September 2019 marks the tenth anniversary of 180 Skills. For those of you not familiar with us, we make and deliver great education for real jobs.

Another way to summarize the company is to say that we help people who aren’t afraid to work increase their standard of living, elevate their pride, and, most importantly, sleep at night.

As humans, sleeping at night is one of the most difficult things we need to do. It seems simple – work all day, go to bed, and fall into a blissful sleep. For many people, it’s not that easy. Life is full of uncertainties and fears, which keep them up at night while the rest of us are sleeping.

You may have experience this yourself. At the exact moment slumber is setting in, these fears love to jump into your head. When you’re just about to enter dreamland, they start whispering, “how’re you gonna pay this bill;” or “looks like there might be a layoff;” or “if you don’t find a way to make more money, you’re gonna lose your home.” Once fear sets in, any chance of falling asleep is gone. Your mind begins to race, and the dark gets darker, and darker, and darker.

The number one fear to make an appearance at night is “failure”. Fear of failure comes in many forms, but the message you hear usually ends with “everything bad that can happen will.” Most failure thoughts are initiated by a lack of economic resources needed to accomplish something important, like

  • Buying food
  • Paying for housing
  • Paying for transportation
  • Paying for health care
  • Properly caring for a child

It’s classic Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and it’s far too real for far too many people.

I recently learned that in the United States there are over 76 million people who are working, and whose wages are below the federal threshold for poverty.

Let me say this in a different way:

There are 76 million people who aren’t afraid to work, but despite their best efforts are living in poverty and probably not sleeping well.

Contrast that with the July 2019 report from the U.S. Department of Labor that says unemployment is 3.7%, the lowest rate since 1969. According to the Washington Post, in May 2019 there were a record number of open jobs in the U.S.

6.7 million open jobs to be exact.

So, what’s this got to do with the ten-year anniversary of 180 Skills? Everything.

As a manager of production workers for many years, the biggest challenge I faced was how to deliver skill training to my employees that would ensure they could increase their standard of living and ultimately help them “sleep better”.

Many of these employees came to me with no skills and a desire to work. Many came from situational or generational poverty. Others simply made poor choices in their secondary education journey. Regardless of their personal history they all had one goal – to stop being poor.

My inability as a manufacturing manager to deliver life changing, sleep inducing, skills training to these people is why 180 Skills was born.

The number one disconnect between the 76 million working poor and a better life is access to skills training. Classroom training is a luxury for many of the working poor. It requires time, attendance (on someone else’s schedule), transportation, and money they don’t have. These barriers are why it’s so important to expand access to skills training for this population.

When we were approached by the State of Indiana to deliver online skills training to people in Adult Basic Education programs, we were skeptical that students would be able to handle the additional coursework because of everything they were already juggling.

The students in the pilot cohort shocked and surprised us with their persistence. The most revealing statistic to emerge from this initiative was when the students studied – 10 at night, 2 in the morning, and on holiday weekends. Very few took courses during the “normal” workday of 8 to 5.

As we continue to deliver training to low-income students in several states, one constant remains:

It’s all about access to skills training on the student’s terms.

Access to skills training is a game changer for these students. When they aren’t constrained to a specific course schedule, they can master the material and achieve success.

Open access to skills training = better job = sleep

As we reflect on our first ten years, I would like to thank some of the partners that helped us get where we are today:

These partners enabled us to impact lives with

  • 38,000,000 pages of content delivered
  • 17,000,000 test questions answered successfully
  • 90% completion and placement rate
  • 30,000 graduations

By helping 30,000 graduates “sleep at night,” we estimate we’ve put 6,000,000 “counting sheep” out of work. For that we are very sorry, but we’re certain the there is still plenty of work for them to do.

As we look forward to the next ten years, I would like to share a quote from one of our adult education partners in Kentucky,

To all of you who share our beliefs, we commend you for your work and your passion. Thank you for helping us get to this anniversary and for helping so many people sleep better.