Tackling the need for skilling and reskilling: Non-profit Generation's plan to be present in Romania
Global non-profit network Generation, which trains, places, and supports people into jobs that would otherwise be inaccessible, is looking to roll out a pilot project in Romania next year. The independent non-profit, founded in 2014 by McKinsey, serves learners of all ages, offering programs to prepare and place people into close to 40 professions across five different sectors.
While most of them are tech ones, the non-profit also trains people for healthcare, customer service & sales, and skilled trades jobs. Another category in their job portfolio program is the green economy, with candidates trained to install PV panels or repair bikes. Since it launched, over 70,000 people graduated from its programs. It had more than 25,000 graduates since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.
The non-profit, which is present in 17 counties across five continents, works with employers ranging from start-ups and SMEs to Fortune 500 companies. More than 84% of graduates, who can be both young people and those who need reskilling, are placed in jobs within three months of completing Generation's programs.
Last year, Generation announced a new funding coalition aimed at continuing and expanding its scope of delivery. It joined forces with BlackRock, Microsoft, and Verizon in a collaboration that committed USD 77 million in new funding and USD 50 million in in-kind support.
After the ReThink Romania summit in September, Romania Insider caught up with Generation's David Timiș to learn more about the non-profit's plans for the country.
How do you decide on the countries you want to launch in? What are some of the factors influencing such a decision? Why did you choose Romania?
The answer is two-fold, meaning that initially, the organization, Generation, was choosing countries to pilot programs in that are very diverse, very different from each other. If we look back into our history, our initial countries were Spain, the US, where we are headquartered, India, and Kenya. So very, very different countries […] and obviously, the learners we have there are confronted with different challenges. So that was initially in our history. Now, as we have more than 16 countries, we're at the 17th with Colombia, we have started focusing more on scaling only in the case we find a country where we can find a really reliable partner.
Romania's advantage was that we found a number of great potential partners. It was my dream even before joining Generation, because I've known the organization since its inception. […] The main partner we have at this program in Romania that we will launch next year is Google EMEA. […] So it was a matter of building the case for Romania from the ground up by putting together a list of potential partners that Google agreed with and that they also saw the potential to do this program in Romania. Long story short, it was a lot of work, but the plan from my side was already there since joining Generation to bring it to Romania.
What is the timeline for the launch in Romania? What programs will you roll out here? Will you be bringing the program for mid-career professionals?
I want to manage a bit the expectations. What we will do in Romania is going to be a first for us in Europe, which is we will not actually have an office in Romania. We will manage everything remotely so we will have even more trust put into our partners than normally, when we have an office in a country; we are trying to pilot this model now also in Colombia, potentially in Ghana as well – in which we are not there physically with the team, but through the partners we have locally and just monitor and make sure they follow methodology and so on. That's one thing.
The other thing to mention here: in Romania, it is not just Google partnering with us. Obviously, they are the main funder, but we also have the OECD, which is going to be our research partner. I'm giving you this context because the first part of our plan in Romania is actually, together with OECD, to do the research component of the project, which is also happening in a couple of other countries in Europe at the same time - which are also part of this pilot that Google is funding - which is focused on mid-career professionals. The focus of the research is to really find out again, more than we've done in the research last year, what are the challenges that mid-career professionals face in these countries, Romania including, and how we can find both programs and policies, how can we develop them to help these particular individuals.
In Romania, another important thing is after we launch the research, most likely summer of next year, we plan to launch the actual physical training, the program in September. So a year from now. Initially, the focus will be, as I said, on mid-career professionals; that's the pilot project focused on and what we got the funding for from Google. It will be a small cohort – we don't work like many organizations in this space with hundreds of thousands of people. We work with small groups of people that, if successful, we plan to scale gradually. It's going to be a small pilot in Romania that would initially impact 50 to maybe 100 people, mid-career professionals, that we hope to grow in the coming years as things progress and hopefully the pilot is successful.
Will you be training them mainly for IT-related roles?
Yes. Because Google is a funder it makes a lot of sense but also because tech jobs are so much in demand. And actually, most of the people we prepare around the world, they are mostly for tech roles, given that out of the 40+ professions we prepare people in probably about half are in tech roles.
What process do the candidates need to go through?
We have a thorough process of recruiting them. The things we're looking to see in them is what we call 'fire in the belly'. We want to help people who, yes, they might be vulnerable, yes, they might have challenges in their lives, but we really want them to be at a point in their lives in which they are sort of fed up with where they are, want to change, and we are going to be there to help them. We, unfortunately, don't have the capacity and the sort of qualifications and expertise to help somebody who maybe has issues which don't have to do with economic empowerment. Because obviously, unfortunately, there are many people who don't have a job who are also faced with mental health issues and other forms of challenges that we are not prepared to help them with. So we are really looking for people that are at the stage of having that sort of mental well-being enough for them to get themselves out of where they are and improve themselves. So we really look for that motivation. Of course, in the programs, we will help develop from that 'fire in the belly'. We will develop them not just with technical skills, but we also have a behavioral and mindset skills component – learning soft skills such as communication, collaboration, learning how to adapt the growth mindset in their lives, all these things we also teach them, but we need to have a motivation from them to really work with it. That's the main thing we are looking at.
Besides the pilot project, are you looking at expanding the network of partners? Have you started doing that already?
