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.
Preparing Students for the Workforce of the Futurehttps://h2tdigital.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/backpacks-college-college-students-1454360.jpg60004000H2T Digital Co.H2T Digital Co.https://h2tdigital.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/backpacks-college-college-students-1454360.jpg
Predicting the future: Most of the jobs today’s students will hold do not exist yet.
As technology and society develop, so do jobs. In fact, the majority of jobs current students will hold in the future do not even exist yet. We, as a society, are attempting to prepare kids for skill sets we aren’t even aware of yet.
So what’s the solution?
A recent article by Eschoolnews proposes that it will take a collaborative effort between businesses, technology, society, and educational institutions to make student preparation possible. From self-learning and online education, to businesses communicating needs to institutions, it will take a multi-faceted effort to keep education in line with the evolving needs of business and technology.
On the societal front, families need to take an active role in helping their children develop a passion for lifelong learning. On the educational side of things, incorporating more diversity into the K-12 education experience will help fill the ever-growing opportunity gap and lack of resource availability in some educational institutions and neighborhoods.
H2T Digital is consistently focused on making sure students are not only aware of their passions and interests, but of their goals and where they stand on their path to their own individual career success. Our platform helps individuals discover their perfect career match, and set them on action plan to get them from “Here to There”!
Case Study: How Kentucky is Preparing Students for the Futurehttps://h2tdigital.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/kentucky.png42402832H2T Digital Co.H2T Digital Co.https://h2tdigital.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/kentucky.png
Ford Next Generation Learning recently took a deep dive into how Kentucky is helping prepare its’ students for future employment in STEM related areas. There are many initiatives already in place and/or in development all across the bluegrass state.
Collaboration is Key
These programs are currently being developed and deployed in after-school programs, within curriculums, specialty internships, field trips, nonprofit and club-based maker spaces, in-classroom year-long projects, and field work for companies. One of these programs, Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (KY FAME) program, is a partnership between Kentucky Community and Technical College System and regional manufacturers to create a dual-track, apprenticeship-style training. KY FAME students attend AMT classes two days a week at a KCTCS location and work three normal shifts per week for a sponsoring employer. Upon completion, which is typically in 15 months, students receive an associates degree in applied sciences, along with full-time employment within the sponsor company.
These, and other programs being rolled out across the state, are meant to fill over 600,000 unfilled positions in an ever-growing sector within Kentucky. While STEM jobs are growing 1.7 times faster than non-STEM jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, manufacturing jobs are growing at three times the national rate within Kentucky.
H2T Digital is committed to helping individuals find a career path that’s not only attainable, but is perfectly suited for their skills, passions, and financial needs – both now and in the future. With our individual approach to tailoring action plans to individuals, you’re well on your way to finding a career that satisfies not only your bank account, but your needs as an individual, as well!
The Future of Our Workforce According to the BLShttps://h2tdigital.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/shutterstock_532208329.jpg61593706H2T Digital Co.H2T Digital Co.https://h2tdigital.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/shutterstock_532208329.jpg
In a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a prediction of a surge in health care jobs, growing employment in clean energy and a continued decline in manufacturing positions has labor professionals concerned. The “gig” economy, which is led by freelancers, is also expected to grow exponentially.
Jobs that require a master’s degree are projected to grow three times as quickly as jobs for people with only a high school diploma. The BLS also stated that of the 30 fastest-growing occupations, 19 require some sort of postsecondary education.
Unfortunately, the BLS also predicts a decline in jobs such as secretaries, tellers, manufacturing jobs, and cashiers. Additionally, jobs such as truck drivers, and taxi drivers are slowly giving way to the “gig” economy.
Nancy Hoffman, senior advisor and co-founder of the Pathways to Prosperity Network, stated, “Everywhere I look, the message is all about the impact of artificial intelligence and drones on the future of work. School systems need to change, but they needed to change 50 years ago, too. Our schools are way behind in terms of technology and helping our young people understand the labor market and plan a career.”
At H2T Digital, we are constantly evaluating career paths and employment trends to make sure students and individuals consistently have the best opportunities at their fingertips. Through our evaluations, individuals are able to discover true passions and interests, and find a career path perfect for their goals, which clear, actionable steps to accomplish them.
7 Learning and Development Tools Your Business Should Adopt in 2019https://h2tdigital.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/achievement-agreement-arms-1068523.jpg30001962H2T Digital Co.H2T Digital Co.https://h2tdigital.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/achievement-agreement-arms-1068523.jpg
In a recent Forbes article, Cameron Bishop, along with the Forbes Human Resources Counsel penned an article taking a dive into the learning and and development trends businesses should focus on in the immediate future.
If you’re in the HR world, you’re always looking for new ways to incorporate employment experiences that will increase engagement and employee satisfaction. Consider the following ideas:
Be intentional about helping Corporate and HR work together to align goals.
Do you ever feel like HR and company leadership aren’t on the same page? Your employees can tell. Take a look at your culture and find places where goals overlap, and emphasize those things.
Create competencies for future organizational goals.
Look ahead – what skills and roles will you need to fill one year from now? Five years? Start planning for that now.
Communication is critical – and it’s more than just providing information. Be sure to listen, and help employees feel heard. Even if their ideas aren’t implemented they will take ownership in the process.
Adopt gamification in training.
There’s a reason everyone is addicted to their phones these days. Incorporate challenges, level-ups, leaderboards, and encourage healthy competition when planning training events.
Give a new spin to employment training: make it a benefit and perk for future employees.
Your new hires will appreciate a fun, standardized on-boarding process that sets them up for success.
Create learner-centric training opportunities and compare them with content-centric training modules.
Instead of focusing on the information you need to convey, make learner experience your primary goal. You may be surprised at the outcome.
Get with the times: in 2019, you must offer mobile and digital content delivery.
Not all training can be conducted remotely, but provide as much digital content as possible to keep employees engaged even when they’re off site.
While this seems like a tall-order, there are many platforms to help you adopt these strategies into your overall employment offerings. Upgrading your process using these tips could spell the difference in not only ROI, but a businesses’ bottom line as well. Happier employees work more efficiently, produce more, and offer more insights and value to a business.