By Sonia Toledo, Founder, Dignity of Children
As educators, our goal is to cultivate 21st-century skills in kids and prepare children for fulfilling careers. Teaching with inquiry-based, self-directed learning can develop autonomy as well as voice and choice in youth. But, how do we prepare kids to enter a job market that’s growing increasingly competitive and automated?
I sat down with Riley Jones IV, Co-Founder and CEO of Bloc— a cloud software program that uses automation to track and optimize a job seeker’s career development—to talk about how artificial intelligence can work hand-in-hand with 21st century skills like information literacy, technology literacy, and media literacy to prepare today’s young people for the careers of tomorrow.
Here’s what he had to say.
So, tell me about BLOC.
Riley: BLOC is, at the moment at least, a software product that we use to help workforce development and other kinds of career development organizations manage their process for helping students.
We do things like resume and cover letter creation and use automation to help people who are doing career coaching and job placement do that more easily through software, rather than what usually is done by pen and paper or spreadsheets and workouts.
How does it work?
We use automation to compare the words that are in a resume to a job description so that students get leading indicators in terms of what kinds of words their employers are going to be looking for. And then from there, we feed them some jobs that might be most apt depending on what industry or what field of study they are in.
How did you recognize the need for what you’re doing now?
We actually started as a career prep organization for Black college students. We were serving about 2,000 students across the country, and we were doing this pretty much one-on-one with students. The goal was to try and find a way to do this and to use technology to scale what we’re doing.
And through creative problem-solving, you decided to use technology to reach students on a larger level? Where did you get the background to know how to build this?
It’s funny. My co-founder is the tech person. I’m the operations and business person.
I can look at code but I couldn’t do anything with it.
So, did you have to collaborate and communicate a great deal to develop the product you envisioned?
Yeah, for sure. And that’s the interesting thing. As someone who is very much in the tech space, I wouldn’t have been able to do that without the exposure to someone else who was doing it.
What were some other key moments when collaboration and communication were pivotal?
Amina, my co-founder, and I met at a conference for Black college students that she threw when she was working in diversity affairs at Princeton. I went up to her and said something like, “This is a really cool conference. I don’t know what you need, but I’ll help you do it.” So, we went through a summer accelerator at Princeton and got money from them to start this, and that was my first introduction to entrepreneurship.
What advice would you give to young people who want to start their own business, like you did?
The first thing is to find what you’re passionate about. I wouldn’t say that starting a business for money is a good decision, mainly because whenever you’re starting a new business it’s going to be hard. It makes it a lot easier if it’s something that you really care about and has to do with a problem that you really want to solve.
Secondly, learn everything you can and take advantage of this time when people are investing in you very particularly. It’s one of the most unique times in your life. It can set up a foundation to do whatever you want to do later on. And it’s amazing.
Are there any other tips you’d like to share with today’s students?
Always try to learn something new. Do whatever you think are the traditional things that would make someone successful in whatever your path is, but try to find ways to make it more interesting for yourself. Because it’s really about what story can you tell. And the main thing is making sure your story is unique and different than everybody else’s.
Do you want to encourage your kids to create an idea, start a business, or change the world through tech? Bring out their entrepreneurial spirit with DOC’s project-based learning program in entrepreneurship.
We also have project-based learning programs on financial literacy, climate change, and health and wellness. Each is developmentally appropriate for a range of grade levels and designed to develop 21st-century skills like collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. Contact us now to get started.