The pandemic has not just changed how we work. It’s changed how we learn.
Like many tech companies, Skilljar was forced to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic, pivoting to become “virtual first” overnight. With in-person events shut down, we watched as demand for online customer learning platforms increased drastically. Over the last year alone, Skilljar provided over 4 million hours of training, transforming learning experiences and turning our customers into product experts who can innovate and make positive changes in their own companies.
One thing was clear: online learning was here to stay.
At the same time, the pandemic revealed more inequality and disparity when it comes to accessing education. Schools struggled to shift to remote learning, and many families and students lacked access to basic necessities for online learning like laptops and Wifi.
Northwest Education Access (NWEA) provides support to low-income people (ages 16-29) to build their own path to higher education. It’s the only post-secondary program in Washington State, and one of a few in the country. Neena Viel, their Director of Development and Communications, says the pandemic has had a drastic impact on students. Many suffered an “immediate loss of work and income. This resulted in multiple hardships, including difficulty paying for rent, bills, childcare, tuition, groceries and more.” These hardships meant having to put education plans on hold.
While other programs help high-achieving students transfer directly to college after high school graduation, we specialize in working with young people whose educations have been derailed. — Neena Viel
Even as schools started offering online classes, many students didn’t have the resources to attend virtually, further derailing their education.
“It was never ideal to be a student and not have a computer at home, but it was more feasible prior to the pandemic since students could use computers on campus and at libraries,” Viel shares. For Viel and the NW Education Access staff, it’s frustrating that there are so many students still stymied by barriers to education access: “Many students opted out of postsecondary classes last spring quarter due to online-only coursework.”
This inequality hits home for Skilljar’s CEO, Sandi Lin. “One of the biggest problems facing the world today is unequal access to learning,” she says. Increasing access to learning is one of the reasons Lin founded Skilljar, along with co-founder Jason Stewart, and it’s one of the reasons Skilljar pledges 1% of its equity to philanthropic causes.
“We believe that businesses have a responsibility to give back to the communities that have helped foster their success,” Lin says.
At Skilljar, we believe we can change the world through education, so the decision to donate Skilljar’s retired laptops to Northwest Education Access was an easy one. There are so many deserving students out there who really need one. — Sandi Lin
Despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, Skilljar had a successful year, raising $33 million in Series B funding and doubling in size as a company. This growth spurt, along with increased demand for online learning and the move to become a virtual-first company, resulted in the need for faster laptops for Skilljar employees.
When John Ceraolo, Skilljar’s Head of Information Security, joined the company in early 2021, many employees were working on laptops that couldn’t keep up with the demands of a fully-remote work life: “We started providing our employees with higher-powered Macs and retiring older laptops from our inventory, but most of these functioned fine for other use cases.”
Ceraolo and Lin started to talk about what they could do with the growing pile of retired laptops. For Lin, the decision to give back to the community and donate these laptops to a local organization was obvious: “As a company, we wanted to avoid contributing to e-waste and knew these laptops could have a real impact on someone who might have a different use case—like a student.”
To the students at Northwest Education Access, the donation was a game-changer.
“2020 made it very clear that technology access is crucial for academic success. With Skilljar’s donation, that’s 38 more students that are better able to participate in online learning and class materials. And that’s a wonderful thing,” Viel beamed.
Employees at Skilljar were delighted to know that the laptops were making a positive difference, as Lin summarized: “Skilljar couldn’t be happier to support Northwest Education Access, an organization that shares our commitment to education. We’re honored to play a part in removing barriers to education and helping students succeed along their learning path. We hope these laptops will empower these students to continue learning and do great things.”
Remote learning is here to stay, and laptops continue to be a critical tool for today’s students.
Lin encourages other organizations to look for ways to give back to their community, including donating retired laptops to organizations like NW Education Access, which will unlock doors for students and allow them to access learning from anywhere.
If you’re a Skilljar customer and are working to support local education in your community, share your story with us!