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Alumni Club Creates an Innovative Response to the Skills Gap Problem

By: Barry Puritz & Richard Kane 01 Sep 2017

The Skills Gap Program (“SGP”), now in its fifth year at the Harvard Business School Club of New York (“the Club”), was initiated in response to Harvard Business School’s initial report on U.S. Competitiveness by Professors Michael Porter and Jan Rivkin.  Working with the school’s team throughout, the NY group has focused so far on solving the identified issue of a skills gap for middle income positions which we pegged as the $40,000+ range.  By addressing the problem from the viewpoint of the employer we built a model for a partnership between business and education which allowed business to drive curriculum.   The Club’s key role has been as “network integrator,” wherein we facilitate conversations leading to relationships between employers and NY community colleges.

Using data on projected demand, the SGP team began with healthcare and technology, working hand in glove with educators and employers to design new training programs that meet current work requirements. The model requires employers to roll up their sleeves and educators to use a new approach to curriculum development.    

After a predictable 2-3 year voyage up the learning curve, working with fifteen HBS alumni volunteers, the SGP team has created and managed partnerships resulting in two noteworthy successes, both in cooperation with LaGuardia Community College (“LCC”), a unit of the City University of New York. The first sends interns to the technology incubator ERA, and the second initially placed graduates of a special, tuition-free Medical Billing Program at Weill Cornell Medicine (“WCM”). 

Over 30 interns have been placed in ERA portfolio companies and most are now employed and/or have gone onto a four-year degree.  We continue to work with LCC to enhance the program, expand the employer group and consider moving beyond internships to full time job placement.

It is with the Medical Billing Program that we perfected our model.  After acknowledging difficulty finding and retaining medical billers, WCM agreed to work closely with us.  From defining the “ideal candidate” to shaping the curriculum (and many tasks in between) WCM, LCC and the Club created a process in which students identified to succeed are taught skills that allow them to find work immediately.  The program’s structure, curriculum, training approaches as well as marketing and recruiting have been enhanced via lessons learned twice yearly. 

Nearly 4,000 people have been screened for the program with about 100 accepted.  The fourth cohort at LCC will graduate this November. Rare to education outcomes, this arduous program has 90%+ attendance, a 96% completion rate and a 74% placement rate, with graduates in positions offering career opportunities and salaries well above their previous levels.

The team is now focused on expanding employer partnerships. While WCM, our initial partner, continues to hire a majority of graduates, we are achieving placement at four other large NYC medical centers and one startup medical services company. We believe that there is opportunity for significant expansion of the program with additional employers and, possibly, other schools.

An important part of the program has been the introduction of full funding by a unit of New York City’s Small Business Services Department, covering tuition costs and additional support services.  This allowed us to provide a comprehensive Medical Billing Program with acceptance based solely on merit, an important advantage when working with community college students.

As we look toward our future, we will be focusing on addressing the need for funding sources for the likely point when the NYC grant will end for the Medical Billing Program.  The healthcare services model is proving its viability and now needs further work on possible new sectors, bringing in new partners, improving placement and graduate support, and general fine tuning of all the processes involved.

More broadly, we will be tracking market conditions and identifying New York area mid-level job functions with a shortage of skilled candidates with the hopes of developing partnerships and programs to reduce the skills gap. 

For more information about the Skills Gap Project, contact co-chairs Barry Puritz (MBA 1965) or Richard Kane (MBA 1968).