Preparing for a digital future

gener8tor Upskilling provides training for in-demand jobs

Posted on Dec 31, 2020 :: New North
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Joe Kirgues, co-founder of gener8tor, is used to getting startups off the ground quickly, but he never expected to use those skills to launch a worker upskilling program.

“We went from introducing how we could help the (upskilling) initiative to opening applications for that first cohort in a month,” he says.

Microsoft’s TechSpark program, New North, Inc., Thrivent and American Family Insurance partnered to launch the program, which leverages Microsoft’s skilling initiative and gener8tor’s accelerator process to provide training to unemployed and underemployed workers. The first cohort launched in August and a second one followed in November.

Michelle Schuler, manager of TechSpark Wisconsin, says the philanthropy arm of Microsoft, which TechSpark falls under, launched a global skilling initiative last year that seeks to help 25 million people worldwide who lost jobs due to the pandemic by teaching them new skills. After discussions with gener8tor, the organizations put together a plan for a regional upskilling program aligned to Microsoft’s goals.

“We learned that individuals didn’t have trouble working through the LinkedIn Learning modules. Where they were hesitant was on soft skills or resume building, applying for jobs and virtually interviewing,” she says. “To ease these anxieties, the gener8tor coaches support individuals through the entire process, building their confidence along the way.”

Kirgues says gener8tor’s model of infusing community, mentorship and one-on-one support translated well from working with artists and musicians to serving those looking to improve their job skills. 

“It’s the same idea, but we’re having different conversations. The parallels are there, it’s just a delivery of different content,” he says. “Instead of learning how to pitch your idea, we’re practicing virtual interview skills.”

The decision to create another cohort in November was easy, says New North, Inc. President and CEO Barb LaMue. She says the large number of applications received for the initial program showed there was a huge demand for the quick, focused skills-based training.

Kirgues credits LaMue and New North with getting the program off the ground so rapidly. “It’s a credit to the region how quickly it happened. It wouldn’t have been possible without the New North and the way they’re able to bring the region together,” he says.

How it works

The gener8tor Upskilling program begins with recruiting unemployed and underemployed individuals looking to improve their digital skills. Those selected then use LinkedIn Learning’s Career Pathways to learn new skills. Once they complete the learning, Schuler says the participants take part in virtual interviews with companies looking to hire. 

“It’s all built on an individual coaching model, which supports each person in the program to successfully navigate from registration through employment,” Schuler says.

Kirgues says the five-week program includes:

  • Self-paced virtual curriculum from Microsoft and LinkedIn to learn skills for in-demand customer service or sales roles, and to earn certifications and badges
  • One-on-one concierge support from the gener8tor team on the skills content, plus coaching on interview skills and resume, LinkedIn profile and cover-letter writing
  • Virtual access to a network of peers who can support one another and form a community
  • Opportunities to interview with companies ready to hire candidates with these skills

“The end goal is to get program participants into in-demand jobs and improve their opportunities for a better-paying job,” Kirgues says.

Due to the pandemic, Kirgues says more companies are open to having their employees work from home, and most of the people going through the program can do so.  

“Nationwide, there is that move to working more from home and we were able to attract some companies from outside the region to hire the program’s graduates. That brings in new income from outside the region, which is good for everyone,” he says.

The initial upskilling program was such a success that it’s being adopted in other areas of the country, LaMue says. 

“We also were very honored that LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky wrote about how learners around the world are using this time to get new skills through the gener8tor Upskilling model,” she says. “The New North region was the first in the country to design and execute on this training method.”

TechSpark North Dakota as well as programs in Indiana, Virginia and Wyoming also are using the gener8tor Upskilling program.