NetworkNewsWire Coverage: Roughly 20.5 million students attended American colleges and universities in the fall of 2016, marking an annual increase of about 5.2 million since 2000. This surge, as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics1, comes alongside seemingly endless escalations of tuition expenses and a mounting student loan debt crisis2, which Forbes notes is now the second-highest consumer debt category. Between 2011-2012 and 2016-2017, published tuition and fee prices rose by roughly nine percent in the public four-year sector and 13 percent at private nonprofit four-year institutions, according to The College Board3. ProBility Media Corp. (PBYA) (PBYA Profile) is providing an alternative to the expenses of traditional colleges with a selection of career training and advancement programs aimed at capitalizing on rising demand for skilled workers. Along with competitors such as IHS Markit Ltd. (INFO), TrueBlue, Inc. (TBI), GP Strategies Corp. (GPX) and Aspen Group, Inc. (ASPU), ProBility is working to address the skilled labor shortage that’s threatening to stunt the forward growth of the U.S. economy.
A 2017 report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce4 gives additional insight into the rising demand for skilled labor across the country. Among those surveyed by the Chamber of Commerce, roughly two-thirds of employers said that they’ll be hiring new employees over the next month, but approximately 95 percent noted difficulty in finding skilled workers for their existing job openings in the second quarter of 2017. This dearth of eligible applicants comes as the Trump administration seeks to make good on its promise to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure5 in the U.S. Bob Pitts, senior policy advisor for the Associated Builders and Contractors Greater Tennessee Chapter, summed up the issue in an interview with the Memphis Daily News6. “The economy has gotten stronger, the demand for construction and new building has expanded significantly and it doesn’t show any signs of declining,” Pitts stated. “It’s going to take additional people that the industry does not have to meet the demands of the next couple of decades.”
Many analysts suggest that vocational education programs and related EdTech opportunities could serve as a solution to this labor shortage, and the EdTech industry is flourishing as a result. Earlier this year, Research and Markets forecast a compound annual growth rate of around 7.2 percent for the global EdTech market over the next decade, with the sector reaching $325 billion by 2025. ProBility Media, as the first company to offer full chain career advancement programs, is primed to capitalize on this growth. Currently focused on changing the landscape for small- and medium-sized businesses by providing consistent, high quality online training courses that are typically only accessible for enterprise companies, ProBility’s offerings target the needs of more than 60 skilled trades and include a comprehensive suite of career training, advancement and compliance tools. This expansive portfolio has helped the company attract and maintain an extremely diversified customer base that includes over 15,000 corporate customers, including many Fortune 500 businesses and government agencies around the world.
Leveraging a disruptive strategy of defragmenting the marketplace of small competitors through strategic platform acquisitions and organic growth, ProBility is currently in a period of rapid expansion that parallels the growth of the vocational education industry itself. In its corporate presentation, the company forecast organic growth in excess of 100 percent in 2017, in addition to its robust and active pipeline of acquisitions. This pipeline has been particularly noteworthy year-to-date, as ProBility has already completed four strategic acquisitions that will likely bolster its position at the forefront of the market. In January, the company announced the acquisition of both National Electric Wholesale Providers (http://nnw.fm/Gx3dB), a provider of electrician-related study materials and the National Electric Code with 2016 revenues of $1.54 million, and One Exam Prep (http://nnw.fm/O2e6Q), which established ProBility’s “footprint in the construction training business, one of the largest certification populations in the United States,” according to ProBility president and COO Noah Davis. ProBility also acquired W Marketing in June and Cranbury International (http://nnw.fm/gDLQ1) earlier this month. These two companies recorded combined 2016 revenues in excess of $4.3 million.
After announcing the W Marketing acquisition, Davis noted the importance of this aggressive expansion strategy to expanding ProBility’s presence in the education technology market and promoting returns for the company’s shareholders, particularly as the White House pushes for large scale infrastructure updates. “With the aggressive push from the current administration and the anticipated apprenticeship program, ProBility is positioned to take advantage of the projected upturn in the macroeconomic environment for construction and building by offering high quality products with the emphasis on safety,” he stated in a news release (http://nnw.fm/ch4RN).
In addition to its aggressive acquisition activity in recent months, ProBility’s freshly-launched ProBility Safety Academy serves as an example of the company’s commitment to facilitating organic growth. Formed as a joint venture with Jonah Nathan, vice president of Ranger Guard and Investigations, ProBility Safety Academy offers courses, training and exam preparation materials for a variety of fields, including private investigation, private security, public safety, police science and criminal justice. In a news release (http://nnw.fm/V3EJd), Nathan noted that ProBility Safety Academy is “one of the only online institutions in the U.S. that is solely dedicated to these fields.”
