Can ISAs Help Close America’s Talent Gap?

Jan 11, 2019


The headlines keep coming: a worldwide labor shortage is looming. Some say it is already here. According to Manpower Group, 46% of companies report they are struggling to find qualified workers. Other surveys report numbers as high as 68%, and in June, a report by NFIB Research Center noted the percentage of small businesses not able to fill open positions was at a record high. The aging workforce combined with a perceived skills gap is making it a job-seeker’s market. That is, for those job-seekers who have the right skills. It is the perfect time for students to skill up.

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As Baby Boomers retire, some jobs are expected to have significant shortages. Just consider these opportunities for students:

  • Between 2016 and 2026, the number of nursing jobs is expected to grow 15% with unemployment rates estimated at 1-2.6%.
  • According to federal labor data less than 50,000 computer-science majors entered the workforce last year when there are projected to be more than 550,000 open jobs requiring these skills.
  • Cybersecurity jobs are expected to triple in the next few years. Experts project up to 3.5 million unfilled jobs by 2021.

While the job shortages mentioned above are fairly well-known, the labor shortage encompasses many other disciplines, too -- from organizational psychologists to physician’s assistants, from translators and interpreters to occupational therapists and wholesale sales representatives. Moreover, radical transformations in business models and ongoing innovation mean new industries are sprouting up all the time. The half-life of employee skills is estimated to be less than five years per Deloitte research, underscoring the need for workers to refresh their skillsets.

Opportunities for career growth abound, yet many students hesitate to take on debt for their education. For students early in their careers or struggling to make ends meet, the costs of a degree can seem staggering and loans a risky proposition. Traditional loans can feel like a burden unaligned to the success a student may or may not receive from their education, and for some majors may never pay off. The time is ripe for a better educational financing model, one that aligns a student’s payment obligations with the success they find post-education. Such a model would take into account students’ ability to pay and both encourage and set the conditions for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds to up-skill and increase their earning potential.

For education providers, it is also a time of great opportunity—to fulfill their mission and to help bridge gaps in the marketplace. Offering alternative financing in specific disciplines is a way to help fill talent shortfalls, open up education to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it, and limit risk—for both students and financial backers. After all, the projected unemployment rates for many of these disciplines is below 3%.

Coding schools are ahead of the curve and are now developing the next generation of coders by offering Income Share Agreements (ISAs) to their students. Lambda School and Thinkful, for example, are among the career accelerator programs offering ISAs to students. This arrangement not only helps underserved students afford the education they need to get better-paying jobs, but also clearly proves that these schools stand behind their education’s results.

Schools such as Purdue led the way for public universities offering ISAs to students looking for a less-risky way to pay for school. Career accelerators have found similar success in promoting accessibility and increasing enrollments via ISAs for years.

Because ISAs appeal to students from underserved markets, it can also be an effective way to equalize access to education and attract students who might not otherwise consider education beyond high school. ISAs offer a solution to bridge America’s skills gap with more qualified talent by providing aspiring students a clear path to fund an education that leads to a great career and livelihood.