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Highlights From the 2023 OnRamp Education & Workforce Innovation Conference Show the Future of Work and Education in the Making

July 28, 2023

Jacob Fraire, president of ECMC Foundation, welcomes conference attendees.

In June, ECMC Foundation joined co-presenting sponsors ECMC Group and gener8tor in Minneapolis-St. Paul for the annual OnRamp Education & Workforce Innovation Conference. The conference brings together multi-sector national leaders to discuss the intersection of education and the future of work in reskilling the modern workforce.

The two-day conference’s signature lightning rounds made the event stand out—and made it well worth attending for innovators and investors alike. Beginning with a “Startup Showcase,” the best and brightest new founders in the field had the opportunity to mass-pitch dozens of potential funders and venture capitalists, who noted their top interests. Cohost gener8tor then paired startups with institutions for curated one-on-one meetings that generated critical ideas, much-needed advice and real investments. The onsite ECMC Foundation and ECMC Group teams were plugged into every session, and we look forward to seeing outcomes from the lightning round meetings as they emerge.

Cole Shearer, partner at Gener8tor, discusses reskilling the modern workforce with Dennis Ellis, community engagement manager at Microsoft, and Matt Anderson, account director of state and local talent solutions at LinkedIn.

Following the all-conference welcome, ECMC Group President and CEO Dan Fisher introduced “Bridging the Gap: The Microsoft-LinkedIn Initiative in Reskilling the Modern Workforce.” The conversation focused on closing the skills gap and featured Dennis Ellis, community engagement manager at Microsoft, and Matt Anderson, account director of state and local talent solutions at LinkedIn. Gener8tor partner Cole Shearer moderated the discussion. Dennis, a resident of Wyoming, spoke about Microsoft’s TechSpark program, which brings both technology solutions and skills training to rural areas, and the company’s mid-COVID pivot that included an accelerator geared toward skilling for remote work. At LinkedIn, Matt explained, they similarly collect data on how recruiters’ geographic coverage and regional skills gaps intersect, and then develop LinkedIn Learning content to bridge those gaps. Because LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft, too, the companies can coordinate and complement each other’s work deeply. “The space is moving so quick,” Dennis reflected. “You’ve got to nail it, because you’re going to take all these people's time, and hopefully give them value. You can’t teach them things that don't have any relevance to getting a job.”

Then, on Day 2, in a keynote address titled, “Learning and Working at Scale: A Public-Private Call to Action,” Andy Van Kleunen, chief executive officer of the National Skills Coalition, made a case for taking steps to promote learning and working at scale, with a keen eye on what both “the Amazons of the world” and small and startup businesses can do to cultivate a talent pipeline as an industry.  With introductions by both Dan Fisher and Jacob Fraire, president of ECMC Foundation, the speech was a rousing call to action for everyone in the room—on changing the narrative around skilled work and skilled workers, on changing policy with meaningful implications for more workers, and on making a difference for those hardest hit by automation and the evolution of the “future of work.” “Technology is a solution,” he explained, emphasizing the particular need for digital upskilling, “but we’re still going to need teachers.”

For more from Minneapolis-St. Paul, check out highlights from the event’s opening dinner, which focused on advancing the future of learning and work and featured Jessica Haselton, director of Education Innovation Ventures at ECMC Foundation, and Joseph Watt, vice president of the Education Impact Fund at ECMC Group, and other speakers including the five companies participating in the 2023 OnRamp Education & Workforce Innovation Accelerator.

The waitlist for OnRamp’s 2024 conference is already open. Reserve your spot today!

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