Shanti Akkineni and Eddie Lin are self-proclaimed “serial job hoppers.”
It’s a frustrating reality for many, Akkineni said, because of a lack of mentorship accessibility and job awareness. She herself has experienced employment in five different industries within a decade, she said.
“I would go to work Monday morning, sit at my desk and not be happy. I’d ask, ‘Is this what I’m going to be doing the rest of my life?’” Akkineni said. “It was very frustrating because I’d always have an insecurity about where my stability is going to come from. My parents would always say, ‘What are you doing? You can’t be in a job for one year. That doesn’t look good.’”
Lin was in the same boat. Millions of jobs are left unfilled in the United States, he said, which can be attributed to an oversaturation of certain jobs —like those in the STEM field — that are deemed “sexy” by society.
This employment vacancy wouldn’t exist if people knew how to find the right fit, he said.
“There’s actually a massive educational and workforce gap that nobody really addresses,” Lin said. “There are about 5.9 million unfilled middle skill jobs, such as culinary, cosmetology, phlebotomy, auto technicians, graphic designers and database administration. Many of these jobs pay a lot more than you’d think.”
Lin and Akkineni agree: No one deserves to experience the same struggle and indecision in their careers that they did. With the right resources, they say, job seekers can match their skills with good-paying jobs.
The pair founded NexusEdge in 2016, a career services platform, specifically to empower community college students.
“There’s a huge push where people think you have to get your bachelor’s degree to make a living wage,” Lin said. “But it’s not for everybody, even though the idea of an associate’s degree as your only degree is not necessarily something that people think is really cool.”
NexusEdge’s platform offers a mentor network, digital badges, free classes from Lynda.com and an entry level jobs board. The Los Angeles-based firm — which was selected for Techstars KC’s 2017 cohort — is now used by 113 community colleges across California.
All of the firm’s services are geared toward helping students fill the middle-skill gap with a job that suits their talents, Lin said.
“Filling these types of middle-skill jobs that are typically overlooked can actually decrease the polarization in this country,” he said. “Everyone is pushing STEM jobs across the country, but welders can get paid more than programmers. Being a programer who can’t find a job makes zero a year.”
The platform includes built in video-chat, with which students can chat with industry professional mentors in careers of their choice. The startup established a partnership with LinkedIn earlier this year, which granted NexusEdge users access to more than 9,000 online courses.
“Those classes normally cost a few hundred bucks a year. Our users get them for free due to this partnership,” Lin said. “Also, users can put our digital badges and micro-credentials on their LinkedIn profile, which is really interesting.”
Akkineni said that the use of micro-credentialing “democratizes” job access.
“The reason why digital badges are so important is if you add a badge showing a skill, you’re taking the attention away from whether you went to Harvard or to a community college,” Akkineni said. “All that matters is whether you’re good at that skill or not.”
The pair hopes to utilize the Techstars KC mentor network to expand the NexusEdge platform to community colleges in Kansas and Missouri.
“(Techstars) is introducing us to people at Johnson County Community College, Metropolitan Community College and Blue Valley,” Lin said. “It’ll be great to do the same thing in Kansas City as we did in California. We think it’ll be faster to get clients here because Techstars has so many relationships.”
In addition to finding educational institutions that might facilitate students’ use of the platform, NexusEdge is focused on partnering with Kansas City corporations that could be interested in granting employees micro-credential badges.
“We have to engage both the community colleges and the employers,” Akkineni said. “It’s a dual-sided marketplace. There’s not a standalone priority.”
While in Kansas City, NexusEdge is planning to raise a seed round by the end of the Techstars program, as well as growing its program’s use in Kansas, Missouri and throughout the Midwest.
“We want to train a greater number of Kansas City students to be employable by leading tech companies like Cerner,” Lin said. “NexusEdge wants to help attract and retain talent more efficiently. That way, you can grow and sustain the economy here in Kansas City.”