Tiffani Williams: Welcome to our eighth episode of Workforce Realigned, a series within the Economy Matters podcast produced by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Workforce Realigned is a production of the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and Philadelphia, in partnership with Social FinanceOff-site link. Please note that the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta does not provide grants or funding to the general public, or to partner organizations. We do not endorse or make any representations as to the suitability of partner organizations or their programs, and we do not advise on distribution of funds by partners. My name is Tiffani Williams, and I am both the senior adviser for Community and Economic Development at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and the host of the Workforce Realigned podcast series. Today we'll be speaking with the cofounders of Merit AmericaOff-site link, the inaugural training provider funded by the $100 million Google Career Certificates Fund. In partnership with Social Finance, Merit America is providing training to thousands of students pursuing a Google Career Certificate in IT support and data analyticsOff-site link. I'm thrilled to welcome Rebecca Taber StaehelinOff-site link and Connor Diemand-YaumanOff-site link, the cofounders and co-CEOs of Merit America, and Michael GrossmanOff-site link, the managing director of impact investments at Social Finance. Rebecca, Connor, Michael: welcome.

Rebecca Taber Staehelin: Thank you.

Michael Grossman: Thanks, Tiffani.

Connor Diemand-Yauman: Thanks so much.

Williams: I'm excited to get started, so we'll just jump right in. First, Rebecca, please introduce us to Merit America as a training provider.

Staehelin: Thanks so much, Tiffani. We're really excited to share more about our work today. I find it helpful to illustrate why we do this work by sharing a single story, so I want to tell you about Jamal. Jamal enrolled in college after high school, but like so many folks he dropped out because it became too expensive and too difficult to balance with his work obligations. He left with thousands of dollars in higher education debt, and no degree. He now works full time at a coffee shop and driving for Uber, but earns just $26,000 a year. Like so many people, he wants a stable career with a salary he can support his young and growing family on. But Jamal doesn't have the time or money to go back to school or participate in a full-time training program. There are actually 53 million people in America today who are stuck in low-wage work, just like Jamal. But as a country we don't have—and we haven't had—a clear answer for what they should do to get ahead. That's what we're trying to do at Merit America: building a fast and flexible way for people like Jamal to move into new careers and increase their wages at massive scale.

Williams: Thanks so much. We're excited to hear a little bit more as we go through the rest of our time here. Michael, from your perspective, how do you think about supporting the work of a training provider with a program like this one?

Grossman: First of all: thank you, Tiffani, for having this discussion, and giving me the opportunity to share a platform with Connor and Rebecca and recognize the amazing work that they're doing. At Social Finance, we have ambitious goals. We want an America where everybody can thrive—not just support their families, but thrive. And what we're learning is, really that takes systems change. It's not just one piece. These are complicated questions, and complicated problems. And I think what we've learned over the last couple of years as we've looked to support that America that I just described, is that you need everyone: you need investors, you need service providers, you need employers, you need training providers, who can get together and focus on one common goal—and that goal is raising incomes for people. That system change requires bringing everybody to the table, and that's what we do. We're really proud of the work that we've done in the UP FundOff-site link, or some of our place-based PIFOff-site links like the New Jersey Pay It ForwardOff-site link fund that you've discussed in a previous episode of this podcast. But we're frustrated because all of the work that we've done has been relatively small-scale—it's been quite important for the people we work with, and super important for their communities. But if we talk about social change and systems change, we're not going to do it at a couple hundred people at a time. So we're really excited to work with an organization like Merit America, who's got the national reach and scale to have a real meaningful impact on a large number of people. Working with an organization like Merit, bringing an empirically…I mean, you ask employers, everybody—people value the Google Career Certificates Fund. And so combining these two into something that's more powerful than either of them on their own, we're really excited about this possibility and excited about this partnership.

Williams: Connor, I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what excited you all about joining this program as the inaugural training provider?

