How underserved students are impacted by companies’ lack of bandwidth for internships

Matt Wilkerson, Paragon One CEO, joins Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Kristin Myers to discuss bridging the gap between more diverse students and major U.S. companies through flexible remote externships.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: We've been chatting lately about the class of 2021, and our next guest is working to ensure that more and more diverse candidates are hired by major US companies. We're joined now by Matt Wilkerson, the CEO of Paragon One. So, Matt, let's talk about the problem-- why are companies finding it so hard to bridge that gap between students at university and who they should be hiring once they're out in the workforce?

MATT WILKERSON: Well, it starts-- first of all, thank you for having me-- it starts with higher education, because only 38% of students in the past decade believe their degree was worth the cost. Only 11% of business leaders strongly agree that universities are graduating students with the right competencies. And then they spend billions retraining these students.

Now, normally, internships are meant to fill this gap. And students are desperate. They're desperate for companies to step in and fill that educational gap. The National Association of Colleges and Employers did a survey, and, unsurprisingly, employers determined internships to be the number one factor when they make a hiring decision, all else being equal.

But if you talk to people and ask them, where did you get your internship in college? They'll tell you either probably an alumni network or family connection, like the uncle who works on Wall Street. But if you're an underserved student, let's say a first generation college student who maybe your family network doesn't have connections, or maybe your alumni network doesn't have that strength to pull in job opportunities-- where do these students go to get their foot in the door?

So we went a little deeper. What we figured out is that companies, while well-intending, they don't have the bandwidth to support internships. More specifically, talk to a company manager who's actually managing interns, and they'll tell you that internships are kind of a necessary evil. They mean well, but if you've ever managed interns, you probably have thought once or twice, oh, the interns are here-- we got to think of-- give them something to do to keep them busy, keep them engaged day to day.

So what that means is less companies are giving out as many internship opportunities to students. And that impacts underserved students. So that's what we're solving with Paragon One. We're on a quest, and we built a platform to help students from anywhere in the world, any background, any major, even if they're working, if they're going through school right now, they can try out real world projects.

And the way we make this happen, we partner with companies, but we support those companies in helping them come up with the projects-- in developing the training, and mentoring, and feedback, all of those things that really is a huge lift for companies. And we're helping them scale the number of students by 10x they engage with using technology while cutting back on 90% of the time that they're using to engage with students.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You know, real quick, Matt, how much does it cost to use your service? Because I saw somewhere it was $950 a month. Would that be for the student seeking out job opportunities?

MATT WILKERSON: So Paragon One originally started as a career coaching program. And we worked with a number of universities. And so in these cases, we'd work with career centers and international student pathway programs to run that. Two years ago, we actually launched remote externships, because a lot of the students that we were trying to expand to in the United States and help, they told us that even after our coaching program, they still had problems getting internships, which is what we were trying to help them with.

And when we dug deeper, that's where we saw that it was this bottleneck with companies' time. So we actually had two models today with externships. The first is educational institutions, which include Case Western, Colorado College, even NGOs like the Opportunity Network can sponsor programs with students. And the second version that we have is companies like Facebook, Hewlett Packard, and others can run programs from their side. And in that case, they're actually trying to increase the number of students that get opportunities from diverse backgrounds.

KRISTIN MYERS: Right. I wish we had more time, but, sadly, we do not. So we're going to have to leave that there. Matt Wilkerson, CEO of Paragon One, thanks so much for joining us.