It's a classic Catch-22 for new college graduates looking for a job: employers want experience for "entry-level jobs," but no one wants to be the first employer to give that experience.
In recent years in the US, dozens of short-term education providers from General Assembly and Galanize to lynda.com have emerged to provide the so-called "last-mile training" needed to connect new college graduates without specific skills to employers who need them but are unwilling to provide the necessary training.
But the boot camps are expensive - US$10,000 or more for some of their programmes on top of tens of thousands of dollars students and their families just paid for a bachelor's degree.
And while the programmes boast high job-placement rates, employers face some risks in hiring those with newly minted bachelor's degrees from these short-term training programmes who still lack real on-the-job experience.
Now, there is a new twist on the idea of boot camps that tries to bring down the cost for the graduates and minimise the risk for the employers.
In Northern Virginia's tech corridor, a company called Revature trains new college graduates for free, and then much like a temp staffing agency, places trained workers with employers, allowing companies to try out prospective employees before hiring them outright.
Revature placed 500 people last year and hopes to double that number this year. It is forging partnerships with colleges and universities and offering its services directly on campuses as part of the undergraduate curriculum or as add-on courses for new graduates.
Nearly a quarter of the students at Revature have no prior technology or coding background and are assessed for places on the face-to-face boot camp by first completing a series of online programmes. About 80 per cent of students complete the 10- to 12-week courses, said Ashwin Bharath, the company’s chief operating officer.
"A lot of people drop out not because they can’t master the tech skills but they lack the soft skills" Bharath says.
Soft skills refers to how people get along with each other, communicate, work in teams and solve problems. Employers are finding them increasingly important.
STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, and maths) are popular at university because students and parents think they will lead to jobs. But, just 22 per cent of graduates with degrees in science and maths, for instance, got jobs using those skills, according to the National Academy of Sciences.
The new college graduates in Revature's boot camp with computer-science degrees all told me that their undergraduate courses taught programming languages no longer requested by employers (such as C++) or skipped over what employers demand in new hires.
"This is much more intense because there are projects all the time," said Yasmine Sadid, who graduated with a computer-science degree from Kent State University in 2014. "In college, they gave us the basics and they hoped it was enough to get us a job, and it wasn't."
Graduates receive diplomas on commencement day with a promise that the very expensive piece of paper is a ticket to a better life. Unfortunately, many colleges don't worry about what happens to their students once they cross the stage at graduation, except when it comes time to ask them for alumni donations.
Though the needs of students and employers have changed, colleges cling to their historical mission of providing teenagers a broad education that is supposed to make them employable for life. It's not that the degree is not necessary. But many young adults are struggling to launch after graduation and find meaningful work, and a new post-college "learning economy" of short-term training organisations is cropping up to provide students with exactly the skills they need to start a career.