Diemand-Yauman: Great—thank you, Tiffani—and Michael, I really like that. I like thinking about the unique superpowers that we're each bringing to this partnership. It's kind of like this Captain Planet-esque combination of our abilities that's created a lot of impact and magic already, and we're just so excited to see that develop. So, Tiffani, to answer your question, "What's been so exciting about this?" This won't be a surprise to folks listening to this podcast, or probably anyone in the world, but Google is kind of a big deal. They are a big player in this space, and they're creating something truly innovative and exciting and impactful, and we get to be on the ground floor with Social Finance—that's super exciting. And it isn't just "who" that makes this exciting, but also "what." Just to give some historical context, we had created an innovative learner success sharing program several years ago with the goal of being as learner-friendly as possible. In the success sharing program, learners didn't pay a dime up front, and then they only paid for their training if they got a job above salary thresholds, which were just about $40,000 or $50,000, depending on the track. This program had a low monthly fee, a clear timeline, a max repayment cap, and learners could also defer their payments at any time if they were underemployed or if they wanted to go back to school. So we carried many of the same tenets of this program, of the success sharing program, into this new partnership with Social Finance and Google. It's something that we've been iterating on and building and evolving over several years. An example of how this works: in our IT support track, which is fueled by the IT Support Certificate from Google, when learners get into a job making over the salary threshold—so, more than $40,000 per year—they pay $95 a month—a cellphone bill—for up to five years, for a total of $5,700. And similar to our old program, we offer a guarantee that if you don't get a job making over that threshold, you don't have to pay. Williams: We love to see it. For the audience, Michael, would you mind telling us a little bit more about—some of the details of the training we'll get into now, but tell us a little bit about an outcomes-based loan, and why it is the right tool for this kind of a program.

Grossman: It is what it sounds like. We are putting together a financing that ties the performance of the service to the repaying of the loan. We're sending people for training and saying, if you look historically at the way training is done in most places in the US, there's really little accountability. You pay money to the training provider: "Grossman Training is going to train 10,000 people? Here's $10 million—congratulations. We hope it works out." It's difficult to understand the impact and the outcomes and the effectiveness of the training, and over the last couple of years there's been an emergence of products like the one Connor just described, where people really try to tie the effectiveness of the training to what people have to pay back for that training. And the first manifestation of that, that was broadly used was the income-share agreement, whereby you would share a percentage of your income rather than pay back a loan, which is a fixed monthly amount, you would pay back only a percentage of your income. "Let's see if we can actually create a student-centric or student-friendly, learner-friendly income-share agreement"—and so we started out on that path, and we launched our product, the UP Fund. As we decided that we wanted to do more, get bigger, have more impact, conversations with partners like Google demonstrated a little bit of discomfort with this lack of regulatory clarity around income-share agreements. The people who work at Google, it's a publicly traded company, they're stewards of other people's money. They take it very seriously, and they're like, "This is a great thing. However, this is a risk we can't dimension so we would love to figure out a different way of doing this." So we said, let's see how we can lower the risk. And one of the ways we decided that you could lower the risk was working through the regulated banking system. And so that means, we could actually do a loan. And so we started trying to work with a product that could be a loan. We said, let's treat it like an income-share agreement: you only pay back X dollars—and Connor just said those numbers, $95 a month—if your income is above a certain level. If it's not above a level, you don't owe anything. And if it falls below that level, you can stop paying, and if it rises above it, you start paying again. And let's also make sure that it's understandable and there's a payment cap on it, because a lot of times in consumer finance, particularly consumer finance targeted at low-income individuals, it's the people who pay back who pay for the people who can't. You and I both get a loan, you pay zero, I pay 100 percent. They need to charge me twice the rate to make up for the fact that you pay zero. So it gets really expensive for those who succeed, and that kind of then limits their ability to succeed, because any excess capital they can generate they have to use to service their loan. We want to do this interest-free as well, so we were able to structure a loan that looks like an income-share agreement, but acts like a loan that's regulated, that's done through a commercial bank, which we hope makes it a much more robust product and that other banks can look at and say, "This is a way to finance learning more broadly, not just in this unique case of the Google Career Certificates."

Williams: Great, thanks for giving us that explanation, Michael. I think it's important to really understand some of the mechanics of the loan. I'd like to turn to some of the mechanics of the training program now. So, Rebecca, can you tell us a little bit more about the training program, and really highlight what aspects feel critical to highlight for our listeners?

