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February 10, 2020 Peggy Liu

Dave Savory: Bridging the skills gap to solve graduate underemployment

Riipen is a web-based technology platform designed to connect educators to industry partners to bring authentic learning experiences into the curriculum.

Picture this: you’ve graduated from university after successfully completing hundreds of hours of study. You’re prepared to enter the “real world,” but after a few months of job seeking, your excitement fades to frustration: you’re strangely not qualified for most positions related to your field of study. But-but-but—wait! You have a prestigious university degree! You graduated with honours! Hootsuite? HubSpot? They weren’t in your program requirements!

As you descend further into your existential crisis, you come to understand that technology has changed the workforce dramatically in the last few years, and higher education has not evolved to align with industry needs. This Gallup statistic puts it into stark perspective: “96% of chief academic officers believe they’re doing a great job of preparing their students, 11% of businesses agree.” The unfortunate reality is that many emerging young professionals across North America are not skills-equipped to enter the rapidly digitizing job force. 

Cue dramatic superhero moment for Dave Savory, the co-founder, and Director of Industry Partners of Riipen. Riipen is a web-based technology platform designed to connect educators to industry partners to bring authentic learning experiences into the curriculum. Their mission is to bridge the graduate skills gap by equipping students and young professionals with relevant, “real world” skills through experiential project-based learning.

Savory had his first taste of entrepreneurship when he was a student working towards a business degree at the University of Victoria. He started a student painting business called College Pro Painters and became its franchise owner. This experience taught him the cross sectional skills and foundational knowledge he would later call on to build  Riipen.

Riipen was also created when Savory and Co-Founder, Dana Stephenson were in their final year of university, working on a number of research projects that were all on something theoretical of a case out of a textbook. Feeling this was a missed opportunity to apply their learning to real organizations and grow their professional experience before graduating, they thought “how much better off would they have been if even a small percentage of their course projects they had to do for school credit were on a start-up, non-profit, or large enterprise?” he recalls.  

“Technology is changing so rapidly in its impact on business and life, and that transfers into industry needs that change as rapidly. Hard and soft skills are dramatically changing as the industry moves forward, so it’s hard for curriculum to keep up,” Savory explains. “A solution to bridge this gap would be having a more consistent feedback loop between industries and academic institutions. Encourage more experiential learning and get educators to engage with various types of businesses and come up with unique project ideas to help students get relevant industry skills.”

That is exactly what he and Dana Stephenson, a fellow UVic peer, set out to do. They initially created Riipen as a school project, and it bloomed into a full-time business after they graduated. They have successfully scaled Riipen to over 40 employees with offices in Vancouver and Toronto. There are over 150 post-secondary schools active on the platform across North America and helped create over 50,000 student experiences in the past 4 years. Even with this success, they emphasize the importance of maintaining a “student” mindset. In their eyes, learning doesn’t stop once you’ve left school.

“One of Riipen’s core values and competitive advantages is our ability to continuously learn. We learn every day from traditional sources like books, podcasts, and workshops, however, Dana and I learn the most from our team. In order to continue to grow as an organization and overcome various challenges, we must constantly try new things, and failure is one of the most impactful ways to learn how to improve. We always try to hire team members who will push us to think differently and have different backgrounds and diverse perspectives so we can all learn from each other and solve complex problems.”

After years of hustling and learning at Riipen, what important advice would Savory like to pass on? After a thoughtful pause, he offers two nuggets of wisdom: “With entrepreneurship, you have to focus on solving a problem you’re truly passionate about. If you’re not 150% invested and passionate about your purpose, it’s gonna be tough to stick with it. You need that drive to stay motivated to stick through the tough times. 

Also, ingenuity is your secret weapon. To move forward, you need to figure out how to solve problems with no resources. It’s not about getting everything perfect, it’s about staying true to your values and being able to take risks and learn from your mistakes.”

Peggy Liu

Peggy Liu is a freelance writer and content creator and editor. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in English Literature, where she was also a mental health columnist for the student newspaper. When she isn't digging her way to the bottom of a peanut butter jar or petting friendly dogs around Vancouver, she can be found sitting in cafes with a notebook and a cup of coffee.