed to not replace exactly we say, that one hits home.

Ben Kornell:

Yeah, so if you imagine that, from a skills and experience gap standpoint, you're closing the skills gap, but expanding the experience gap. And then meanwhile, our social structures around you know, labor are actually making it harder and harder to get into fields and doubling down on protecting jobs. Because I think the middle age worker fear is that either AI straight up replaces me, or a kid who knows how to use AI replaces me. And so what do you do you make experience gap, you know, almost like performative credentialing or performative barriers to make it harder to enter that field or profession. Yeah,

Ryan Craig:

it turns the idea of an entry level job into an oxymoron and turns the labor market in that sector into a bit of a death spiral. Exactly. Agree. I, I liken it to the cybersecurity space now, which is probably the most advanced on this where there really is no such thing as an entry level position, even sort of tier one analysts. If you look at the job descriptions, they're asking for sets of skills and certifications that would connote something like two or three years experience. So how do you get in you put you high it's probably by accident, right? I mean, how do you fall into this? Well, when

Ben Kornell:

I hire a cybersecurity company to I don't want some entry level dude, like being dependent on that guy for my cybersecurity. I do want somebody who's Well,

Ryan Craig:

the reason let's just be clear, the reason that's happened is that, you know, a lot of what used to be Tier one is now automated, right? It's built into these products. So you don't really need to you're wondering, what's now called Tier one is probably what used to be tier two,

Ben Kornell:

what I'd love to hear your thoughts on. So apprenticeship models, this idea of like universities partnering with employers creating economic, you know, learning earn opportunities. That sounds very German, it sounds very European. I'm trying to think of what else needs to change for our ecosystem to move in this direction. And what are the political levers? What are the like, social Levers as well? That's the

Ryan Craig:

tech. Yeah, I mean, in a nutshell, the real problem is that for decades, we've been looking at either colleges, universities or employers to solve this problem themselves. And that's not how it's happened in other countries. If you look anywhere else in the world, where they have a much more robust apprenticeship ecosystem than we do. It's because intermediaries have stepped in and essentially played that role played the, if you will, general contractor role of building that apprenticeship program, colleges don't do it. Employers don't do it themselves. In Germany, you know, interestingly enough, it's not the employers or or, or the colleges or universities, it's chambers of commerce and trade unions, who play that intermediary role. And actually, they're obliged to because that role is written into statute in Germany. So yeah, what kind of

Ben Kornell:

strengthen the labor unions there because of this idea that they're constantly restocking, with new labor union members. And so it's an interesting death spiral for labor in the US, if you are being, you know, blocking young people from opportunity,

Ryan Craig:

we have a fairly robust apprenticeship system in the construction trades. And as unions were playing that role, our problem is that it's not obvious who the intermediary should be in tech, and in finance, and in healthcare, and so forth. And so we need to find them. And we ought to have government policy that incentivizes businesses and nonprofits that are positioned to play that role to do so. And so you don't need to read the book,

Alexander Sarlin:

I wanted to double click on this work, integrated learning concept. You know, one of the things you call out, and that we've been talking a lot about on the podcast is these industry specific large language models. You know, we're in the early days of generative AI, but Bloomberg already did a finance specific large language model, and we're seeing others start to go in that direction. How do you see the interplay here? Do you feel that you know, high schools will have to start teaching industry specific language models? Is that it through apprenticeships, is that through?

Ryan Craig:

That's exactly the kind of thing I mean, I think that high schools will teach prompt engineering, I think that's going to be very common. But I think that by the time you get to your you know, post high school to your post secondary pathway or apprenticeship program, you are going to need to be versed in essentially prompt engineering within that specific large language model. Otherwise, you won't be able to do your job.

Ben Kornell:

Talk to us a little bit about university systems and how you see them changing. I think this idea of intermediaries is fascinating. But also, you know, the university system is crumbling under the way of, you know, the high price and questionable ROI. In one of your article you wrote, despite dramatic digital transformation, majors remained largely unchanged, colleges continued to support dozens of so called, quote unquote, not a job majors, long past their sell by dates. In the Georgia State system, the board only acted to terminate programs that had not admitted a single student in two years, and therefore, were deemed inactive. What other products have no expiration date, if I'm a university leader, listening to this podcast, what am I to do? And how should I be thinking about the AI and skills and experience revolution?

Ryan Craig:

