The Transformational Tech series highlights Cisco’s nonprofit grant recipients that use technology to help transform the lives of individuals and communities.
Students worldwide are questioning how to get into specific careers, and it can be even more difficult for underrepresented youth to get the answer. That inspired Jared Chung to start CareerVillage.org, a nonprofit on a mission to democratize access to career information, in 2011. Over 6 million people from 190 countries have been engaging with each other on the platform so far. We recently sat down with Jared to learn more about how CareerVillage is using technology to reach more people and make it easier for mentors and students to connect.
What inspired you to start CareerVillage?
Jared: I have a personal connection to this mission. When I was a young person, I needed help preparing for a career. I grew up in New York City, a highly diverse and varied city. And I didn’t know what was out there. It was critical and urgent for me because my only shot for financial stability was through education aligned with my career outcome. I was lucky to have adults who helped me answer my questions. Some very generous mentors helped me apply to college and find my first job. It was very important to me to help others find opportunities. I started volunteering, advising, and mentoring young people about careers.
What challenges do underrepresented youth face when seeking valuable career advice?
Jared: Seventy-five percent of our youth come from low-income households, around 75 percent of our youth identify as students of color, and about 55 percent identify as female.
The biggest fundamental challenge that they face is a lack of resources. And that is not just access to the social capital needed to find occupational advisors and mentors. The education system often doesn’t have sufficient resources to provide counseling at that kind of 1:1 level related to careers. On average, there are almost 500 students for every high school counselor in the United States. Most young people seek career advice by searching the internet because there isn’t anywhere else to go. So that’s a gap that we are trying to fill.
We often hear from students that, for the first time, they found a professional role model on CareerVillage. For underrepresented youth, this is especially true. If you are a young person of color trying to get into an occupation where you are not represented, finding somebody in your life who can share career advice in that field may be difficult. But on CareerVillage, they’re there, which has a significant impact on many young people on the site.
How are you using technology to scale your reach and help more youth?
Jared: Young people are actively searching for career information, and at the same time, everyday citizens have a considerable amount of goodwill to give back. CareerVillage’s contribution to society is that we recognize these two things and use technology to bring them together. The technology we use is crowdsourcing so that students can post any question about any career onto our web platform. Working professionals signing up as volunteers on CareerVillage can answer those questions. The technology we use needs to be fast, reliable, and easy for students and professionals.
We’re starting to use more advanced tools, like machine learning to predict or classify content to assess quality. I’m very excited about the new technologies we can deploy and the fact that a small nonprofit organization can use open-sourced technologies and the tools created by the tech sector to apply to a social mission. The Cisco Foundation has been providing underwriting to help us improve our data and analytics, develop our core technology, and build tools for educators that help them use CareerVillage in a classroom.
What role do schools and teachers have with your platform?
Jared: They use CareerVillage to help bring interactive and exciting social content into their career curriculum or bring a career component into their core programming. How do you ensure that students understand the role their math classes will play in the future? What can students do with the chemistry knowledge they are learning sophomore year of high school? Those are questions students ask on CareerVillage. While a vast majority of our students access CareerVillage on their own, the ones coming through classrooms are benefiting by connecting the dots between their education and their future career objectives.
What is the role of mentors at CareerVillage?
Jared: You can’t be what you can’t see, and you don’t know what questions you could be asking. Being a mentor allowed me to connect with young people from various backgrounds and experiences. As a young professional, I could be helpful to young people I met if I asked them what they wanted to do after they finished school. That would start an enriching conversation for me but also very helpful for them because I might know somebody they could talk to, have seen some hiring processes, or even know some questions they may not have considered.
We now have over 100,000 volunteers on CareerVillage. We use a Q&A format online because it makes it more accessible, which has resonated with many people. After working with Cisco, we became corporate America’s most popular online volunteering app. There have been over 1,700 volunteers from Cisco, and they have given over 4,700 pieces of advice on our platform. Advice from Cisco colleagues has been read over 3,660,000 times by the CareerVillage.org community.
What kind of impact is CareerVillage having so far?
Jared: Our mission is to democratize access to career information and advice. I’m happy to say that we have served over 6 million online learners with career advice so far. And that means they’re coming to CareerVillage and accessing information that they would not have been able to get otherwise. Some of them are enrolled in schools, and some are not. We have people of all ages, but most of our beneficiaries are young people who haven’t yet started their careers. But we also welcome the opportunity to serve career switchers or people who have started working a job to get by but don’t feel like they started their career. Our community is happy to help anyone who is looking for help.
Our beneficiaries come from 190 countries, most of whom the next best alternative is just searching Google. And for those students, CareerVillage can have a vast range of benefits. Sometimes it helps them confirm a hunch. Other times they realize in a matter of seconds there is something new that excites them, and their career goal changes.
Connecting students with working professionals allows them to learn about occupations as they are first emerging. For example, a student may ask a professional what type of career they should pursue if they are interested in puzzles. What you get from those responses is a much more exciting and modern set of occupations than you might traditionally get. Part of our impact will continue to be helping students discover careers that they didn’t know existed through volunteers who are at the forefront of their industries. It is an effective method because when you deliver these kinds of insights from a human being in the industry, it carries a lot of authority.
Can you share a success story about someone who participated in your program?
Jared: Augusta joined CareerVillage when she was in high school and first started thinking about college. She recently shared her experience in a blog, saying: “CareerVillage helped me to explore what else is out there in terms of what I can do with my degree and normalize the sense that you can do what you love and this can guide where you’re going to go. You don’t have to stick to one thing. I asked what you can do with a degree in computer science other than be a programmer or software engineer. I wanted to know how I could balance this interest with other things I like so I wasn’t overwhelmed. From the professionals on CareerVillage, I learned that you can volunteer to teach others computer science. For me, I thought that was perfect because I like working with kids in STEM, but I don’t want to program every day — that’s not for me, but I still also want to make sure that I’m in that tech space. It was great to know how to accomplish a balance and not just live and [breathe] computer science.”
What are your plans for the future?
Jared: We’re aiming high, and our goal is for CareerVillage to be the primary source students turn to when they need career advice. It’s a moonshot idea, but it’s something we are serious about. And I think we have a shot because of how scalable our model is and how it improves as more people join the community. We want to create a place where every single young person knows they can rely upon our platform to get career advice on demand from somebody who has been in their shoes.
So, what can you do to get involved? Anyone who has 10 minutes to spare can answer a career question at CareerVillage.org. Please register today and give it a try.