Staehelin: Great. When Connor and I met at CourseraOff-site link, the world's largest online education provider, almost a decade ago now, we were looking at this landscape and we tended to see a spectrum that had two ends, and all of the providers in the space clustered on one end or the other. You had the providers like Coursera, that were massively at scale, hugely accessible, but they were really focused on a piece of the puzzle—"We offer courses, we offer one thing or another." They weren't providing an end-to-end, transformative experience that would really help someone navigate all of the barriers they might face. On the other end of the spectrum, you had incredibly high-impact nonprofits that were really providing that end-to-end experience, but in many ways, they weren't designed to scale, reaching maybe a couple hundred, maybe a couple of thousand people a year, and they really weren't designed for people who were working—they were more catering to people who were out of work, looking to get that first job back in the workforce. And so we set out to say, what would it look like to design something that could scale massively but really provide that end-to-end, transformative impact? And that's what we're doing at Merit America. There are a few design principles that we've built around, where everything is really based on. If we were in the shoes of someone like Jamal—working two jobs, trying to support our family, with debt but no degree—what would we want as the opportunity to get ahead? And we've now talked to thousands of learners in designing this program, and where we've landed is, first, that the programs are fast and focused on the end goal, which is getting a great new job. That means it's not about learning for the sake of learning. It's highly precise learning, based on in-demand careers and the specific skills they need. And that's where the Google Career Certificates play such an exciting role in our work, because just like us, they are closely aligned to employers and they're not designing conceptual learning, they're designing what do you actually need to get a job and thrive in a job. The second is that the programs are flexible and supported—so, they work for people who are busy balancing kids, multiple jobs, a global pandemic, a zombie apocalypse, whatever might come their way. And they have the support to get through all of that, so it's not just, "Sign on, and hopefully you'll have the resources you need." They've got a coach that's working with them on professional skill development, mindset, sticking with the program. They've got a job success specialist, helping them identify good jobs, apply to them, stick the landing, and get the role and a whole suite of supports, inclusive of the community themselves, of their learners going through the experience. And the third is that it's financed based on success, so you don't have to pay a dime. You don't take on any financial risk to participate in the program. You only pay when you have a successful outcome. And the good news is, it's working. We did a study earlier this year with the University of Virginia that showed that our graduates are earning, on average, $18,700 more than they were before the program. So close to $20,000 wage gains for graduates who are three or more months out of our program, and over 80 percent of our graduates are actually having a positive wage gain, going from about $24,000 in earnings before Merit to over $50,000 after. So for anyone who wants to geek out on those numbers, we can point you to the press releaseOff-site link and share more details of the study Adobe PDF file formatOff-site link—and we're excited to build on that study with more experimental studies to come down the line.

Williams: Great. It's certainly encouraging, some of the pieces that you're throwing out there about what you all see in terms of it working. I'm wondering, as a follow-up question: you talked a little bit about how the program fits into the busy lives of students, but I'm wondering how the program addresses gender and racial gaps in this space?

Diemand-Yauman: Great question. And this topic of DIJ [diversity, inclusion, and justice] and equity is central to our goal setting in our OKRs, our objectives and key results, as an organization, where we are focused on the outcomes for our learners—not only the wage gains, not only the job transformations, the job that they're placed into, but are our results equitable? And we do that, first and foremost, through representation of our staff. We have a coaching staff that's 80 percent BIPOC, LGBT, and first-gen college-goers—and a number of staff members who were prior learners. Rebecca, what are we at…what percentage are we?

Staehelin: I think over 20 percent of our team, actually.

Diemand-Yauman: Is it 20 percent now? So 20 percent of our team, let's say, give or take 3 percent—I think that's right—were former learners. And that's one of the best ways that we can center in the stories and the needs and the journeys of our learners, by allowing them to be in the driver's seat in our organization and help set them up to chart the course for what comes next. And this work—while I think this work is never-ending, when you're talking about DEIJ, it is working in that to date 70-plus percent of our learners identify as non-White. Folks that identify as women make up about half of our learners—and just remember that these are numbers that are particularly exciting when you think about the norms in the technology sector. These are not proportional—these are not aligned with those figures. And so we're proud of this work, and we recognize that it's a neverending journey. Especially when you're working, and you're focused on an industry—technology—that is historically very unbalanced, in terms of who they're serving.

Williams: Absolutely. I think it's an important aspect of the story, that is critical as we think about economic mobility and resilience for certain populations. So thank you so much for sharing.

Grossman: And if I can just jump in on that: one of the reasons why we're so excited about the partnership with Merit America is their ability to work with both the BIPOC, and generally underserved, populations. A lot of the Career Impact BondOff-site link structure that we're working on is also focused on addressing the other barriers to people's employment and completion of training, and we're happy to work with Merit and others to deliver a whole series of wraparound support services that can contribute to persistence, so that when people can complete their training that they can get jobs.

