Taylor Hill devised a plan to better her life. To move beyond her current customer-service job, she’d teach herself how to use customer-management software popular with the type of higher-paid sales position she coveted. But the self-described visual learner realized self-teaching didn’t work for her without someone to make sure she truly understood the work.
“It’s hard to focus on your own,” says Hill, 25. “You can miss a lot of things when you’re learning on your own.”
To better her chances, Hill has become one of the 40 members of the first cohort of a new program meant to prepare aspiring, underrepresented technology professionals in the San Francisco Bay area. The program, run by a group called Climb Hire, has $2 million in backing to get the program off the ground, courtesy of donors not new to education—Google.org, the charitable arm of tech giant Google; Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative from former Google Chairman Eric Schmidt; and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
The program promises 100 hours of online training and 100 hours of in-person training for 16 weeks. Participants like Hill pay nothing up front. Once she lands a job that pays at least $45,000, she’ll pay $150 a month for four years so that others can go through the program as well, says CEO Nitzan Pelman.
Pelman, 43, previously served as founding executive director of Citizen Schools’ New York branch and founding CEO of ReUp Education. About 20 years of work enrolling people in college left Pelman looking for a more effective path for low-income earners to land more lucrative jobs.
“With a couple of exceptions, [colleges] don’t care about graduation rates,” she says. “I got into this work because I want to break the cycle of poverty. The way to break the cycle of poverty now is to get a job.”
Climb Hire is organized as part non-profit, part cooperative, meaning members may share in the moneymaking side of the business that will charge employers a finder’s fee for staffing services. Climb Hire is still deciding what to charge companies for those services, Pelman says.
The nonprofit wing trains cohort members to become database administrators for customer relationship management tools by software provider Salesforce. Members also receive professional portfolio help and two in-person sessions a week. As part of qualifying for the program, Hill and other students pass one-hour online assessments, a video interview, in-person group interview and background and reference checks.
One goal of the program is for the cohort to create a social network, referring each other to job openings and helping future alumni find work. This is to correct for something Pelman experienced during past work with students from low-income backgrounds—that they often lacked the friends and associates who could tell them about higher-paying jobs. She admits that she’s never applied for a job, usually learning about a job before a post through friends and colleagues. She wants to bring that type of access to her participants.
For Google.org, which provided a $500,000 grant to Climb Hire as part of a $50 million fund focused on workforce-innovation programs, the institution’s unusual structure and the income sharing agreement business model helped Climb Hire secure the funding, says Andrew Dunckelman, Google.org head of education and economic opportunity. “She’s taking the best of what’s happening across workforce training and combining them,” he says.
Google.org’s past grants in education-related programs include $25 million earlier this year to help black and Latino students access computer science education and another $25 million for projects that use artificial intelligence. Schmidt Futures has supported Remake Learning Days Across America as well as the “Responsible Computer Science Challenge.”
For Hill, one of the original cohort members, Climb Hire is an alternative to returning to College of Alameda, to finish her degree. She says her mom would feel happy if Hill completed her degree, but Hill much prefers working and making money. She’s confident that something like Climb Hire can help her climb the social ladder.
“I want to succeed, and I see sales as a way into it,” she says. “I have the personality. I’m good with people. I just need the experience.”