Thursday, January 19, 2017
How Amavitae Wants To Help Youth Find A Career They'll Love
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
For today's youth, it's often hard to figure out what they want to do in life--according to Deborah Ramo, Founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based Amavitae (www.amavitae.com). To help fix that, the startup has created a mobile app to guide people through their strengths, interests, key skills, and more to guide them along the way to a career they'll love. We sat down with Deborah to hear more about the app, why millennials and other youth are having such a hard time figuring out a career, and the company's solution.
What is your app all about?
Deborah Ramo: Amavitae, which means "love life" in Latin, is a mobile-first platform to help the emerging workforce find a career that they will love and have a natural aptitude for, and to help them understand what careers are growing and will be around in the future.
How did this start?
Deborah Ramo: The group of us who started the company are all very interested in solving problems. We came together with the idea of designing something that specifically addresses the skills and opportunity gap in our country. There are six million open jobs in our country today, from entry level to advanced degrees. However, even for the lucky young people who go to college, they are in massive debt, with well over a trillion dollars of student debt out there, and they can't find jobs. Nothing is relevant or interesting for them, and there's nothing out there to help them understand where careers are growing, what skills they need, and what they'd actually be great at. There's a big disconnect between their education and employment.
Why do you and your founders have such an interest in this area, and what's your own background?
Deborah Ramo: It's interesting, but my background is actually in the entertainment world. I am really interested in solving problems and in social justice, and as an individual, being able to contribute to the betterment of society. A number of years ago, myself and some of my colleagues in the entertainment industry developed a nonprofit, WorkplaceHollywood. We raised a bunch of money, and funded training programs for underserved communities for entry level jobs, which would lead to careers in the entertainment industry. They were mid-skills jobs, and involved getting people into union jobs, which would pay really well. Eventually, the idea was that the entertainment industry's workforce would reflect our audience.
Since then, I have worked extensively with mentoring youth, and helping them figure out what's possible in terms of careers. My partner and I started working on this two years ago, and had researched the situation. Although the idea of workforce development is a popular space, and there was lots going on with job listings and networking and all of that, there really wasn't a relevant, fun way for young people to understand what they could have a natural affinity for. So, we decided this area was really ripe for disruption. Those career interest surveys were these random things that you did when you were younger, where you would answer questions and it would reflect on where you could be great in work. We really thought that was ripe for disruption. So, we started bringing people together, met a really talented designer, David Andrews, who did the computer animation for Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Iron Man, and he loved what we were doing. He has three daughters, and this really was in the wheelhouse of how this tool could help them.
Then, we found the most amazing data scientist, who was initially an advisor, who was the founder of the AI Journal, and was at NASA, and taught at Stanford and USC. He came on board to really develop the tools and the platform, and aggregated tens of millions of pages on the Internet on occupations. We curated the ones that were the most high growth, are going to have more than 75,000 jobs in the next few years, and are new and growing, and figured out the top 25 most sought after skills for nearly 700 occupations.
So how does a user use the platform?
Deborah Ramo: It's all free to the user. As you go through this, and there is a bit of on-boarding. We ask you where you are at, if you're in high school or college, if you're working or looking for work, and if you're civilian or military. If you're military, we ask what your codes are, and have a few brief questions on what your plans are. What brought you here? Do you want to make a career change? Go back to school? Look for ways to move up? It only takes six minutes, and it's a cross between a New Yorker Cartoon and a Pixar Short. We then offer users a minimum of nine career choices in categories that are high growth and a best match, and tell you about those occupations. You can save them, see what the median salary is for them, what the projected openings are, and what the most sought after skills are in those areas. We have live connections to every federally registered apprenticeship, every accredited university and educational institution by zip code. You can see things within 25 miles, 50 miles, or nationwide, and save those educational opportunities and even apply to them directly. The same thing goes for job listings. We pull up job listings where you are at, let you save them in a profile, and go in and apply for those jobs. The whole idea behind this is to take users from where they are, meet them where they are at, and get their permission to discover what they are great at, what they love doing, and help them make decisions, and connecting them to information they need, training, and education, as well as the jobs themselves.
Why do you think so many youth today have a tough time figuring out what they want to do for their career?
Deborah Ramo: There's a great big disconnect. People fall out of their education for a number of different reasons. There's a lot of pressure on young people today. The economics of school in and of itself are daunting, which is why so many go into debt. There hasn't been a transparent, easily accessible, and relevant tool for them to actually go through the discovery process. That's what we wanted to do. We wanted to meet people where they are, young people, millennials, and the majority of Generation Z. Today, even when they get a job, they're not staying in jobs. They change jobs every year or even in less time. So, the idea of being able to help them understand what interests them, as it relates to what they could be great at, and making that connection just hasn't been in their view. That's what we're trying to do. I understand that at Stanford, one of the most popular courses is Designing Your Life. The two guys who teach this course have written a book, which is very interesting. I've never met them, but I'm a fan of the whole idea. Young people need to understand, in advance of getting into the workforce, in understanding what is most important to them in creating a happy life. It's about choosing the right work for yourself, and being able to thrive in that work, because that plays a huge, huge part, hence our company name.
So what's the revenue model for this as a business?
Deborah Ramo: There are pain points across the spectrum. From an educator's perspective, this is something they can provide to students to enhance their education, and it's also something for career counselors at high schools, community colleges, or a four year school. On the employer side, this helps them address pain points on retention, and really helps them with entry level retention. Companies spend $133 billion a year in the U.S. on recruiting, just to have them come in and then leave. Fifty percent of college graduates wish they studied something else after they graduate, and 42 percent of employers don't think those students are workforce ready. We want to be a democratically accessible tool, so we don't charge the users. We're a social enterprise, but also want to be a sustainable business, so we're working on the employer and the education side. On the employer side, our first founding corporate partner happens to be the largest global hospitality company, Marriott International, which is really known for putting people first. They believe in helping their people to find where they fit best, and where they belong, and they really believe in sourcing from a wide, diverse population for their openings. So, they are our first founding partner, and they are going to use the platform internally with their own employees, to enhance their career development.
Where are you now, and where are you going next?
Deborah Ramo: We had a soft launch just a few months ago, and we are now in the process of updating these. We will have a new release, probably in the next four weeks, which has all of Marriott's jobs, upfront with their branding. We're also working with them on the internal aspects. We also have a pilot partnership in development with Santa Monica Community College, and we are continuing to have many partnerships with entities that care about youth finding their sweet spot in work, and enhancing the access and opportunity for all of our youth in this country. That's what we're working on. It's been a really exciting learning experience pulling together the team we have. Working on this has been the most rewarding for all of us, because although each of the people involved already has had a significant career on their own, what interested them to come together to work on this, was to solve this problem. Our lead engineer built the Call of Duty Games, so we've actually built this on the Unity platform. Our CTO is from USC's Institute of Creative Technologies. We really have a great collection of folks, who are interested in solving this problem, and it's been a great experience to work with them on this.