42KL to roll out ‘new collar workers’ without classrooms

Left: Jeff Sandhu, Head of Sunway FutureX Talent. Right: 42KL is a model from Ecole 42 in Paris.

The rise of gig economy is demanding a new pool of talent called “new-collar workers”. They do not want their workers to come from the same cookie-cutter, not to mention the traditional education system. One institute that is developing this future talent outside classroom settings is Sunway University in their 42KL coding school. We spoke to the Head of Sunway FutureX Talent who is overseeing the 42KL initiative, Jeff Sandhu who himself rebelled against traditional teaching methods.

Saddled with outdated pedagogy that hinders creativity and freedom of thought, education system around the world is evolving from a rigid decade-old approach to blended learning.

Yet, one concept has taken this a little further with something that is really out of the box, meant for those who do not fit in the bubble. Imagine learning and acquiring world-class education in IT-related disciplines without teachers, classrooms and tuition fee, yet being sought after by the Teslas, Googles and Amazons of the world.

“We want to create the next generation of van Rossums and Goslings who are able to attract investors, co-founders, create enterprises and bring new solutions for all industrial sectors”, beams Jeff Sandhu as he starts talking about 42KL.

42KL is a disruptive education method that aims to create self-taught entrepreneurs and coders, yet closely engaged with the industry. First introduced in Paris as Ecole 42, then in the Silicon Valley, 42KL is the first in Southeast Asia and housed at Sunway FutureX in Sunway City as a non-profit entity.

Neither Blue nor White Collar

Recognizing the great demand for a new type of talent to fuel the growing industries that are being reshaped by data science, cloud computing, blockchain, artificial intelligence and other tech-driven skills, CEO of IBM, Ginni Rometty coined the term – “new collar workers”. These highly skilled workers do not have the traditional 4-year college degree but are equipped with a great amount of industry-relevant skills, especially to fit into the gig world.

“Reinventing future talent is inevitable and to do that we need a revolutionary system. At 42KL, that is exactly what we do. Students are not made from the same mould so are employers. 42KL customises each talent to suit specific industry but at the same time they are agile enough to explore any ventures, including being an entrepreneur,” says Jeff.

This game-changing revolution in education related to coding is poised to support just any industry from banking, hospitality, healthcare and agriculture  among others as no industry can escape digitalisation.

An Education minus teachers, classrooms and fee

 Open to anyone above 18 years old, 42KL allows their apprentices to follow their own pace, yet be competitive enough to complete their projects. The journey starts with online assessments mainly involving logic tests, as coding is all about logic. Selected apprentices go through a boot-camp like exercise called “piscine” or swimming pool in French. It has nothing to do with swimming but symbolically refers to deep diving into the world of coding and the ability to remain afloat without drowning. The apprentices will be in the piscine for 28 days. Why 28 days?

“This period allows shaping their resilient mind. Since this is not the conventional classroom with a timetable, our students are on their own to complete their projects. They have to earn their freedom, show their determination and passion for coding, spend 7 – 10 hours per day and keep progressing to the next level. Usually, one can fake it for a week, but not for a month So, this allow us to pick those who are really cut-out for this system”, explains Jeff.

Those who stays afloat in the piscine move on to be placed in partner companies where they will be working on real problems. They keep moving up till they reach a level where they are able to start their own business or get employed. In the Silicon Valley, such talents easily land in jobs in Tesla, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and their likes.

The apprenticeship is a fertile space for these talents to co-found new tech companies among them since most peer-to-peer learning is a dominant approach. They could also be absorbed in companies where they were attached to. Jeff pointed out that there are 20,000 jobs vacant in the digital sphere.

New Set of HR rules

With transformation in education and training, the employers, especially the hiring manager and HR executives now need to push the needle to change their internal policies in recruiting. New collar workers are not about having a degree from the MITs and Harvards of the world but having gained industrial experience and successfully solving problems in the gig world. The current salary scheme that is suited for university degrees has to be revamped. Internal HR policies will need to change.

Jeff is confident things will change in the marketplace. “We asked hundreds of different companies what their challenges are in nurturing digital talent. As 42KL addresses their challenges, we are confident these companies are ready to embrace these new collar workers and adapt their current HR policies.”

Parents’ mindset

 How do parents’ feel about their children not having a four-year degree from college, a holy grail in our community?

The response to this revolutionary coding school was extraordinary. Around 3000 applied, 2000 went on to take the online tests, 400 students were picked to enter the piscine and currently there are 100 “swimming” in the piscine.

B40 were the majority making up 47%, followed by M40 (35%) and the rest from T20. The majority are between 18-24 years old (38%), 35% are between 25-29 and the rest are above 29 years old.

“I would say this is a perfect education system for B40 as they do not pay anything and even digital gadgets all provided free”, says Jeff.

Sustaining the success

 42KL has 10 big companies as anchor partners to fund the project. Some of them are big names in the banking industry and others are startups and community partners.

Sunway Group itself is an ideal testbed for these new generation workers to solve real problems in various industry under the group. Currently, 42KL is supported by Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah through the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation & Sunway Education Group as part of nation-building initiative together with MDEC.

Jeff is hopeful that more industry players and investors will support 42KL.