5 Questions with Darius Fosterhttps://h2tdigital.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/DF.jpg15131900H2T Digital Co.H2T Digital Co.https://h2tdigital.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/DF.jpg
As the founder of H2T Digital,
Darius Foster combines his passion for education and public service with the goal of making career fit accessible to everyone. We sat down to learn more about his vision.
Q: How did you become the founder of an EdTech company?
I’ve had a passion for education since Undergrad. Not so much in teaching, but in the business of education and the coordination of that with the reality of people getting jobs and working. I started out as an engineering major and kind of fell into business. I always viewed that as God’s grace—it was not my strategy! That lead to being very active in the community and politics—I was able to build good relationships. So when Governor Bentley was looking to diversify the Higher Ed Commission in Alabama with Youth, I was there.
The Higher Ed Commission is tasked with steering higher education for all public colleges in Alabama by approving degree programming and making budget recommendations. While on the commission, I saw a lot of different ideas and degree programs that attempted to spur workforce training and new industry. Academia and the private sector didn’t communicate as well as I thought they would. I saw a lot of programs that were cool and neat, but didn’t consider what the students wanted to do. Their approach to workforce development was “these jobs are here and we need to fill them.” But it seemed to me that there was a better solution.
So I begin to create some strategies in my head. I wanted to combine my relationships with what I’d learned and create a real solution. I was working in education at the time so I started exploring Ed Tech. By the grace of God, I found a job with a company called Imagine Learning. That was my Master’s Degree in Ed Tech. And there I learned about some of the barriers to technology in school districts; how they view technology, curriculum standards and technology barriers and technology policy in education as well. So it was an excellent time to combine my higher ed and institutional knowledge with an ed tech solution to create what we now call H2T Digital. I realized that no one had an efficient way to capture student interest and make it actionable toward workforce training—and that became my mission.
Q: What is H2T Digital?
The purpose of H2T is to create a solution via a software platform that does two things: that slows down attrition for those who are already in the workforce by trying to realign them their interests and hopefully with jobs in their area. That’s the reactive part. The proactive part is to give students and those who are new or re-entering the workforce confidence in their decisions. We do that by providing real data about their interests so they have actionable information about themselves.
What we discovered is that the gas that makes the engine go is career exploration. We know that interest drives engagement. We also know that career exploration drives interest. The more you know about what’s out there, the more likely you are that something will hook you—will interest you.
The problem is that while apprenticeships are the most effective form of career exploration, it is also the most inefficient and expensive. So we wanted to digitize that experience and provide a robust overview of different industries.
Next we capture as much interest data as we can and compile it into a report that is actionable by the user. Over time, that has grown into a more robust assessment which captures aptitude as well as skills that are tied to the the Department of Labor’s O*NET data.
We believe this is a better long term strategy for slowing attrition and increasing engagement. Just trying to close the skills gap alone won’t work if you don’t account for interest.
Q: What do you see as the biggest problem in the industry right now?
I would say there are two.
One is tradition. We’ve always done this way and well, we’re southerners. People think, “I’m not going to change until I absolutely have to.” For example, tradition in education. The instructional strategy and design for training educators is antiquated. I’ll go further and say it’s prehistoric, because technology is expediting change. I just read an article that said the drag and drop function on tests is hurting urban and rural students because they don’t understand it. You might think, but they’ve got cell phones, right? But you notice they don’t use drag and drop on Facebook. There’s a reason. So why would we introduce something like drag and drop into education when nobody else is even using it? It’s things like that —connecting with the times and partnering with people who are engaging in recreational technology to determine the best uses. So that’s what I’m saying about tradition. And nobody’s talking about it. We’re educating teachers, focusing on getting them certified in something that is out of date. We’re training them to do things in old ways. That’s unfortunate. So the way we train educators is one way tradition is hurting us.
The other is the way we go about workforce development. We’ve always solely served businesses. Now, we need to serve both the business and potential employees. That will yield for a better situation for both.
So those are the two biggest issues right now and our challenge is how to execute and implement change without disrupting everybody’s business model.
Q: What surprising lessons have you learned?
Simple still wins. You know, the more we tried to make it over-complicated, the more difficult it was to create and explain. We’ve learned to be strategically complicated in the areas that needed to be; not in the entire product. Some people think you have to be complicated so as not to be duplicated. And that’s not necessarily true. Our product is really simple, but it’s complicated to duplicate if you don’t know the back end. I thought it had to be complicated all around and that’s not true even at this high level.
Another surprising I’ve learned is that creating a good culture is easier than you think. I’ve been blessed to do that. Why was it easy? That’s the question. Recruit talent and work towards the greater good. One of our core values is that smart isn’t a differentiator. If you start with smart and then work toward the virtue, it’ll police everything else. And that is how we’ve been able to build a comprehensive product with some complicated back end stuff with strangers, who are beginning to become family.
Q: So what’s next for H2T?
Going to market—well, going to Beta. It’s really the same thing because people expect it to be actionable. Partnering with high schools, two year colleges and municipalities, as well as partnering with local correctional facilities. We want to serve people who had short term stays and get them on the program. Getting our data to the users and administrators and the municipalities that it will help most. And finally, inspiring interest-driven job training and eventually interest-driven economic development.