IHS Markit, formed following the July 2016 merger of IHS Inc. and Markit Ltd., is another company that’s capitalizing on the demand for skilled labor, offering comprehensive training courses in formats and frequencies for professionals around the globe. IHS serves more than 50,000 key business and government customers, including 80 percent of the Fortune Global 500, meaning that it shares many customers with ProBility Media Corp. In addition to its training programs, IHS also supports world-class academic and educational practices across civilian, commercial and military spheres by delivering reliable data, information, analysis and forecasting to a variety of industries and technologies. In late June, IHS gave prospective investors some insight into the growth potential offered by its forays into these career advancement markets when it reported its second quarter 2017 financial results. Among the highlights, the company’s revenue totaled $906 million for the three-month period, up from $588 million in the same period of 2016. As of August 20, shares of IHS traded at approximately $45.75, up more than 25 percent from one year ago.
Another company operating in the growing career advancement space is TrueBlue. According to its website, TrueBlue’s portfolio of employment brands puts more than 840,000 people to work each year, partnering with about 130,000 companies around the world. Notable among these brands are PeopleReady, TrueBlue’s employment solution for the general labor and construction industries; PeopleScout, a managed service provider that boasts 98 percent client retention with its integrated and highly-customized talent solutions; and Staff Management, TrueBlue’s high-volume temporary staffing solution. The differentiator for these brands is a commitment to providing clients with a competent workforce that can improve productivity and drive growth for TrueBlue’s sizable client base.
GP Strategies is a leader in sales and technical training, EdTech solutions, management consulting and engineering services. As GPX notes on its website, “Traditional approaches to learning solutions are no longer equipped to deliver the business impact that organizations need.” As such, the company offers advanced managed learning services aimed at providing specialized training to employees that’s designed to tackle the unique challenges faced by clients from a number of industries. GPX specializes in helping its clients analyze their existing learning solutions in an effort to identify key areas for improvement, such as shifting from live events to more modern, technologically advanced blended solutions that take advantage of existing EdTech platforms. GPX notes the potential upside to this analysis in a case study on its website. By developing an engaging e-learning program, the company helped client MasterCard transform its annual compliance training from a ‘check-the-box’ activity, and the results speak to the efficacy of such efforts. MasterCard met its target of exceeding industry standards following implementation of GPX’s customized solution.
Post-secondary education company Aspen Group targets the education market with responsibly priced distance-learning education opportunities. Taking aim at the rising costs of traditional college education, Aspen offers curriculums in professional studies, nursing, education and business and technology. For shareholders, this business model has proven lucrative. Earlier this month, Aspen listed its shares on the Nasdaq Capital Market, a move that chairman and CEO Michael Mathews noted “should provide expanded visibility for Aspen Group, improved liquidity for [ASPU] stock, and greater value for [ASPU] shareholders.” In late July, Aspen reported 69 percent revenue growth and record revenues of $14.25 million in fiscal 2017. The company’s gross profit was up 101 percent year-over-year for the 12-month period. With this performance, it should come as little surprise that ASPU’s PPS has recorded strong growth in recent months. In January, the company’s shares hovered near $3.60. By June, they climbed to a high of $6.70.
Rising tuition expenses and increasing demand for skilled labor are putting into motion a modern-day renaissance in the global education industry. Companies like ProBility Media are uniquely positioned to capitalize on this evolving market by offering specialized products and services aimed at bolstering the availability of qualified candidates for hiring employers and boosting retention rates by developing customized training and career advancement programs. The recent stock performance of industry players IHS Markit Ltd. and Aspen Group Inc. highlights the massive upside this industry presents to shareholders, and the aggressive expansion efforts undertaken by ProBility Media Corp. suggest that it could be an intriguing opportunity for prospective investors to cash in as the employment market kicks into high gear.
1) National Center for Education Statistics http://nnw.fm/VaPr5
2) Forbes http://nnw.fm/C7efQ
3) Thecollegeboard.org http://nnw.fm/D68qv
4) U.S. Chamber of Commerce http://nnw.fm/cJ0kO
5) Fortune http://nnw.fm/91rpM
6) Memphis Daily News http://nnw.fm/oCF8t
For more information on ProBility Media Corp. visit: ProBility Media Corp. (OTCQB: PBYA)
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