In this episode of Work in Progress, I’m joined by Vivek Sharma, CEO and co-founder of the workforce education company InStride and author of the new book C-Spark: CEO-led Workforce Education for the AGE of AND.

In the book, Sharma warns that “the American workforce is in Crisis with a capital C” and challenges the nation’s CEOs to do something about it. He calls a company’s employees the most important for future growth and says that among the top crises are upskilling, recruiting and retention, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Sharma argues that corporate education is the answer and it’s good for the company and the worker. “Corporate education is an imperative strategy for companies to equip employees with new skills for a post-pandemic working world. The goal is to work back from the goals of the CEO, the strategic priorities, and build a workforce program that provides life-changing, career-boosting, quality education to their employees,” Sharma tells me.

Helping CEOs create these corporate education programs is the mission of Sharma’s public benefits company, InStride, founded in 2019 with partners Arizona State University and TPG Rise Fund. They now offer 300 degree programs from high school through doctorates, 100 certificates programs, and more than 1,300 skills-building courses across a variety of industries.

“We have helped tens of thousands of employees avoid $480 million of student debt,” he says and adds that these programs have helped dozens of large employers harness and develop the talent potential of their workers.

“An initiative in a large organization has stickiness and legs if it achieves the business objective. As time progresses, we will see the companies investing in their employees’ education reap the rewards of a more engaged workforce, better progress on DE&I initiatives, and above-average recruitment and retention, all issues that keep CEOs awake at night,” he adds.

Sharma says the InStride approach is not one-size-fits-all, that it needs to be tailored to the worker’s need. He says the CEOs they work with agree. “The most frequent approach that our partners take is ‘we are not here to judge what the learning aspiration of the learner is. She knows what she wants. She knows the pace at which she can do it. Let her have access to all the different universities, all the programs, make the decision.’

“Some employees have high school completion needs, some have an associate degree need, some want to complete a certificate or a certification, some want to do a four-year degree, some want to do a graduate degree. Our job in partnership with the employer is to meet the learner where she is, make it convenient and frictionless and financially supported for her to make a decision on what she wants to learn.”

And that, stresses Sharma, is also very good for business.

Listen to the podcast here, or find and download wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode 214: Vivek Sharma, CEO & co-founder, InStride
Host & Executive Producer: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch and Melissa Panzer
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.
Download the transcript for this podcast here.
You can check out all the other podcasts at this link: Work in Progress podcasts

EDITOR’S NOTE: The amount of the student debt was corrected from $410 million to $480 million after a conversation with InStride following the podcast interview. 01/11/2022