March 05, 2014
by Steve Kolowich
The Apollo Education Group, the parent company of the University of
Phoenix, is starting a website to help people find courses that teach
skills they need to land specific jobs in the technology industry. Call
it a course catalog for nontraditional courses, most of which have no
connection to colleges’ degree programs.
The website, called Balloon and
announced on Tuesday, will be pitched to adult learners who want to pick
up skills that have been flagged by technology companies as
requirements for certain job openings. The idea is to make recruiting
more efficient for companies, while giving learners a better idea of
what skills employers in the tech industry are looking for apart from
the general ones indicated by a traditional degree, said Robert W.
Wrubel, chief innovation officer at Apollo.
Here is how Balloon will work, according to Mr. Wrubel: Users will be
able to browse actual job listings posted by companies such as Adobe
and Amazon, see the skills those companies are requiring of candidates,
and then search a database of 14,000 courses for the ones that teach
those skills. For example, if you start typing “cloud computing” into
Balloon’s search engine, the auto-complete function will show a number
of listed job titles related to cloud computing. If you select “cloud
security analyst,” Balloon will display three required skills, 18
relevant courses, and 27,729 job listings. It will also tell you that
cloud security analysts typically make $53,000 to $79,000 a year.
The courses in Balloon’s database are from nonuniversity providers,
including Coursera, Udacity, and Udemy. Eventually, said Mr. Wrubel, the
site could add career-focused courses from traditional colleges,
including courses offered by the University of Phoenix. Balloon will
probably not weigh in on course quality, he said, but it might develop a
Yelp-like feature with which users and employers could review and rate
Mr. Wrubel, whose own résumé includes executive stints at an
advertising-distribution company and as co-founder of a chain of yoga
studios, talked only in vague terms about Balloon’s business model.
There are “dollars to be made” in arranging happier marriages between
companies and job candidates, he said. Balloon might eventually sell
recruiting services to companies.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Apollo’s announcement came on the heels of a report from Gallup
suggesting that employers value a “candidate’s applied skills in the
field” far more highly than where an applicant went to college or what
his or her major was. That study was the latest in a series of recent
reports, including one published last year by The Chronicle, that describe a mismatch between the training colleges provide and the skills employers want in job candidates.