SALT LAKE CITY — Are reduced worker hours and furloughs due to COVID-19 restrictions an opportunity for companies to train and “upskill” employees in preparation for a coming recovery?

Newly launched Salt Lake startup Learn In believes that it is and on Thursday announced a $3.5 million round of seed funding led by Utah venture investors Album VC.

The company is the latest effort from lifelong learning platform Degreed co-founders David Blake and Eric Sharp, along with Taylor Blake and Yael Gilboa Kaufmann.

Learn In says it’s on a mission to “transform the modern workforce” with a business model that features an “upskilling-as-a-service” platform. Learn In believes client companies can build a competitive edge by internally improving their workforce assets through using sabbaticals and even work reductions or furloughs as opportunities to invest in training to catch up or stay current with the evolving skills of the modern workplace.

Blake said Learn In can help companies connect with training resources and create options for idled employees to engage in new skills education before rejoining their employers post-pandemic with enhanced capabilities and even new professional trajectories.

“In less than six weeks, we’ve gone from historic unemployment lows and unprecedented talent shortages to the highest levels of weekly unemployment on record, with more than 16 million people out of work in the U.S.,” Blake said in a statement. “Learn In provides a better option to layoffs or furloughs for the long-term health of workers, companies, and the economy amid these volatile conditions.”

Learn In says there is also a strong bottom-line argument that supports investing in training existing employees to cover new needs versus looking for that expertise via an external hire.

Companies that allocate time and money to internal talent development, particularly for hard-to-fill roles, can save as much as 33%, Learn In said, versus costs involved with onboarding an external hire. And having an ongoing learning program to offer, through sabbaticals or time away from a job, ultimately helps close the skills gap while enabling workers to advance their careers, the company said.

Album VC partner Sid Krommenhoek said even amid the widespread and devastating economic downturn brought on by COVID-19, Utah investors are still very much open for business. He also noted that great business ideas, and mission-focused founders, sometimes rise to the top in the most challenging circumstances.

“Our job is to take an outsized bet in the stage of business, at the startup phase, and an outsized bet on a few individuals — startup founders,” Krommenhoek said in a statement. “Fundamentally, we believe these opportunities and people come around in the cushy times and in less comfortable times. Said another way, we aren’t in the business of timing markets and will look for, meet with, and invest in startups ahead of, amid, and after any type of market downturn.

“We are sobered by the pandemic and at the same time enthusiastic to meet with the existing and emerging wave of founders in Utah and elsewhere who are ready to or already building. David, Eric and the Learn In team in Utah and San Francisco are the latest founders Album is fortunate to back.” 

Other investors in Learn In’s $3.5 million seed round include GSV Ventures, Village Global and Firework Ventures.