Qualifyor Giving Las Vegas Youth an Alternative to College

18-year-old Rachel spent the past few months as an intern at MGM in Las Vegas, revamping their student recruiting strategy. But this fall, she isn’t off to college. Impressed by her social-media savvy, MGM hired her full-time.

This experience was made possible by Qualifyor, a Vegas program run by Kacy Qua that helps high school graduates and (soon) college students learn life skills and get real work experience before they actually enter the workforce. Funded by the Downtown Project, Qualifyor ran its first session this summer and has big plans to rethink the future of education.

The first session was a trial run. A group of self-motivated, promising high school graduates took online courses and personality tests, and learned general-purpose skills like problem solving, project management, and professionalism. They were matched with mentors from the local community. They collaborated on projects, like creating a marketing video for Work in Progress and a restaurant menu. And then they were placed in internships at local companies, such as MGM, Zappos, and Wellthily.

The goal here is to address many of the issues swirling around education today. Theoretical courses and essays don’t necessarily prepare students for the real world, so Qualifyor teaches practical skills. Student loan debt is crippling; Qualifyor is free. You “need experience to get experience,” so students work on projects that companies are comfortable giving them.

Vegas in particular, Qua says, suffers from a scarcity of talent because of its Sin City reputation. The area isn’t seen as a hotbed of desirable jobs, so the trend is for residents to leave and non-residents to stay away.

“It makes it challenging to staff and have enough talent to make a success of all the investment that’s going into tech companies and small businesses,” says Qua, referring to the work of the Downtown Project and others.

Qualifyor’s second class is expected to start around December, with a shorter format. Instead of internships, project work will become the focus: helping out local companies by building marketing videos, designing websites, working on social media strategy, creating flyers, and more. The program length is still uncertain, but Qua hopes to bring on new groups each month.

Qua’s knowledge of the education industry runs deep: she spent over three years working at the X Prize Foundation, which leads competitions for world-changing ideas, and she helped craft a $10 million X Prize for global literacy. But Qua isn’t anti-college; she believes Qualifyor is something students could do before, during, or in place of college. She challenges us all to think about educational innovation and “disruption” in a different way.

“It feels like we’re taking the same old stuff that we’ve always taught, and figuring out how to get it online so it’s available to everyone and how to teach it in better ways, when the real question is: What should people be learning? What is it people need to know to be successful in their life and to be successful in work and to be happy?”

For Las Vegas residents, Qualifyor will be holding a graduation ceremony next Wednesday to showcase its first class. It will include a fireside chat between Qua and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who has agreed to answer one burning question from each Qualifyor graduate. RSVP here to attend.

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Written by:
Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.
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