YouScience CEO Edson Barton’s Story
YouScience is in the EdTech or educational technology space. It’s easy to call the YouScience Platform a career guidance tool, but it really defies that category. It’s really a platform where individuals, educators and employers connect to empower intentional success. It does that by using psychometrically valid exercises to discover an individual’s performance-based aptitudes. Aptitudes are natural talents or abilities that someone is inherently good at, like math or visualization. In the Platform, individuals can connect their aptitudes and interests to real in-demand careers where they’ll naturally perform well and to the education pathways to attain those careers. They can even find employers that offer those careers. I’m often asked how YouScience came about. Here’s the answer.
YouScience, and my entire career path has centered on helping individuals by helping solve educational challenges. The seed for my passion to improve education and the lives of individuals started in the second grade when my sister died from leukemia. My family was, of course, devastated.
With the grief and everything going on at home, I fell behind at school. A classmate, who was apparently an expert, told me I was bad at math. That judgement for whatever reason stuck with me for years. Truth is, I was struggling and with our traditional education system, once you’re behind, it’s hard to catch up. I let the struggle to catch up after my sister’s death convince me that I wasn’t good enough for years.
But in middle school and high school, I realized that I really loved to learn, I just didn’t love school. I realized I had things to offer and was accomplishing a lot of things my peers weren’t. I also realized that I wasn’t the only one struggling. A lot of my peers were also struggling.
It was the system that was failing us. It focused on a traditional way of doing things, on just getting students through to the end, instead of focusing on how to help students find and realize their best outcomes. I decided to help change that. I decided to dedicate myself to helping shift some of the basic educational problems away from just getting students graduated to helping every student see that even if they didn’t love school, they could love learning something. And even if they weren’t good at school, they were good at something. My goal became to help every individual understand why they’re learning what they’re learning, and to connect what they’re learning to a purposeful future, and, if possible, to do that from an early age, not once they were in college or even later in life.
Always an Entrepreneur, Not Always a Business Owner
My journey to owning a company that helps solve the fundamental challenges individuals face in aligning talent, education and career hasn’t been linear. Like a lot of people, I worked in other areas first. It was really when I started working in the EdTech certifications area that I saw how certifications could solve some of the challenges I’d encountered as a student. My first foray into certifications was with ProCert Labs. They set the standards by which certifications for company trainings are judged. I realized then that students were left out of the equations. So, I founded Precision Exams to offer certifications to students in high school.
It was very successful — and still is. We’ve developed more than 200 industry-recognized career certifications, which are still used and refined by industry experts today. These are the certifications students earn in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs in high schools and technical colleges nationwide today.
Starting to Solve the Puzzle
We see graduation rates improve when schools offer CTE and the accompanying certifications. They go up for all communities and ethnicities from 13% to as high as 25%. They do that because students connect what they’re learning with real-world opportunities in the workforce or applying their certifications for college credit.
Still CTE exams only solve one piece of the puzzle. Certifications are what we call a post-indicator. A student takes a class to earn a certification. The missing part is why should the student take the class to begin with? The class might sound interesting, but how does the student know if they will really click with the topic. I wanted a better, more scientific way to guide students to the right subjects and the right careers. Not the careers they see on TV, but in-demand careers in the real world.
Going back to my math example, I wanted a way to make sure a subjective opinion wouldn’t determine my aptitude for math, whether my own or from another person. I wanted a way to connect the dots from which class to take and why, the skills earned, or knowledge learned in the class, to what real careers and pathways align with both with why.
Completing the Puzzle
YouScience was founded in 2011 by Philip Hardin, our current CFO. We merged Precision Exams and YouScience in 2020. YouScience was the missing piece of the puzzle for me. And because it adds several critical pieces to the certifications piece, we chose its name for the company moving forward. With all of the pieces of the puzzle in place, educators and individuals anywhere in the US can take the YouScience Discovery aptitude assessment and learn what their natural talents are. Discovery also has an interest inventory and personality component.
What really sets the YouScience Platform apart is that most career guidance tools rely only on interest inventories or personality surveys. That’s great, but how many of us had heard of the company we’re working for today when we were young? Or even the job we’re doing today?
Anyone who takes Discovery uncovers their aptitudes. Not just any aptitudes though, performance-based aptitudes. Those are the aptitudes linked to doing the tasks needed on the job. The unique part is that once the student or individual has their aptitudes in hand, they see careers where their aptitudes will let them naturally do well, which means they’ll be satisfied doing the work. They can be perpetually in “the zone.”
And we don’t just show a few careers, we show more than 500 careers from the O*NET OnLine database, which is the US national standard for job information. Individuals can filter those careers to see which align only with their aptitudes and why, which align only with their interests and why, and, if they’ve taken Precision Exams by YouScience, which certifications align.
We show the overall aptitudes that are best for each job and where their own aptitudes align. They see the education needed to get the job, which can be certifications, licenses or college. Users can even search colleges.
Just this year, we’ve added real employers to the Platform. So, a user can see real employers looking for someone with their aptitudes, interests, or both and/or the certifications they’ve earned. It’s a fantastic way for someone to see real employers right in their own town or state looking for their very abilities.
It’s also an effortless way for employers to start creating mindshare with future employees. I think what we’ve done with the current Platform is really captured by what we use as our mission statement, which is “Empowering Intentional Individual Success.”
Why Intentional Individual Success Matters
For me, one current event really drives home the need for intentional, individual success and that’s the Great Resignation. Analysis is showing that most people are quitting because they weren’t finding happiness or fulfillment in their jobs. They had jobs for the sake of a job. Sometimes that’s necessary. But today, you can find meaningful, satisfying work doing anything.
That’s what the YouScience Platform is all about. It’s about helping every single person know they have value and inherent talents that make them good at something, lots of things, and that there are real-world in-demand jobs out there that need their abilities. Jobs where they can find meaning and satisfaction.
It’s unbelievably satisfying to me to hear so many employees and clients and others share their stories or about talking with a friend or neighbor. They share how they were either surprised to find a career they’d never even thought of. Others share that the Platform validated where they’re at or revealed a fit for something they’d always thought of pursuing but haven’t yet.
It’s validating and confidence-building. People have a page right in front of them that tells them, you’re good at this and you could apply that thing you’re good at to this job. It’s so much more valuable than reading a job description and thinking that it sounds interesting. It’s scientific proof.
Everyone Can Discovery Their Talents
While we primarily target K-12 and early college with the Platform, it’s available to anyone. We want students to take it early in high school because aptitudes solidify and stop changing between 14 and 15 years old, but the knowledge of what your aptitudes and matching careers is useful for anyone after age 15.
If you know your aptitudes at an early age, you can target your high school and postsecondary education toward a career you’ve also identified at an early age. You can avoid dropping out of high school, avoid dropping out of college or changing major up to six times, which is common. You avoid spending a lot of money on unused educational years.
Even for adults though, it’s valuable. Every one of our employees takes it. It’s self-discovery and validation of what you’re made of. There’s a group called Upstate Warrior Solutions using Discovery to help veterans transition back into the civilian workforce. Parents whose children have taken it in school have taken it themselves. And Denmark Technical College in South Carolina uses it for all incoming first-year students.
I tell people, take it. If your teenager doesn’t have access to it in your local school, have them take it. Anyone can create an account and take Discovery. And everyone should, because it opens your eyes, gives you confidence in your talents, and shows you how they align with work world. And if your teenager has taken it, talk to them about their results. Get to know them on that level. Use their results to level-set your own thinking on what career your child should follow.