- Born a coding boot camp almost a decade ago, General Assembly is now a major training company.
- Its latest initiative is a public sector program to reskill communities hardest hit by the pandemic.
- CEO Lisa Lewin says it is utilizing CARES Act funds and working with tech firms and local employers.
- This article is part of a series about CEOs and their vision for the future called “What’s Next.”
General Assembly – a digital skills bootcamp and education school founded in 2011 – was prepared to provide resources for the pandemic’s workforce fall-out long before the coronavirus swept the globe, according to CEO Lisa Lewin.
The company has spent more than ten years tackling the challenge of retraining people with new skills, said Lewin, who joined General Assembly as its first external CEO last August.
“With GA, who’s been talking for a decade about the skills gap and been talking for a decade about the need to really help workers prepare themselves for a highly-digitized, technology-centric future, we definitely feel like the last really traumatic year for the globe is really GA’s moment,” she told Insider.
Since it was purchased by Swiss staffing company Adecco Group in 2018 for $412.5 million, the New York City-based company has broadened beyond its roots as a coding bootcamp. Its latest venture, launched in April, is a public sector vertical that aims to work with local governments, policymakers, and employers to reskill communities across the country and the world in areas like data and software engineering.
Ultimately, the company hopes it can help people build “pandemic-proof, recession-proof” careers that create “pathways not just out of the pandemic, but pathways out of poverty in a sustainable way,” Lewin said.
Its initiative is one of many reskilling programs from tech companies that have gained traction in the past year as the pandemic put people out of work. Microsoft’s Accelerate program works closely with GA has a similar goal of reskilling communities, Amazon’s cloud unit has a reskilling program for rural communities, and Verizon launched a digital skills program last October.
Why cities are looking for ways to reskill their workers
The pandemic’s economic impact will be felt most acutely by states and regions with less developed science and IT sectors, studies have found.
Indeed, Lewin says General Assembly’s community initiative targets “second- and third-tier cities” already hard-hit by the loss of manufacturing jobs. It has already launched in Sacramento, Buffalo, Atlanta, and Louisville. Within those communities, women, people of color, and service workers have been most severely impacted, she said.
“It’s really those pockets of need that we have developed this public sector practice for,” Lewin said.
When they complete General Assembly’s reskilling programs, graduates are matched with local employers in their area: “Getting people trained is not the end goal. Giving people skills is not the end goal,” Lewin said. “It is getting people into jobs and giving people resilient careers.”
Sacramento, California for example, received $89.6 million in federal relief funds through the CARES Act in April 2020, and spent more than $750,000 of it on a digital upskilling program that included General Assembly. The program had over 500 applicants for 40 spots, General Assembly said, and 36 people completed the full program and graduated in January. Two-thirds have already received full-time roles within their field of study, with average starting salaries of over $55,500.
In Louisville, Kentucky, 3,300 residents participated in General Assembly classes, workshops, and part-time courses, and 22 graduated from its data reskilling program, with 77% making “successful pivots into full-time data roles.”
“It is that economic uplift that we measure,” Lewin said. “Are we getting people jobs, and are they getting jobs that put them on a career path for a better paying job than the restaurant industry or a hospitality job that they were displaced from in the pandemic.”
General Assembly saw a ‘spike’ in demand because of the pandemic
While General Assembly is aiming to meet the moment with its community initiative, the pandemic also spurred general growth for the firm, too.
Its bootcamps saw a “spike” the second quarter of 2020 with a 30% year-over-year increase in enrollments, while demand for its live online courses increased by 133%.
“It is not unusual for people when the economy suffers that impact and people are displaced, for folks to use that time to reskill themselves,” Lewin said.
With 866 instructors and 574 staff members across its locations worldwide, General Assembly plans to reopen its North American campuses this fall. Campuses in Singapore and Australia are already operating in a “hybrid model” with a combination of in-person and remote classes.
Moving forward, the company will also offer students more flexible programs, Lewin said, which is especially important for women, who need “maximum flexibility” in setting their schedules.
“Getting bigger enables us to really think more ambitiously about not just transforming individuals one life at a time,” Lewin said, “But really transforming full communities.”