Williams: And speaking of addressing barriers, and those wraparound supports…maybe for you, Connor—what difference does it make, having a dedicated career coach or job success specialist available to support graduates?

Diemand-Yauman: Big difference. Coaches are the bread and butter of our program—and in many ways, why we exist. There is a dizzying array of online courses out there. When you think about where we were ten years ago to where we are today, you can find a course on anything. Right before this call—I kid you not, I found an online course that is called "Communicate with your Animal Telepathically." It's $24.99 on Udemy. They're not a sponsor of this podcast, just to be very clear, but I'm raising that to say that there are so many courses—millions of courses. And there are gems within those millions of courses, but it is so hard to know what to take. If you are a low-wage worker trying to advance your career, what do you take? And then even if you find it, how do you complete it? I cannot tell you how many courses I've started—phenomenal courses, courses that would have been fantastic for my professional development and my resume—but I couldn't complete them. So when you join Merit America, when you enter this program, there's a team that's dedicated to your success. And what is the profile of our coaches, or what is the experience of our working with our coaches? I can say—and I know Rebecca would agree—that our coaches are the most supportive, charming, kind people, but they are also extremely outcomes-focused, extremely rigorous, and relentlessly focused on our learners' success. So if I had to say, "What is it like to work with our coaches? What is the profile of our coaches?" You could imagine kind of like a combination of a cheerleader, a mentor, and a drill sergeant—who are all focusing their superpowers on getting you into a new career. And we have a couple of different types of coaches. We have a job success specialist, and this person is focused on helping you find job opportunities that match your interests and skills—because we want folks to not just find jobs, but jobs that they love. Just in the last few months, our learners have gotten into these jobs in organizations like Deloitte, Wells Fargo, JPMC. Again and again, we hear from our learners that the coaches were the most important part of our program—that it is what made the difference. It helped them when they were stuck, helped them shift their mindset, helped celebrate them when they landed a new role. So hopefully that gives you some glimpse into coaching, which we think really is the foundation of what we do at Merit America.

Williams: Absolutely. And I would say change—and success—for these students really doesn't happen without the people on the front lines, that are hand in hand with them every single day. So I appreciate that we have the opportunity to lift up those folks and the hard work that they do. How can, and do, training providers like you really leverage your relationship with employers, to ensure that students are placed into good paying jobs—in this case, the IT support/data analytics field?

Staehelin: What was interesting when we started out is, we said one of the last things we want to do is be a "train and pray" organization—where you train, you give them skills, and then you pray they get a job. Everything we have built at Merit America is designed backwards, from what employers need and then closing the loop, and making sure learners stick the landing, they get that great job, they thrive in it, and are able to continue to grow in it—that's how we know we're successful. We actually talk all the time at Merit America that a success is not a graduation. Iit's wonderful, it's a nice milestone, but the success is when they get that new job and then the wage increase in that new job, and the wage increase over time. I geeked out a little bit before in our evaluation work, but we've got some exciting studies underway where we're going to be tracking wages for seven-plus years, following Merit America to really see what that trajectory looks like. So employers are core to it all, and we are lucky to be partnered with some of the biggest and best employers in the country. Google, obviously, is one we've named—Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, Infosys, Accenture—an amazing group of folks. And while they are brought to this work, like many of us, because of the social mission and the important change we need to be driving in our economy at large, we also put ourselves on the hook for delivering real business value to them. And they see it, and that's what I think has them coming back to Merit America for more and more talent—that with Merit America, because of our close relationship and our creation of pathways that tightly align to what they need, they can get talent faster, that is more diverse than they would be finding otherwise, and that performs better and will stay longer. So I say this for everyone listening that the piece of employers isn't just nice to have, it is core to this work and employers doing this work, it's not just out of the goodness of their hearts, it's actually good for their businesses too. At a broader level, we're really excited to be part of the movement to make sure that college degree discrimination is a thing of the past. Pretty much since the advent of "one click" applying, employers have been inundated with applicants, and as they've been inundated over the last decade or two, they've had to create more and more ways to quickly cut the pools of people applying. And the result of this, as you see—and Professor FullerOff-site link at Harvard has done amazing work on this "dismissed by degrees" concept—that employers are requiring college degrees for jobs that don't necessarily require college degrees, just to make sense of all of the noise in job applicants. But the problem with doing that—the problem with screening out applicants based on whether they have a college degree or not, is you're actually screening out the vast majority of Black and Latinx talent in this country, and you're not actually finding what you hope for in terms of who has the best skills to succeed in this job. So there's a big movement towards skills-based hiring that we're thrilled to be a part of, and—to Michael's earlier point—we see that as the hand-in-hand of how the practice can help change the policy and lead to systems change.

