Career Connection: New Search Engine Helps ‘Often‑Overlooked Talent’ Find Training for In-Demand Jobs

Meritize Connect—launched in a statewide pilot—aims to bridge the gap between job-seekers, training providers, and employers.

Founded in 2016 by Chief Executive Officer Chris Keaveney (right) and Chief Credit & Analytics Officer Phillip Stegner, the fast-growing education lender has raised a total of $23.4 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. [Photo via Meritize]

Frisco-based Meritize—a provider of funding solutions for skills-based education and workforce development—has launched a new platform that’s designed to close skill gaps in high-demand fields, such as healthcare, aviation, and industrial maintenance.

Meritize Connect is a national training program search tool first launching in Texas. The search engine will help job seekers access training programs to upgrade their skills and apply for merit-based financing.

“Our region’s growing economy has left employers scrambling for talent,” said Chris Keaveney, CEO of Meritize, in a statement. “But the landscape of education and training providers can be both complicated and costly for workers to navigate.”

This year, for the first time, the state’s labor force topped 14 million for the first time, according to Texas’ workforce commission. And the state continues to see job growth, the company said.

That’s where Meritize comes in. Its mission is to help facilitate access, awareness, and advancement through skills-based training, Keaveney told Dallas Innovates.

A “search engine for upskilling”

The company wants to help job seekers find the right training programs to improve their odds in the job market. Meritize Connect was developed as a direct-to-consumer model—”almost a search engine for upskilling,” he said.

Similar to consumer websites like Kayak or Amazon, learners can use Meritize Connect to easily search and compare programs (based on duration, cost, and industry). Users can also contact the program to get started on the admission process.

As a direct-to-consumer platform, people get connected with “accelerated training programs for high-growth industries, which can be everything from a diesel engine repair to UX/UI to aircraft maintenance and even cardiac sonography,” Keaveney said.

Some 2,300 training programs from more than 95 skills-based training providers in Texas alone are available, according to the company. The platform is designed to make the admission process easier and more efficient by serving up detailed information about each program, making it easy for people to search for opportunities that fit their lifestyle and interests.

“Only programs that have a positive expected return on investment are available on Connect, meaning that if a trainee holds up their end of the deal, the payoff for them should make attending that program a good financial decision,” Keaveney said. “We think that we’ve created a really promising approach.”

Meritize plans to expand the model to other states and regions across the country after its trial run in Texas. “The initial feedback has been very positive from learners and participating schools and employers,” Keaveney noted.

Meritize serves a national network of training providers and offers more than 3,800 unique and in-demand training programs. In 2019, the fast-growing startup began with some 165 schools on the platform and ended with about 260 schools, Keaveney said.

Merit-based finance

The company may be best known for pioneering a merit-based lending platform for students and training partners that looks beyond a traditional credit score. To date, Meritize has served more than 7,500 workers and trainees who have used the platform to finance skills-based education—many of whom have already finished a credential and are using it in a new career path. 

Of the program, Keaveney said, “There are many innovations we’re proud of, but ultimately, our true innovation is the concept of ‘merit-based finance’ itself.”

Meritize serves working adults, parents, veterans, and young people just getting started in life financially. That ‘merit-based finance’ model allows high-potential individuals—many of them working adults and career switchers seeking new opportunities—to access financing specifically for training that could advance their careers.

The company wants to help “change the equation,” Keaveney said. “In the world of credit, we make decisions based on risk. But traditional measures of risk disproportionately disadvantage a population whose experiences may not be reflected by a FICO score or the size of their checking account.”

He also said an individual who has successfully held a job, graduated from high school, completed courses at a local community college, or developed skills in the military or in their community should receive credit for that sort of merit. “And through the model the Meritize team has created, they will,” he added.

“A person’s lifetime experience—and future potential—is more than just a single measure, a piece of paper, or one accomplishment. Call it merit, grit. That’s what we are passionate about—looking beyond binary measures of educational worth to work with and assist individuals in the skills-based space.”

Customized talent development

The company also works directly with employers on customized talent development solutions. Barnes Brothers Fleet Maintenance and Truckway Leasing are two employers that are partnering with Meritize, Keaveney said.

Founded in 2016 by CEO Keaveney and Chief Credit & Analytics Officer Phillip Stegner, the Frisco-based education lender has raised a total of $23.4 million in funding, according to Crunchbase.

Keaveney shared his thoughts on the company’s growth, recent accolades, and what’s next in a Q&A.

Tell us about the company’s growth and recent accolades.

Meritize was recently named the No. 3 fastest growing company in North Texas, which is something that we are very humbled by and look forward to helping more and more skill seekers in the Lone Star State and across the country. In 2019, we more than doubled our 2018 results in key financial metrics and invested heavily in our future by adding significant talent and key experience to our team, including four senior executives: Gene Ostrovsky, chief financial officer; Dan Chang – Sr. Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer; Kent Ramyer, chief technology officer; and Scott Rhode, chief operating officer. We have grown headcount from more than 40 to 75 employees. To date, we have served more than 7,500 workers and trainees who have used the Meritize platform to finance skills-based education—many of whom have already finished a credential and are using it in a new career path. Finally, we recently moved into a new office in Frisco last May and are already working on an expansion of our space!

Any expansion plans for 2020?

Yes. A core area of focus for us in 2020 is expanding our relationships and ability to serve as a marketplace for upskilling opportunities that translates between those who are seeking economic opportunity and the needs of employers. We’re increasingly working to build programs that are in alignment with the specific hiring demands of individual employers. Meritize brings employers in on the front-end, to ensure that our partner schools offer programs that match the skills gaps faced by employers or possibly even reimbursed by the companies themselves. 

We’re planning to expand our Meritize Connect model—now offered only in Texas—to additional states and workforce regions across the country. This means we’ll be able to serve a larger and more diverse combination of learners, employer partners and schools through this searchable direct-to-consumer model. And in terms of team growth, we plan to continue to add team members in key functions including tech and DevOps, employer partnerships, and marketing to help us build enhancements to our platform and expand relationships with employers and training providers. 

Beyond this, we are always innovating and honing our product offerings and finding ways to get more efficient and pass the savings on to our customers.

How many people are currently on the Meritize team?

75 and growing!

Tell us more about the innovation behind your merit-based finance.

The breakthrough is the application of data and analytical models of risk to reward skill seekers for what they have accomplished. Our model enables high-potential individuals—many of them working adults and career switchers seeking new opportunities—to access financing specifically for skills-based training to advance their careers. We give them the ability to share previous academic, military, or work achievements to be included in our process. Their merit is calculated when evaluating a skill seeker’s application—which creates a more nuanced profile that can help us improve their financing options and connect them with employers who are ready to hire. 

What emerging technology are you most excited about?

Kent Raymer and his team are working on a number of exciting technology products (in addition to Connect…they are a very busy team). We will be rolling out a new school platform in the next few months—one that will make it very easy for our training partners to interact with us and get the information they need on Meritize customers who attend their programs. Additionally, we will be working to redesign our application to make it even easier for skill seekers to “Get Credit for their Merit” later in 2020. Tech innovation will be a major driver of our growth and we are focused on continuing to build a fantastic team.

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