It’s a classic Catch-22 for new college graduates looking for a job: employers want experience for “entry-level jobs,” but no one wants to be the first employer to give that experience.
In recent years, dozens of coding boot camps and other short-term education providers from General Assembly and Galanize to lynda.com have emerged to provide the so-called “last-mile training” necessary to connect new college graduates without specific skills to employers who need them but are unwilling to provide the necessary training.
But the boot camps are expensive — upwards of $10,000 for some of their programs on top of tens of thousands of dollars students and their families just paid for a bachelor’s degree. And while the programs boast high job-placement rates, employers face some risks in hiring those with newly minted bachelor’s degrees from these short-term training programs who still lack real on-the-job experience.
Now, there is a new twist on the idea of boot camps that takes aim at reducing the cost barrier for fresh college graduates and eliminating the hiring risk for employers. In Northern Virginia’s tech corridor, a company called Revature trains new college graduates for free, and then much like a temp staffing agency, places trained workers with employers, allowing companies to try out prospective employees before hiring them outright.
Revature placed 500 people last year in companies ranging from Geico to Capital One and hopes to double that number this year. It is forging partnerships with colleges and universities and offering its services directly on campuses as part of the undergraduate curriculum or as add-on courses for new graduates.
Nearly a quarter of the students at Revature have no prior technology or coding background and are assessed for spots in the face-to-face boot camp by first completing a series of online programs. About 80 percent of students complete the 10- to 12-week courses, said Ashwin Bharath, the company’s chief operating officer.
“A lot of people drop out not because they can’t master the tech skills but they lack the soft skills” Bharath told me.
Indeed, the so-called soft skills — a term associated with how people get along with each other, communicate, work in teams, and solve problems — is what I found during the research for my new book on life after college that employers often find most lacking in new graduates.
Not only is Revature trying to build those soft skills through team-building exercises and presentations, but like other boot camps its curriculum is closely aligned to what employers need and want. STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, and math) are popular because students and parents think they are practical programs that lead to jobs. But even those technical degrees are not always designed to get students jobs after graduation. Just 22 percent of graduates with degrees in science and math, for instance, got jobs using those skills, according to the National Academy of Sciences.
The new college graduates I met in Revature’s boot camp with computer-science degrees all told me that their undergraduate courses taught programming languages no longer requested by employers (such as C++) or skipped over what employers demand in new hires.
“This is much more intense because there are projects all the time,” said Yasmine Sadid, who graduated with a computer-science degree from Kent State University in 2014. “In college, they gave us the basics and they hoped it was enough to get us a job, and it wasn’t.”
I wondered about all the unemployed college graduates who don’t end up at boot camps like Revature or other so-called bridge programs that help new college graduates find jobs — the graduates who had received diplomas on commencement day with a promise that the very expensive piece of paper was a ticket to a better life. Unfortunately, many colleges don’t worry about what happens to their students once they cross the stage at graduation, except when it comes time to solicit them for alumni donations.
Though the needs of students and employers have changed, colleges cling to their historical mission of providing teenagers a broad education that is supposed to make them employable for life. It’s not that the degree is not necessary; Revature only takes applicants with a degree. But many young adults are struggling to launch after graduation and find meaningful work, and a new post-college “learning economy” of short-term training organizations, like Revature, is cropping up to provide students exactly the skills they need to start a career.