Williams: I love that. Actually, the Fed in Atlanta, we just did an "Ask Us Anything," which is a webinar series that we do on skills-based hiring and the importance of that. So I highly recommend for folks listening, maybe going back and looking for that, beause I think it really ties into what Rebecca was just mentioning. Michael, did you want to jump in here?

Grossman: I was just going to say, this focus that Rebecca was just talking about, about systems change. Being both focused on the learners and individual success, but at the same time looking at it at a systems level, is one of things that made us really excited about working with Merit on this.

Williams: So we'd love to hear—I know we spoke a little bit about Jamal earlier, but we'd love to hear if there are any student stories that come to mind when it comes to illustrating the impact of the work?

Diemand-Yauman: Definitely—hundreds that we can pull from. But one of our favorites that Rebecca and I were just chatting about recently is a story about a learner named Nick. And so, just to give you an idea of where Nick came from, he told us that if he would have been from a family that could afford college, he would have gone to college and studied IT, but he didn't have that kind of money. And so, what did he do? He got a retail job. And he enrolled in Merit America and was able to move to JPMorgan Chase, where he doubled his salary. But one of the reasons I like Nick's story is that I was texting with him recently, asking about his job and how he was doing. And he said that while he loved the additional income, he said he was equally, if not more, grateful to be in a job that was so much more inspiring, so much more engaging—that he wasn't bored. He was like, "I would take less money, just to not be bored in my job." These brilliant people like Nick, who don't have the opportunity to exercise their brilliance in their day to day. And when he graduated from our program, he also reflected on how he wanted to continue this pattern, this cycle, for his family and his children, especially with his newborn son. And he told us that he wants this—and this is a quote, he said, "I want this for my own family, to feel every day like you're realizing your potential—like you're making a difference, and excited to go to work every day." This journey is also about finding a career, not just a job. It's about thriving, and not just getting by. It's about finding something that you love, and it's about the generational impact that ripples through our learners' lives, their communities, and their families. That is what Merit America is about, and that is what we are building with Social Finance and Google through this partnership.

Williams: Thanks so much for sharing that, Connor, and I think we can have all the numbers, and understand from a very quantitative perspective what success and outcomes look like, but to be able to have these more qualitative, real stories from people makes all the difference when talking about programs like this. So I really appreciate you sharing that. Michael, from your perspective, what kind of impact do you hope to see with this program? How do you see this innovative model scaling in the future?

Grossman: It's funny. Earlier, Rebecca used the expression "geek out," and I think what's really exciting is just that we all get to come together and to use tools that we all get excited about geeking out about. I'm really excited about using finance to drive social change, and to me, the idea of bringing this product, this really interesting structure together, this student-friendly, blended capital thing that focuses on only paying back when you achieve the outcomes that are financing, and it eliminates the risk for learners—to me, this is a really exciting and impactful thing in and of itself. That's great, and if I were an academic, that would be enough—but we're practitioners and we're really focused on changing the world, and so I see changes at three different levels. The learners themselves—we are going to provide training for 20,000 people in partnership with Merit America and Google and others, a billion dollars in wage gains to be realized over the next ten years, which is starting to feel—it sounds like a little amount, based on the numbers that Rebecca was using earlier. Maybe we can aspire to more than a billion dollars, but I do think that's a pretty big target, so for the learners themselves, that's a huge thing. For the training providers, we are offering and structuring another, perhaps more accountable, more structured way of working with populations that have not been accessible. We think that this is a product and a method and an approach, a partnership and systems approach, that could be applicable more broadly across other training providers. And then just the ecosystem of bringing in investors, bringing in training providers, bringing in service providers, bringing in philanthropists—all focused on the things that they like to geek out about in service of social change. I think this is the most important impact that we're going to have. The billion dollars in wage gains—enormous. The real impact we're going to have, as this ripples out, is going to be much larger.

Williams: Excellent. Yes, I think innovation in a vacuum, or just in singular places, is not what we're aiming for here. We would love scalability, and for other folks to replicate good work. So I think we share that vision. Rebecca, I think listeners would like to hear about lessons learned. This work is easier said than done, I think, sometimes. But tell us about what lessons you've drawn from this work so far and how you hope to continue to refine into the future, for future learners?

