How Lived Experiences Shape the Mission at Next Shift Learning

Sergio Rosas, Founder & CEO of Next Shift Learning
Sergio Rosas, Founder & CEO, Next Shift Learning
Aug. 3, 2023
5 min read
Sergio Rosas, NSL's CEO, speaking to a group of Snap Academy scholars

Sometimes our best skills — such as organization, problem-solving, communication or customer service, are hidden in plain sight — strengthened through life experiences, or when work doesn’t go according to plan. Most workers possess these and many more skills, but they may lack a clear understanding or opportunity to share them, build upon them, or transfer them to another career track.

Growing up as a low-income and first-generation Mexican American with parents without high school diplomas, I began my career working weekends and summers with my dad on the jobs he cobbled together to support our family. These jobs often presented unique challenges, such as packing and moving households for others on a short timeline, calming a client by re-grouting and laying tiles in a different color, or quickly shoveling sand and rocks in 110 degree heat to stay on schedule.

Sergio with his grandfather, who was a Bracero and is now a farmer, his father, who emigrated to the U.S. at 17-years-old, previously worked in the fields, and now works in food service, and Sergio’s son.
Sergio (center) at his kindergarten graduation ceremony at age 5 with his mother, Hilda, and two brothers — Ulysses (left), at four-years-old, and Orlando (right), at two-and-a-half-years-old.

At the time, these experiences felt more like an obligation. When faced with a challenge, my father would remind me, “Hijo, focus on your education, so you don’t have to do this type of work for a living.” I wrongly assumed that the skills I was building were “throwaway” — only applicable to help me clean the next backyard, serve the next customer, or move the next house.

To build a different future for myself, I took my father’s advice to heart, fully dedicating myself to schoolwork, grades, and leadership roles in extracurricular activities.

But I had no idea how much hustle was “enough” to land a spot at a four-year college. I pushed myself to do as much as possible for the slightest chance at a better economic future. I took on roles as Student Body President, pushed myself academically to become Salutatorian, but still I felt uncertain of what it would take to reach higher economic potential.

My work paid off. Getting into Stanford University was a shock — a life-altering event for which I wasn’t ready. Suddenly, I was a freshman, thrust into an elite universe where we were imbued with a sense of limitless possibility by professors, recruiters, and the world alike. We had access to every opportunity — but to a point.

"Despite attending Stanford, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, I didn’t automatically feel that the technology industry was open to people like me. It felt uninviting and closed off, with its homogenous recruits.”

Students prided themselves on mastery of technically dense and unapproachable content, in classes I felt I was “too late” to take because Computer Science was not offered in my public Title I high school serving working class families.

I did not know what my future would hold, but I knew this — I deeply cared about making an impact on the lives of low-income families and students. A career in tech, or even business, didn’t seem accessible. So, I chose to make an impact through public policy and philanthropic efforts in the workforce development space. Coincidentally, I met my life partner, and eventual business partner, Tina Hossain, Next Shift Learning’s COO, while participating in a post-college public policy fellowship program in Sacramento.

Sergio and his parents at his graduation from Stanford University.

I spent the early years of my career developing experience leading tech industry workforce programs for the LA Area Chamber of Commerce, where I worked with my teammates to connect hundreds of community college students to LA’s growing startup and tech companies. Speaking to students (who mirrored my background), hiring managers, recruiters, and employees led me to understand a very important insight.

“I realized that we needed effective and differentiated learning models that emphasized pragmatic, approachable education on how to work in tech — not just mastery of distant academic concepts. If we want to successfully prepare the next shift of tech innovators, we needed to redesign our approach.”

This insight of learning by doing reminded me of the ways I worked with my dad, inspiring me to rethink the business of workforce up-skilling, and in fact, the future of work itself. I was hungry to understand how targeted up-skilling and inclusive learning content could power the potential of untapped talent. I returned to Stanford to pursue a Masters in Learning, Design, and Technology to explore the intersection of learning science, adult learning, and technological enablement to turn potential into recognizable and hirable talent.

In 2018, while still in graduate school, I pitched and accepted a contract to work with Snap Inc.’s Global Philanthropy team to design the very first curriculum for the Snap Design Academy. Our goal? To demystify  the process of translating the skills community college students studying design had developed into roles within the industry, through an immersive and industry-informed educational training. Ultimately, my hope was to shift their minds, and their future career prospects.

Using my personal experience, workforce development expertise and curriculum building skills with support from my grad school mates, I got my first taste of what Next Shift Learning could achieve. Suddenly, it was clear — I was uniquely positioned to build a company designed to unlock untapped human potential, so that the millions of workers with tech career aspirations, could identify their inherent gifts and see the value of their lived experience. My hope was to build upon this foundation, introducing new skills designed through an engaging and effective learning experience to meet the needs of companies designing products and services that will shift the future.

I made another important insight as well. I suddenly understood that the jobs I had worked on with my father — as well as my decade of work in social impact — had successfully set me up for a career as a business leader, and an entrepreneur. And that I had spent that time working across a variety of roles, developing foundational leadership and resiliency skills that would allow me to one day build and lead a fast-growing workforce design studio.

I’ve been on this path for some time now, and my professional mission has become clear, my goal is to build an equitable workforce that thrives. This mission stems from the realization of the impact we can make by building unique learning experiences that share industry expertise widely.

"I founded Next Shift Learning to transform the potential of our workforce — the hidden talent that can power growth for leading companies. That’s why this personal mission has become the mission of our team, and our company.”

This mission informs everything we do. At NSL, we develop inclusive learning content and experiences that propel people and teams — and the game-changing innovations they create. Our goal is to build the workforce of the future, one in which skills paired with a growth mindset will replace degrees and connections as signals for career potential.

One example of our work in action is in our collaboration with Snap Inc. on the Snap Academies. The summer of 2023 will mark our sixth year partnering with the Global Philanthropy team at Snap. And, this summer also marks the second year in which our team is managing the end-to-end operations of recruitment, selection, and the daily learning experience for not only the Snap Design Academy, but also immersive experiences in software engineering, digital storytelling, augmented reality and Lens creation.

To-date, we’ve been able to impact the career outcomes of 200+ Snap Academy alumni through job specific and professional development content.

We can’t do our work with Snap and other clients in the tech, media and entertainment, and learning and development industries alone. We have thoughtfully built the NSL model in accordance with our values. We partner every day with 25-plus collaborators who help us design, test, and deliver incredible learning experiences to up-skill emerging and internal talent.

"Our collaborator network often represents the backgrounds of our target learners, and our collaborators use their lived experience as much as their professional knowledge to challenge assumptions about learning and find new ways to support growth. Our approachable, unforgettable, and practice-based learning honors existing knowledge as a key asset for transformational change.”

I am committed to providing visibility and preparedness to high-growth careers and roles for non-traditional and diverse adult learners who possess immense strength, resiliency and creativity developed from their lived experiences. Translating their skills and helping them meet the gap to their future potential will lead to a more equitable workforce.

We’re just getting started here at NSL. We have a big, bold, and urgent mission — and we need the right partners to help us get there. Together, we can create a more equitable future, and I can’t wait to see what we accomplish.

Want to connect with our team at Next Shift Learning to shift minds and shift futures? Let’s chat.

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