Euan Blair, Founder & CEO of Multiverse, a tech startup that is changing education and work for young adults talks about Multiverse’s journey and latest funding while sharing his observations on the importance of tech apprenticeships:
Hi Euan, please tell us more about your tech journey so far, being a startup founder (and its learnings) and of course, we’d love to hear about Multiverse!
I started my career in investment banking, alongside people with very similar backgrounds and degrees from the same small handful of universities. It didn’t make sense to me that these credentials were deemed a prerequisite for a job that required completely different skills from those taught in higher education.
It was clear to me that the existing system that filtered people based on academic requirements too often meant that companies missed out on recruiting people with incredible talent but unconventional backgrounds. The idea behind Multiverse is to build something new, an outstanding alternative to the college system that would allow a much more diverse group of people to succeed, and access the very best careers.
Now at Multiverse we are placing, training and reskilling thousands of people on apprenticeship programs in digital, tech and professional services. They work at some of the world’s best companies – from Morgan Stanley and Facebook, to Kantar and Publicis Sapient – and get supported by an incredible network. It’s free to the individuals, who get paid while they work, but our clients see incredible returns from building their own tech talent pipelines, and the benefits we know more diverse teams can bring.
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How have you been seeing the tech apprenticeship model change in the recent years? And how do you feel companies should dive deeper into ensuring more tech apprenticeships?
There is a lingering perception in America that apprenticeships are the province of construction and building trades. However modern, professional apprenticeships have begun to emerge as a faster and more impactful alternative to higher education, particularly when it comes to training tech talent in areas like digital marketing, software engineering or data analysis.
Much of the gains come from what we call applied learning, where skills are learnt because they are tested, embedded and applied in the workplace immediately, rather than being taught in classrooms, at a distance from where they’ll be used.
The college system is failing to create a more diverse workforce in tech and there’s a big disconnect between what’s learned in college and the skills that the future of work requires. Ultimately, employers should focus on evaluating talent based on potential and what can be brought to the workforce, not on the ability to pay for college.
While tech apprenticeships currently represent less than 1% of American apprenticeships, the Biden Administration has recently gone out of its way to highlight tech as a growth area for apprenticeships, and we’re seeing more and more firms begin to adopt them.
How are you seeing the tech job market and related trends evolve in this time of the pandemic and what top thoughts can you share about the near-future of this space and trend?
What’s abundantly clear is that the pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital adoption. Every company, no matter what sector, has become a tech company and used their platforms and systems to drive efficiency. We’ve seen companies in the marketing and communications space increasingly hiring data analysts for example. It’s not just about the right software— skills are critical to getting this right.
McKinsey research has found that 90% of company leaders believe they’ll have some kind of meaningful skills gap over the coming years but only 16% think that they are fully prepared to meet them.
Mapping out where these skills gaps are can be hard, but apprenticeships in tech and professional services can be a significant part of the solution.
We’d love to hear about some of Multiverse’s most recent highlights and upcoming innovations/plans?
It’s a hugely exciting time: in January we closed a $44m Series B funding round, backed by hugely exciting investors like General Catalyst, Google Ventures (GV), and John W. Thompson, Chairman of Microsoft. These are the investors behind some of the world’s most successful tech firms, and they are backing professional apprenticeships as the future of work and learning.
Just last month, we got our regulatory approval from the US Dept. of Labor for our data, software and digital marketing programs. This is a real mark of quality, and ensures apprentices can receive a valuable credential when they complete their programs with us.
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What are some of the ways in which you wish leaders in tech (globally) redefine how they expand their teams and find talent from college systems?
In all businesses, it’s important to have a workforce that reflects the society you wish to serve. For all the talk about equality and diversity, the world expects business leaders to take meaningful action on equality in all its forms, and racial equality in particular.
But relying on the college system alone to bring you talent just isn’t enough. College requirements on job applications screen out 67% of black Americans and 79% of Hispanic Americans – it’s an enormous waste of talent.
Professional apprenticeships offer a proven and meaningful way to overcome the flaws in the existing system and tackle your skills gaps at the same time.
A few predictions that you have for the future of work at technology companies or tech startups?
First, competition for skills will become ever more urgent. We know the college system isn’t producing new hires with the skills needed in the modern workplace. As demand for developers, analysts and project managers grows, leaders will need to look inside their teams to reskill employees, rather than relying on external consultants or paying to poach staff.
Second, I believe the public focus on company values is going to remain hugely important for all companies. Having a core set of values that guide your direction as a company is critical for delivering positive results and motivating your team, but it’s increasingly important to investors and boards too. At Multiverse, we’re driven by a mission to create a diverse group of future leaders. It’s something that underpins everything we do, and was a core part of what we discussed with prospective investors during our Series B fundraising. A growing number of people want to work for companies they believe are doing good in the world and are contributing positively to society. This is an incredibly important shift we’re already starting to see play out. Even if it wasn’t morally the right thing to do, companies that can’t demonstrate this – either directly through the work they do, or through taking a stand on social issues – will pay an economic price. They will lose out on talent and ultimately lose out on customers too.
A few takeaways for CEOs and tech founders in 2021: top factors they should keep in mind as they plan for the rest of the year, innovate and expand their teams?
The main thing that has struck me, hiring and developing our team at Multiverse, is that talent is spread evenly, but opportunity isn’t. Some of our most successful employees have come from unconventional backgrounds and its paid huge dividends to look beyond existing routes to find the talent that’s powering our growth.
When there is huge pressure on companies to hire more equitably, and confidence in the fact that diverse teams produce better results, in 2021 there will be no excuses not to take meaningful action in this space. Apprenticeship programs are not the only way to do this, but I firmly believe they’ll make a huge contribution.
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