I think it's very clear that I've been saying for almost a decade now that you know, the biggest change in higher education is actually not technology, per se, or digital transformation. It's the the expectation that this is going to lead to a good job. That's the priority. And so I think there's still lots of schools that don't get that I think that you're seeing historically since COVID, and now five consecutive years of enrollment declines. And let me just be clear, I'm not including the sort of the top 50 most selective universities who are on their own planet on this, they'll be able to continue to do whatever they want to do for as long as they want to do and I'm talking about the other 95% of institutions that enroll, you know, everyone else, and those schools that are seeing enrollment declines that are seeing budget crunches, and so forth, I need to make decisions as to what's important here. I believe that ultimately, they're going to have to, you know, be very clear about programs that lead students to good jobs. And you know, what the crazy thing is, they already know it, or they have the capability of knowing it. They're willfully blind in most cases, and that's really the you know, all of the policy going on the policy discussions going on in higher education around student loan forgiveness and you know, PMS and third party services. and so forth. It's all a function of the fact that, you know, there's this huge information asymmetry going on where institutions do know or ought to know, what programs work for what students and they continue to yet enroll students who are not going to be successful in programs that are not going to lead them to success. And that's a classic definition of information asymmetry, right, you have the you know, the colleges are going to repeat sellers are selling over and over and over. And the students who are making these enrollment decision between families making these matriculation decisions, they're making it one time. You know, in my view, the best way to solve that is not by trying to, like put band aids on it, like through loan forgiveness, and you know, OPM and TPS, but rather to just, you know, turn the model around. And instead of assuming that, you know, every 18 year old should go immediately to tuition based debt based post secondary education, what if the expectation was that you worked for a few years, first, that you got some work experience, you got your foot on the first rung of a career ladder, and then you made your post secondary or subsequent education decision, with better information. And the analogy I like to use is, you know, you don't see a lot of people complaining about, you know, people being misled or making bad decisions about master's degrees, there's some right you have this sort of USC, social work with, you know, to you, and so forth. But for the most part, we've seen an explosion in master's degrees over the last decade, on my master's degrees, they're expensive too. But the people making those decisions are much better informed than individuals who were, you know, entering making a decision as to whether to enroll in a college or community college for a bachelor's degree or an associate's degree or less than that. So the goal should be that every enrollment decision should be made by someone with as at least as much information and experience as someone who's making a master's degree enrollment decision today. And then a lot of these policy problems are likely to go away, we're gonna fix that information asymmetry. And obviously, apprenticeship can play a role in that, because if you come out of high school, and you go and you do an apprentice, like job for years, and by the way, in the book, you know, I talked about someone who goes to work for Starbucks, or Chipotle and you know, enrolls in a, you know, a guilt, or guilt type program, where and again, you know, guilt is is shifting from delivering off the shelf online degrees to customize pathways that lead you from point A to point B within that enterprise that lead where point B is a good gateway job in that company. So in Chipotle, for example, to become a store manager. So going to work at Chipotle with a built in training pathway that leads you to become a store manager in a couple of years. I think that should be as valid a you know, post high school experience as enrolling in any college, if we can make that change, we're going to solve information asymmetry, because that individual who's worked at Chipotle for a couple years, becomes a store manager, and then is making a decision as to you know, what they're going to do next, where they're going to go is going to undoubtedly make a better decision for themselves. And for the broader ecosystem, including with public funds, right with, you know, enhanced income driven repayment. Those are, you know, taxpayer dollars that are at risk when those decisions are made. That's kind of the big picture here.

Alexander Sarlin:

This idea of information asymmetry between universities, and you know, the graduates who are looking at them is so powerful. And you've mentioned in previous writings that it's been quite a while, since the number one reason why people report that they're going to college is to get that first job to have a career yet, the universities continue to just sort of slowly move in a you know, in this last column, you mentioned that 75% of large public universities actually limit access to some of the highest value majors, especially computer science, they don't hire enough faculty, they weed people out, people come to school wanting computer science, because they know it's going to be valuable career and the school, you know, sort of derails them or redirect them for their own reasons. Talk to us about that, because I think this is something a lot of people don't realize

Ryan Craig:

about the majors. I'm glad you call that out. Because I think that's one of the biggest scandals that is not receiving, you know, anywhere near enough attention. There's a bait and switch going on where you know, you're enrolling. And these are all public universities, for the most part, you're enrolling in a state university, including flagship schools, and they just simply aren't willing to pay or can't pay enough to recruit faculty to meet the demand. And so, you know, half to two thirds or three quarters of applicants to these would be computer science majors and engineering majors are turned away and essentially pushed into lower value less remunerative majors like psychology and sociology and so forth and then graduate into this swirl, where they're going after the same job as every other graduate and there's no real connection between their program of study, as we you know, circling back to the AI, just gonna make it worse, right? If you have like no connection whatsoever, to the job or to the industry or the experience, you're going to be less likely in five years to be able to be even considered you probably They won't even be interviewed for that job at that point. So it's scandalous. And again, you know, because no one has ever gone broke betting against the pace of change. In higher education, this is only going to change. Once these schools are feeling the pressure, as a result of lower enrollments and less revenue, there may be states that begin to amp up accountability, I certainly wouldn't count on accreditors to do it. So it's just going to be driven by economics. And then they'll have to decide what they want to save and what they want to jettison. Clearly, they're not going to jettison, you know, computer science and engineering, what will happen is schools will be smaller, and more focused. A lot of the stuff that currently is essentially, you know, profit or surplus generating because these programs are so cheap to deliver, will be falling by the wayside because there won't be the demand for those programs in five years that there is today.

Ben Kornell:

You know, hearing you say all of this, it also makes me think about high schools, guidance counselors are incentivized around which programs their students are getting into namebrand for your colleges, you know, pipelining and there's a information asymmetry or just a lack of focus on what's the outcome post college, that we also need to reimagine what junior and senior year look like freshman sophomore year, what the advising looks like, for students to be successful in navigating this dynamic future, just kind of picking the four year college as the plug and play thing. It's just become such a repeatable trope for high schools that it's also hard to change them. And I don't know that they actually have changing economic incentives that would force them to reimagine. So, like we said, when we were prepping for this, we could talk with you for hours. This was so great to have you on weekend ed tech. Ryan Craig, thanks so much for joining us. You can check out the gap letter, also the new book apprentice nation when is that coming out? November 7, November 7.

Alexander Sarlin:

I gotta make a plug for Ryan's previous two books, which I think as relevant as ever college disrupted and knew you faster and cheaper alternatives. There's still a future that is coming true. They're reaching

Ryan Craig:

the realm of classic at this point.

Ben Kornell:

Thank you so much, Ryan, for joining the pod. Talk to you soon.

Ryan Craig:

Good to see you. Thanks.

Alexander Sarlin:

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