Climb Hire provides on-ramps to middle-class jobs through an accelerated training program for Salesforce administrator roles in the Bay Area. The program targets hidden talent from historically overlooked communities. Through a mix of online and in-person sessions, Climbers complete 200 hours of human + technical skills training in 18 weeks. They work on real-world case studies and hands-on projects similar to those they will encounter in their future jobs. 

Climb Hire has a particular focus on the building and application of social capital skills within the group and through strong alumni mentorship programs. In a unique peer learning model, Climb Hire graduates return after completing the program to teach the next cohort of students. In addition, Climb Hire facilitates monthly social opportunities for students and alumni to expand their professional networks.

The typical Climber holds multiple minimum wage jobs, does not have a college degree, and takes classes during the weekends or evenings. Climb Hire uses income share agreements while providing a $75/week stipend during the program. After graduating and securing a full-time job that pays at least $45,000 annually, Climbers pay it forward to support future classes (details below). Using a cooperative (co-op) business model, alumni become part of a staffing agency. As they refer one another into roles and job opportunities, they share in the future profits generated from finder’s fees from employers. 

The first cohort of Climbers started during the summer of 2019 with $2 million in grants from Schmidt Futures, Google.org, and The Shusterman Foundation. We talked with Climb Hire’s CEO and founder, Nitzan Pelman, whose career has been dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty through education and workforce development.

Q: What is the vision and purpose behind Climb Hire?

Nitzan Pelman: I have a strong hypothesis and belief that there are a lot of people of color who have been marginalized in society; however, they did what they were told. They enrolled in college but then dropped out because of financial pressures, or life just got in the way. They’re extraordinarily motivated and interested in finding a new way to break into a middle-class job. They just don’t have social capital or the specific skills they need. Then what happens is they have two, three, and four jobs that are paying minimum wage and they’re just killing themselves to make their lives work. 

My hypothesis is that there are a lot of hungry, motivated and really talented people out there who want to break into middle-class jobs; however, the sorting mechanism for jobs in this country is oftentimes based on having financial means. There is not a system in place that allows others outside of the traditional university system to build and demonstrate their skills, aptitude, or human potential.

Q: Why the focus on building social capital?

NP: I had this conversation with a friend at LinkedIn a year and a half ago where she shared with me that you’re nine times more likely to get a job through a referral. And then I started to think about how I’ve gotten every single opportunity I’ve ever gotten through referrals. I’ve never applied for a job before. I’ve always gotten jobs because people have called me and said, “I have this opportunity, are you interested?” Or I’ve started my own organizations. 

And then I thought, “Oh, that’s what college is all about.” It’s not for any specific work skills. It’s for the social capital that you’re building because those people you meet in college end up helping you for the rest of your life. And that’s why you sing in a capella groups and write for your newspaper and join fraternities and sports. All of that is about building social capital. And so I quickly became obsessed with social capital as part of the solution in equity in the workforce.

Q: How does the financing work?

NP: We pay for the students’ training upfront. It’s free to them but if they get a job that pays $45K or more, then they pay it forward for the next student. It costs $150 a month for four years. It’s a flat fee, and it’s capped at exactly the cost of the program. We are not here to make a profit, we are here to make a sustainable organization work over the long haul.

The idea of the pay-it-forward method is that the organization’s alumni become members and owners of the staffing agency. If the students are referring each other into roles and the staffing agency is the one able to place those students through each other’s referrals, then we make money and we share that money back with the alumni in a cooperative business model. They are incentivized to care about social capital financially and communally.

Q: When do you see the biggest moments of impact?

NP: At the end of each session, we have a gratitude circle. All of this is about building relationships. So we thank people for things that they’ve done that have helped us. One person said, “I really want to thank Nitzan for helping me – we did a mock interview. I don’t even care if I don’t get this job, but I feel so much more confident about my place in the world because she helped me see my skills.”

This community of learners doesn’t always get this kind of opportunity. They get the opposite. Their experience in society is being told, in aggressive ways, that they’re bad. At Climb Hire, we want to be kind to people, help them see their strengths, and utilize them as assets, build their professional network, and translate what they know into a middle-class job.

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