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Are career accelerators the solution to the startup skills gap?

Do university graduates lack the hands-on skills they need to succeed in the world of startups? Are MBAs too traditional to keep up with fast-paced technology companies? Is Berlin suffering from a talent drought? Andrew Hoag, Managing Director Europe at career accelerator Startup Institute, tackles these questions and more...


As startups in Berlin continue to thrive, demand for jobs in the city’s startups is projected to soar over the coming years. According to a recent study by McKinsey, 100,000 jobs will be created in the city by 2020. Without the right talent, however, the lifeblood of these exciting startups will dry up.

Talent is key for startup success – arguably even more important than money – and if there's one thing that keeps founders awake at night, it's the worry that they won't be able to find the right employees and get them motivated as quickly as possible. This subject often comes up in conversations with Berlin founders and VCs – many are concerned that the city is tapped out of talent.

Universities and traditional business schools aren’t developing the right talent to help Berlin’s founders grow their businesses. From Humboldt to Heidelberg, Germany has some of the most prestigious universities in Europe, but a formal, academic education doesn’t necessarily equip graduates for the workplace. Although university provides an environment for students to grow intellectually and develop their independence and social skills, it does not necessarily prepare people for real-world workplaces, especially in today’s fast-growing innovation economy.

The MBA – the original vocational qualification – isn’t right for the startup world, either. Created to teach vital skills that weren’t taught at university or in the workplace, the MBA curriculum prepares managers for careers at big corporates but doesn’t address what is required to work in the world of fast-paced tech startups, where agile thinking, initiative, and a willingness to fail are more applicable than CAPM and managerial accounting.

With universities and business schools failing to produce the particular type of talent sought after by startups, new educational programs called career accelerators have emerged to help address the issue of talent. These accelerators focus on incubating people instead of companies, as in the traditional accelerator model, and create a pipeline of exceptional individuals who have the tri-fecta of technical skills, cultural acumen, and relationships to hit the ground running at a startup.

Aware that startups require more than just great founders to succeed, career accelerators offer training throughout the talent stack, with programmes targeting technical fields like web development and product design as well as business fields including digital marketing and sales.

Of course there are excellent online resources available for people who want to develop hard skills. Codecademy is out there for people keen to learn the basics of coding and sites like StackOverflow are valuable resources for both novice and expert programmers. However, online learning is not always the ideal way to develop the well-rounded skills necessary to work in a startup, where constant communication with team members is paramount.

So in addition to technical skills, career accelerators also teach the soft skills required to succeed. Startups have unique cultural challenges, from rapidly changing team dynamics to endless ambiguity and imperfect information. Engineers in Germany, for example, don’t necessarily lack coding skills, but rather the empathy for the customer required to build a great product.

At career accelerators, students learn directly from startup veterans and work on real-world projects to develop cultural acumen and leadership skills. Additionally, students get introduced to employees already working in successful startups and can begin to build their professional network.

Just as in the world of MBAs, where Harvard has a different educational approach from the London Business School and INSEAD, so too are there different philosophies on vocational training for a career in startups. Career accelerators like Startup Institute – recently launched in Berlin – and Fullbridge offer different experiences to skills bootcamps like General Assembly and Makers Academy. So it's important for aspiring students to learn more about what they need and what is the right programme for them.

With its recent arrival in Berlin, Startup Institute hopes to help address the startup skills gap by providing a pipeline of talent to fuel the capital’s startup economy for years to come. Not only is this a boost for the city's startups, it also offers ambitious individuals a means to get out of the corporate hamster wheel. Even regular Berliners can get excited by the prospect of joining some of the city's most exciting startups including Delivery Hero and Locafox.

Image credit: Flickr user MWE.Daniel

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