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Apprenticeship America Works to Close Skills Gap

Apprenticeship America is one of four startup companies taking part in the first cohort of the Iowa EdTech Accelerator (IETA). This article is part of a series on the Spring 2020 IETA, a 14-week mentorship program.

While interning in the Iowa House of Representatives, Christian Gray made an important connection. He saw missed opportunities created by a skills gap.

“There’s funding available at the state and federal level,” Gray said, “but each year, employers lose $250 billion due to a large skills gap that leaves 7.6 million jobs unfilled.”

Gray said that lack of education and training is a barrier for over 10 million workers.

His new startup, Apprenticeship America, equips people with skills and connects them to businesses who need them. He’s targeting welding, maintenance workers, CNC (computer numeric control, an automated machining tool), and more occupations that are in high demand in Iowa.

Gray was selected to take part in the Spring 2020 cohort of the Iowa EdTech Accelerator, a kind of bootcamp for startups that includes mentorship from area businesses and experts.

His calls his own company a bootcamp too.

“We are building a skilled trades bootcamp to lower the barrier to employment and equipping employers with the tools they need to upskill these 10 million people with the technical skills to perform,” Gray said in an email.

What has he learned in the IETA program?

“The IETA has taught me to focus and articulate value propositions concisely and in a manner that customers can understand,” he said, adding, “Being surrounded (virtually) by so many amazing entrepreneurs, has forced me to upskill myself in how I think about and execute my business.”

How have the different mentors helped?

“Starting a company is hard and comes with a roller coaster of emotions,” Gray said.

“Every mentor I have met with has always made sure to check in, not just on our businesses well-being but our mental well-being. They get it: ‘Your network is your net worth.’

“Obviously, Eric Engelmann is amazing, and I always book extra one on one time with him every week. Learning the Agile methodology from Eric has completely changed the way I operate my business from testing hypotheses’ to doing customer discovery.”

Gray also gave shout outs to Ben O’Connor (HLT): “Amazing in evaluating my financial model and making me think differently about the business model.”

Jim Sherlock (Pearson) was “extremely helpful when thinking about how to architect a viable IT apprenticeship that would work for companies to hire new talent.”

Mat Winegarden and Riley Eynon-Lynch (PearDeck) have been “a great resource to bounce different ideas back and forth and get a clear understanding of the challenges of hiring tech talent in Iowa.”

Mark Hudson (Shuttleworth & Ingersoll) is “very knowledgeable and passionate about the work we do. We have had a few different conversations to discuss strategically how we achieve our ultimate goal.”

Ada Woo and Tobi Drake (ACT) “asked tough questions that inspired me to think creatively about how I execute my business and scale.”

How has IETA changed Gray’s approach?

“Before the accelerator I was working on the business and had a few customers. Nothing as intense as I am now. The Accelerator has allowed me the knowhow and resources to focus solely in on my businesses and explore the possibilities,” he said.

Currently, Apprenticeship America is building content and expects to roll out a skills platform in the next few months. Learn more at their website.

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