Surge In Private Training Programs Aims To Bridge Skills Gap In Boston’s Tech Economy

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Startup Institute's job training boot camp costs more than $7,000. It provides participants with networking opportunities and career coaching. This training was held in New York. (Courtesy Startup Institute)
Startup Institute's job training boot camp costs more than $7,000. It provides participants with networking opportunities and career coaching. This training was held in New York. (Courtesy Startup Institute)

 Updated February 29, 2016, 9:06 am

In an auditorium on Boston’s waterfront recently, people who just finished a job skills program paraded across the stage one by one.

“Career pivoting is like a pageant,” says Nacole Buyck to the crowd. “In a pageant, a large part of the score is talent.”

In a 60-second pitch about herself, Buyck explained how her career has progressed from being a Miss America pageant contestant to her discovery of a passion for marketing analytics.

“I want a position in a high-energy firm, where I can be creative, leverage my analytical and communications skills,” Buyck said. “Oh — I also want world peace.”

Watching in the audience were dozens of prospective employers. After the pitches, everyone mingled over snacks and soft drinks. Raela Ripaldi was able to look on from the sidelines — she had already accepted a job offer.

“So I’m going to be brutally honest. Before this I pretty much thought I wanted to move to the Bahamas and be a bartender with my dog on the beach,” Ripaldi said. “I was kind of done with corporate America.”

Ripaldi used to be a client manager for a downtown firm. That’s when she quit her job and signed up for Startup Institute. The Boston-based organization runs this eight-week training program.

“And about halfway through I was like: ‘No! I like working. I like tackling problems.’ And so it really just changed my perspective and brought back a lot of confidence that I had lost,” Ripaldi said. “And that to me was really priceless.”

Ripaldi said the program’s mix of networking, hard skills and career coaching helped her land a marketing job at the Boston startup Flywire.

On stage, Rachael Burger delivers a pitch about herself to a crowd that includes prospective employers at a recent Startup Institute job training event in Boston. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)

On stage, Rachael Burger delivers a pitch about herself to a crowd that includes prospective employers at a recent Startup Institute job training event in Boston. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)

Standing nearby, David LeWine was holding a program from the talent expo. Next to the bios of some participants, he had put check marks.

“Now that I’m working, I’m on the hiring side!” LeWine said.

LeWine works for Jana, a Boston company in the mobile business. He said the company hires people right out of school or from other companies, but increasingly, from training programs like this one. It worked for him. He’s an alum.

“I went from academia to being a commercial fisherman for 10 years to being a high school teacher for 10 years, and along the way, reactivated my interest in coding,” he explained.

People are switching careers more often. Business models are changing. Those are some of the trends behind the growing number of private training programs like Startup Institute.

But there’s another factor specific to Boston.

“There’s a huge talent gap in the innovation economy in Boston,” said Diane Hessan, CEO of Startup Institute.

At one of Startup Institute's job training programs in New York, a man delivers a brief synopsis of his skills and career goals. (Courtesy Startup Institute)

At one of Startup Institute’s job training programs in New York, a man delivers a brief synopsis of his skills and career goals. (Courtesy Startup Institute)

The program charges just over $7,000 for its eight-week trainings. There are different tracks in sales, marketing and Web development. But Hessan said it’s also about preparing people for working in fast-growing startups.

“How do you operate in a really unclear, unstructured environment, without feeling paralyzed? How do you work well in a 21st century culture? Everyone’s looking for those kinds of skills,” she said.

And there are other training programs trying to offer those skills. Online and brick-and-mortar ones. General Assembly is one. Intelligent.ly in the South End is another. Executive Director Abbie Weeks said Intelligent.ly offers standalone classes, but also longer trainings.

“For example our exchange program for new managers. Six full days over four months,” said Weeks. “And we do that so people can actually practice and experience that behavioral change.”

Often, the workers don’t pay for this. The startups do.

Startup Institute's programs offer job training with tracks in sales, marketing and web development. (Courtesy Startup Institute)

Startup Institute’s programs offer job training with tracks in sales, marketing and web development. (Courtesy Startup Institute)

At a recent open house for Startup Institute, Allan Telio answered questions from applicants. Just one in five will go on to be selected. One of them is Patty Amatore.

Amatore said her college degree in communications got her into entry-level positions without much direction.

“I’m 32, but it’s like: ‘What do you want to do with the rest of your life?’ ” Amatore said. “And I just really think that this program will give me the confidence I need to really go out there and figure it all out — I think. I don’t know! I have no idea! We’re going to try it out and see where I land!”

Amatore’s in the marketing training that starts this morning. It’s first day of the rest of her career.

Correction: A previous version of this story gave the wrong location for Intelligent.ly. The company is in Boston’s South End. We regret the error.

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