Yes, that was part of the mapping we did. We mapped organizations from NGOs to associations to other companies. Google is providing the funding for the project to be successful, they don't want full ownership of it, and, of course, partners are welcome […]. Indeed, we mapped out other organizations that could potentially be partners. We have between six and ten other organizations that might have a part of the puzzle. Because really it is a puzzle. We need first a partner or potential partners to help us to recruit the mid-career professionals, to have associations working with 45 and above year-old individuals - through them to get the right candidates. Then we need a partner to train them in those skills – like Google, if it's the case of a Google-related curricula, or it may be another partner that Google maybe already works with […] as a technology it might be something we might want to go for, maybe not Google related but very in demand. Then, we also need employment partners. And here, it could be organizations that do the actual employment process, meaning a job placing company or an NGO and also the actual employers. So, these are just four of the elements of the puzzle we've mapped out, and to reach them we have multiple potential partners. It's a team effort.
Your stated mission is "to improve how the education to employment system works." Could you elaborate a bit on the aspects in need of improving?
For me, the main issue we're actually solving is how people – and here I mean both organizations and individuals – see reskilling at the end of the day. What we've noticed: many organizations that want to do good, including both NGOs and corporates, they focus on reskilling people without having any follow-up, without having this really key component. That's why we don't call ourselves an education non-profit or a training non-profit. For us, that's a means to an end; we're an employment non-profit, so that's the key differentiator that we have that I think no one else has the coverage we have, which is 17 countries, which is we place people into jobs. If it's' just reskilling for reskilling's sake, we know the impact is half. Half of what you can help somebody is dropped if you stop helping him or her after the end of the training. […] So for us, for me, that's the key differentiator. Not just do training and reskilling for reskilling sake but do it with a purpose, which is employment. For our target audience, which is vulnerable people, it's the reason they join our training; it's not a fun thing to do like for many other people; it's the difference between having food to put on the table and not. So that's the key differentiator, the employment aspect.
How did the Covid-19 pandemic impact your activity?
I'm going to use a quote: "In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity." The Covid-19 crisis has caused a lot of suffering in the world both at the personal and societal level but for our organization in particular it enabled us to prove our case even better than we had before to attract even more attention to the cause we are fighting for. Because the people we were helping before Covid, vulnerable people, who were already confronted with the disruptive effect of automation and other technologies, were sort of hit twice by Covid. Because vulnerable people were those most affected by Covid - people working on factory floors, working in supermarkets, people who had to have face-to-face contact with other people to do their job, these were the most impacted. So, the number of people we could help unfortunately grew during the Covid-19 pandemic. We managed very successfully, given our great online learning team, to position everything from offline to online and even during Covid still helped a lot of people. Actually, we helped around 20,000 people just during the Covid period. This is a lot, given that we have had 70,000 over the past seven years. So, Covid-19 enabled us to help more people and attract more funding and support for our cause.
During the pandemic, we announced the coalition of global partners, which is formed by our founding partner McKinsey, BlackRock, Microsoft, and Horizon. This probably would not have happened so fast if Covid had not existed because, again, Covid showed these organizations how there is a much bigger need for their help around reskilling and employing vulnerable people. This was proof that Covid, as much as it was a crisis for us including, it also helped us get more attention to our cause and help even more people than we had in the past.
Many employers complain about the gap between the companies' needs and the graduates' skills. How would you describe the situation locally?
This gap is actually what started Generation. Historically, it started as a project within McKinsey that our CEO Mona Mourshed did to understand why this skills gap exists. We started as an organization focused on youth to see why this gap existed, something we all experienced when we finished university given that they are still a bit behind when it comes to technical skills, not just in Romania but around the world; soft skills were not really taught as they should in all countries, so that's how we started, to bridge this skills gap. That gap goes beyond IT skills; it's soft skills as well, but the niche depends on the country. Because in some countries the education system does a bit of a better job, I'm referring now to Singapore, for instance. In other countries, and I don't have to give the example of Romania, it can be India or Kenya, obviously there are bigger challenges, so the education system is a bit different. It really depends on the country.
IT & tech is the main industry we're focused on. Among the other four, one is healthcare, which is our second-biggest; we also have skill traits, so we prepare people in countries like India or Pakistan for work in construction; we also have marketing and customer support, which covers call-center jobs, digital marketing jobs; and the latest is the green economy/ green jobs - here is everything from someone who learns through us how to repair bikes to people who learn how to install photovoltaic panels.
Anything else you would like to add?
As we are preparing to launch, what's relevant to mention is the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships. Yes, we work a lot with corporates who are generously donating to our cause and NGOs who help us. In the last years, we have worked more and more with governments. I mention the government because I would love for the program in Romania, the pilot, to be a success; in general, when we see a pilot is a success, we gradually start to open up to conversations with the government now that we have something to show them. Without having government support we cannot build this program as much as we want. We are launching in Romania with the intent to eventually make this program sustainable and scalable, hopefully […] Our plan to make our program more sustainable in all countries is to work more closely with governments and in particular with the workforce development agencies each country has. I know in Romania there is one; we do plan to reach out when the time comes. I just hope now, before we launch, there will be an opening on their side to work together. It has been in India, Singapore, and the UK - three examples of countries where we work hand in hand with governments, and we do so very well, I think.
(Photo courtesy of David Timiș)