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Social Entrepreneur

290 EpisodesProduced by Tony Loyd: Business executive and mentor to social entrepreneursWebsite

Social Entrepreneur exists at the intersection of profit and purpose. We tell positive stories from underrepresented voices, focused on solutions.


Closing the Adult Education Gap for Employers and Employees, with Ned Zimmerman-Bence, GogyUp

GogyUp removes language barriers from the workplace.

According to the most recent report from the US Department of Labor, there are currently 6.9 million job openings in the US. In the last month alone, job openings in nondurable goods manufacturing increased by more than 30,000. Businesses are finding it difficult to find qualified employees who can meet the rigors of technical qualifications.

At the same time, 36 million US adults read below the 3rd-grade level. And 90 million adults struggle to read technical writing. Yet, only 5% have access to the instruction that they need.

That’s where GogyUp comes in. Their Employment Literacy System (ELS) is a tool for on-boarding, training and upskilling employees, especially those with limited reading levels.

GogyUp Co-Founder Ned Zimmerman-Bence started as a teacher. He struggled to teach basic reading skills. “It was like, if you just give the kids books and help them out with different words, they’ll eventually learn how to read,” he describes. As he researched best practices, he found the concept of phonemic awareness.

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words. When children become aware of the sounds of the English language, and the letters or combinations of letters that make those sounds, they can more easily learn to read. “I started teaching phonemic awareness to my students and noticed that they got excited. It was like ‘Oh my god, somebody showed me the code.’”

After leaving the school district, Ned was the Executive Director at a teacher-developed public online high school, focusing on those who were “over-age, under-credit” for their grade level. “We kept on getting calls from adults who were saying, ‘Hey, can I enroll with you and just finish that one high school credit?’ We could never enroll them because they didn’t have the literacy skills for them to be successful.”

Ned began to wonder just how big of a problem literacy skill is. “It turns out, it’s a fairly large problem. It’s about 36 million adults who can’t read. It’s getting to be a real national crisis. Businesses are affected because they are struggling to hire people who can do the work.”

Ned began interviewing adults who struggled to read. He found that their greatest need was to be able to decode words immediately, while learning skills to support literacy over time. Ned realized that an app could help them, but he wondered where he would be able to find funding. “That’s where the idea of looking at manufacturers and other small employers came from. They have the need to hire immigrants or those who can’t read English, but don’t have the means to make sure they’re trained properly.”

Ned and his co-founders have developed GogyUp to take on a dual challenge: helping employers find qualified candidates while helping adults learn basic literacy skills.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Ned Zimmerman-Bence:

“Only 5% - 10% of those who need reading instructions to be able to read technical literature confidently, can access it.” @nedzb @gogyup

“We’re using smartphones, science, and data to put together a platform.” @nedzb @gogyup

“You can read what you need to know tomorrow, while also getting instruction to learn how to read over the long term.” @nedzb @gogyup

“At the end of the day, this is about learning to read English.” @nedzb @gogyup

“I left graduate teacher’s school without any real notion of how to teach.” @nedzb @gogyup

“Adult basic education is like the god-forsaken corner of education.” @nedzb @gogyup

“Have your user hand-in-hand co-design with you.” @nedzb @gogyup

“Find somebody who doesn’t think like you and have them as your partner.” @nedzb @gogyup

“One of the things I’ve learned through the Minnesota Cup experience is, the voice of the customer.” @nedzb @gogyup

“We need adult basic education if our country is going to reach its full potential.” @nedzb @gogyup

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:


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