Exclusive: Penn Foster acquires Sokanu, reveals plans to expand popular CareerExplorer platform

Putting middle-skill workers on path to economic mobility

One of the most-used career exploration platforms is now part of the Penn Foster family. The Boston-based online educator this morning announced it has acquired Sokanu (“So Can You”), creator of the popular CareerExplorer, used by more than 10 million people each year and considered to be an innovator in the career navigation space.

In an exclusive interview with WorkingNation, Penn Foster CEO Frank Britt says it is a brilliant match that will eventually merge actionable labor market intelligence from CareerExplorer with high-quality, workforce-relevant courses and programs from Penn Foster and other companies. This expansion, he says, will put more middle-skill workers on a path to economic mobility.

Frank Britt, Penn Foster CEO (Photo: Penn Foster)

“We’ve been working with this organization for quite a while, and we felt like this was the moment to lean in, in a different kind of relationship, one that we think will help our learners, help our employers, and really signals to the larger workforce development market that change is happening, not just in theory, but in practice,” says Britt.

“That’s organization, that team, that technology, that data science infrastructure, all the other things that make that enterprise magical are all now going to be part of Penn Foster.”

He tells WorkingNation that the larger ambition of Penn Foster is as an organization in service of the target market it helps—”middle-skill, working class people, who don’t have all the same advantages that a lot of white collar professionals have.”

There’s 150 million adults that work in the United States. About 75 or 80 million of them are defined as middle-skill.

Britt says, “From an academic credentialing perspective, the definition of a middle-skilled person is someone who did or did not finish high school, but has aged out of the traditional high school, so they can’t go back to finish high school, physically, all the way through somebody who’s gotten a micro-credential, a career certificate, and up to an associate degree.”

“We believe that the Penn Foster charter is a wider one than simply upskilling,” adds Britt. “It’s to help middle-skill professionals throughout their career journey, which includes—but is not limited to—helping them figure out what they should do in a fair and objective and sophisticated way.”

Finding the Right Career and Taking the Next Step

That’s where CareerExplorer comes in. The popular data platform that is used to answer more than a million career assessment questions each day from its users.

Spencer Thompson, founder, Sokanu (Photo: Sokanu)

“Career and education decisions are some of the most consequential decisions people make, and data has a critical role to play in guiding people of all backgrounds through these crucial life decisions,” says Spencer Thompson, founder of Sokanu. “The whole mission of the company has always been to help people find their ideal career,” says Thompson.

Sokanu is a career assessment tool focused on a whole bunch of traits and attributes that serves one purpose, which is to try and predict somebody’s interest and satisfaction in a career that they want to go into. The platform translates answers to multiple questions into data that point the user to a career encyclopedia that covers well over 1,000 careers, another 500 or so degrees.

It constantly updates that data based on people’s results. “Things like salary, things like time it takes to get into the career, satisfaction in those careers are all unique characteristics that we capture, that we’re able to reflect back to the customer when they try and explore whether they’d make a good fit for being a firefighter or a pilot, just for example,” according to Thompson.

According to the National Skills Coalition, while middle-skill jobs make up the majority of the U.S. labor market, just 43% of workers are currently trained to the middle-skill level. Penn Foster helps more than 300,000 working learners each year pursue the skills that can help them thrive in middle-skill careers.

Britt says Penn Foster wants to make certain that the “fidelity of the Sokanu product remains exactly as it is today, based on data-driven outcomes,” but the company plans to add a next step in the process by the end of the year, pointing the user to training.

“If a middle-skill type job is the right kind of job, to the extent that Penn Foster has something available, we will make (the user) aware that that option exists. Because that’s another way to add additional value via the Sokanu platform.” He adds that the plan is to also point them in the direction of other non-Penn Foster programs.

Thompson adds, “It starts to change the experience because it starts to help communicate to the person on our site that we’re there to help them with more than just the first step.”

Adds Britt, “This idea that you can use predictive capabilities to better serve up experiences for the consumer in a way that serves their needs, that expertise is as much what we’re excited about as anything else, because that principle applies across the whole learning experience.”