Staehelin: Well, we are just over four years old at Merit, so we are still in "startup" mode—which means every day is a lesson, for the startup founders out there. We are obsessed with using data in everything we do, and it feels like there are new insights gleaned daily. Just yesterday at our "all hands" we had a team presenting on an experiment they were doing, and completely shaking up the first few weeks of the program—and what gets prioritized and what gets messaged, and how you have group sessions versus one-on-ones, and the promising early data there. So we're in constant "lesson learned" mode. At a more macro level, I think the biggest lesson that we're learning is that this model can work—and even broader than that, the overall approach of tackling a social challenge with tools from the private sector, and tools that aren't typically used in tackling those social challenges, can be enormously effective. Think about three years ago, when we were just one year in or so. We had a business intern who was fabulous, and we knew he would only be with us for a few months. And in his exit conversation, which I like to do with folks when they're leaving, I said, "What advice do you have for me, and what are the biggest challenges you think we'll face?" And he said, "I think it's great what you/we are trying to do here, but you're essentially trying to combine the rigor and fast pace and techniques of a Silicon Valley startup with the mission, soul, and heart of a nonprofit—and it's anyone's guess whether it's going to work or not." And so that wasn't a very inspiring conversation at the time, but I think he really nailed what we're trying to do—and what's exciting is a few years later, I can say it is working. We are driving impact. We've scaled tremendously—10 times in the last year and a half. We are on a path to full operating sustainability, and so for folks out there who get excited about the idea of bringing new approaches to tackling endemic social problems, I hope this is a glimmer that there is a lot of excitement and potential there. And of course, we would never be able to do what we're doing without the incredible partners we have and standing on the shoulders of giants who have come before us in paving the way for this kind of work.

Williams: Great, and I think at the heart of all of this is the student and the learner, who's benefiting from the program. So what student outcomes are you all hoping to achieve, and what student success stories do you hope to be able to tell in the future, in the coming years?

Staehelin: One of the moments that excited me the most at our "all staff, off site" that we did was when we had a panel of learners who now work at Merit America, and as they were introducing themselves, unbeknownst to us, they said, "I'm Kim, and Andy was my coach." And then I ended up here, and Richard said, "I'm Richard, and Kim was my coach." And we had this just ongoing chain of impact, and we're seeing that where learners are getting into jobs, and they are getting their HR teams to form an employer partnership with Merit America. And so I think our goal is that this becomes the new norm—that we've built a third way in the country, where you can go back to college, you can work your way up in the job you're in, or you can participate in an accelerated, extremely effective program that works with your life to have a transformational outcome, and see literally billions of dollars in wage gains in the pockets of hardworking talent across the country.

Grossman: For us, really, the North Star here is wage gains, and we really want to focus on realizing that and helping people get the jobs that will lead to a billion dollars of wage gains. It's a meaningful number, spread across a large number of people, and that's what we're really going to focus on. Other impacts—like I said a minute ago—replicating the model, working with others, crowding in other philanthropists, showing that this approach to training and coaching works. But for me, the real impact is real wage gains for real people.

Diemand-Yauman: Just echoing Michael—he kind of stole our answer—but again, that shows just how aligned we are as partners, in that our North Star is wage gains. We continue to be most motivated by the stories of our learners, and the learners of our stories—both are equally important. And we just get so much energy, thinking about learners like Jamal and like Nick and thinking about their children, and what the world will look like for them when they're successful. And building a world where a college degree isn't the only path to a family-sustaining wage, and just continue to imagine: what does it look like if college degrees aren't the only path? And what does it mean for the 53 million unemployed Americans, when they are not stuck—when there are scalable pathways for them to grow and progress? And that, I think we can all agree, is a future worth fighting for.

Williams: I think that's an excellent note to end on, Connor—thank you. It certainly makes me hopeful for the future. Thank you three for sharing your time and your thoughts today about the program supported by the Google Career Certificates Fund. To our listeners, thank you for tuning in to this episode of Workforce Realigned, a podcast series within the Economy Matters podcast produced by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. If you'd like to learn more about this program, please visit socialfinance.org/project/googleOff-site link or partner.ascentfunding.com/meritamericaOff-site link. And if you're interested in learning more about this work, please tune in to other episodes in this series, including our previous episode featuring the perspective of the project funders, Google and Google.org. Workforce Realigned is a production of the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and Philadelphia, in partnership with Social Finance.