UpSmith: Tech to Solve America's Skilled Worker Crisis

January 23, 2023


Rob Biederman

We are beyond thrilled to announce our investment as the first institutional capital in UpSmith, a much-needed company focusing on upskilling and workforce development.

I first got to know founder and CEO Wyatt Smith during my second year in business school. Even back then he instantly impressed me as a potential future founder. Eight years later, when evaluating a formal investment (and I first considered his bona fides in a structured way), everyone at Asymmetric saw the same characteristics originally on display in Allston in 2013. Confident but not cocky, empathic but ambitious, and deeply committed to a (worthwhile) vision were a few of the attributes that have happily remained for the better part of a decade. We appreciated the mix of formal training from McKinsey and HBS, true leadership teaching social studies in an Alabama high school classroom, and most proximate to UpSmith, success at the highest levels of the tech world at Uber. I suspect both Andreessen Horowitz and Accel observed the same traits in investing subsequently here as well.

We also fell in love with the idea: across America, employers lack the skilled talent necessary to expand our economy, produce new goods, and build critical infrastructure for our future. And it’s a vexing issue. Employers struggle to find talent, with 10.1 million open positions as of August 2022. At the same time, 15.4 million people are either outside the labor force with untapped potential, or languishing in part-time, low skill, or dead end jobs with dim career prospects for the future.

Our existing system underserves both employers and candidates. Rather than approaching both groups as customers, our system expects them to accommodate models focused on process over outcomes, leaving employers and talent frustrated and left to figure out their own work-arounds. 

A better model exists. Technology allows employers to source, qualify, hire, and train talent with clear business cases for generating more production and revenue growth. 

To achieve this, we must first tackle the labor supply problem. Too many qualified workers are leaving the U.S. labor market relative to those who enter: Industry groups report 40% of the 12 million people in the skilled trades workforce are over the age of 45 (half of those are over age 55), while less than 9% are in their early career (ages 19-24). This flow rate imbalance can only be offset by bringing in more talent.

Several pools of talent can be tapped to expand our labor base. Beyond the 5.8 million Americans unemployed in September 2022, BLS reports another 5.8 million not in the labor force but looking for work and an additional 3.8 million in part time employment but looking for better opportunity. These groups include underemployed immigrants, veterans, and recent graduates referred to by Harvard Business School’s Managing the Future of Work Project as “hidden workers”. More than 27 million of these people exist, united by a common desire to “unstick” their lives by moving from warehouse, retail, or gig jobs into more stable careers unlocking upward mobility. 

Once attracted, technology can surface high potential candidates. As companies invest upfront in training, vetting processes rise in importance. By assessing candidate mindsets, behaviors, and dispositions, employers can use technology to measure propensity for success. Workplace competencies like conscientiousness and coachability are often the most reliable indicators of worker readiness. As a result, aptitude and personality fit assessments unlock important insights for employers considering “bets” on individuals for paid training opportunities at their firms.

UpSmith speeds the process to attract, screen, and qualify people into skilled professions:

  • First, the company aggregates candidates onto its talent platform, appealing to those underserved by the current system for sourcing and qualifying skilled labor like military veterans, immigrants, high school graduates, and “stuck” workers. 
  • Second, it screens candidates on the basis of mindsets, dispositions, and behavior markers, assessing talent on its potential rather than existing degrees. By measuring aptitude, UpSmith helps employers target the top 20% of any talent pool and focus on those with high propensity for success following training.
  • Third, UpSmith facilitates hiring by verifying candidate eligibility with automated background checks, drug tests, and right to legally work in the U.S.. Employers rely on its vetting process to pre-qualify candidates and smooth transitions to full time employment with a focus on industry-leading retention.
  • Fourth, it brokers upskilling by connecting employers with qualified third party training providers to rapidly train new hires. Some employers have in-house learning and development teams to meet this need, while others use virtual training content or provider partnerships we’ve licensed for their benefit. Regardless, UpSmith helps employers ready new hires to safely and productively contribute to driving business value as soon as possible in their new roles.

Having iterated with Wyatt on the kernel of UpSmith since a particularly productive trip to Wyoming in early 2021, seeing it come to fruition today has been quite a thrill! We could not be more emphatic supporters of the team’s vision, nor more convicted in its potential.

Image and video credits: UpSmith

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