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How are the smartest companies using edtech to reskill workers?

How are the smartest companies using edtech to reskill workers?

Companies leveraging or creating skills data, fostering partnerships with the public sector and investing purposefully based on their future needs have the upper hand, according to members of Protocol's Braintrust.

This week's Braintrust is a part of Protocol's media partnership with UNGA Goals House around the UN General Assembly.

Lisa Lewin

CEO at General Assembly

General Assembly works with hundreds of companies on large-scale upskilling and reskilling initiatives, with a real focus on ensuring that businesses not only have the technical skills to effectively leverage data, tech and user-centered design to advance their business goals, but also a common vocabulary on how these capabilities play out in the modern enterprise. Through our work with organizations from Adobe to Guardian to Bloomberg, we've seen the ways in which training and reskilling for incumbent workers helps to both advance near-term business goals and build a more sustainable and equitable approach to meeting the future of work.

The most effective companies know that reskilling is not just about creating access to an online portal, or by focusing solely on highly technical skills. It's as much about instilling a digital-first perspective, developing growth mindset, and creating comfort around principles such as user-centered design and how data can be organized and presented to make better business decisions. That takes real time and investment, and a tight alignment with business needs and drivers.

Beyond the business rationale, investing in talent can help business tackle the systemic issues of structural racism and inequity that are so endemic to today's workforce. For too long, companies have relied on traditional proxies — whether degrees or specific types of experience — rather than focusing on skills and competencies. As we face massive unemployment and huge disruption to industries caused by COVID-19, there's a moral and economic imperative to invest in a workforce with resilient skills. And that starts by looking at new sources of talent; creating screening mechanisms that focus on skills, not traditional credentials; and making intentional investments in top talent from underserved and overlooked communities.

Ken Eisner

Director of Worldwide Education Programs for AWS and head of AWS Educate

Over the past decade, we have undergone a vast shift to the cloud and advanced services such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics. The pandemic is accelerating that shift, as the rapid deployment of technology changes the way companies and governments approach IT and digital transformation. In the midst of economic and workforce chaos, demand for cloud computing skills continues to grow, with hundreds of thousands of jobs available globally.

To meet the moment, we need public-private partnerships between education, industry and policymakers that speeds access to new curriculum and hands-on opportunities for the workforce. This includes empowering workers to obtain stackable industry and academic credentials, moving ownership of education into the learners' hands and encouraging lifelong learning.

We've vastly grown content and certification offerings through our Training and Certification initiative, while collaborating with education and government through our AWS Educate and AWS Academy programs. In Texas, Virginia, Louisiana, Utah and globally, we've worked with community colleges, four-year institutions and high schools to develop stackable credentials and pathways to tech jobs through cloud degrees, specializations, certificates and training programs. Amazon's Career Choice program is also providing eligible Amazon hourly employees with an opportunity to pursue degrees mapped to in-demand cloud careers at University of Maryland Global Campus. And leading edtechs such as Coursera, Instructure and Pearson are increasing access to training and self-paced learning opportunities.

We're at day one of this shift. Reskilling and upskilling require a mindset that values speed, iteration and collaboration between industry and education.

Maria Flynn

President and CEO at Jobs for the Future

The future of work has arrived — sooner than many of us anticipated — and workers and businesses are being forced to adapt. Not only are millions of American jobs disappearing, but the skills required for existing jobs and those of the future are rapidly changing.

The companies that will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis in strong positions are those that make investments in "future-proofing" their workforce and provide their employees with upskilling opportunities to ensure they are resilient as the economy evolves. Walmart's LiveBetterU, for example, uses Guild Education's online platform to offer associates the opportunity to earn over 100 in-demand degrees or credentials debt-free, while also receiving ongoing support from a personal coach. Not just good for the company bottom line, skills training programs can equip workers with the currency they need to succeed in the future: credentials.

Many businesses are also boosting diversity, productivity and innovation by investing in virtual or in-person work-based learning programs. T-Mobile, for example, uses Mursion's immersive learning technologies to help its employees develop stronger interpersonal skills, while Workday's Opportunity Onramps program provides training and internships for nontraditional candidates from diverse backgrounds. Still others are providing free or low-cost digital resources to unemployed and underemployed workers, like Microsoft, which recently committed to helping 25 million workers acquire the digital skills they need to thrive in jobs of the future. Even companies that are forced to downsize can help workers reskill or verify skills using platforms like Credly or Accredible as part of the offboarding process.

These practices are at the center of Recover Stronger, JFF's equity-focused initiative that mobilizes corporate leaders to help bring us out of the recession.

Matt Greenfield

Managing Partner at Rethink Education

Many companies have trouble reskilling their workers because they do not have a clear idea of the skills their employees currently possess or the ones they will need for their next roles. The most effective reskilling programs start with a comprehensive taxonomy of the skills their workers currently employ; a projection of how that taxonomy will change over the coming decade; a set of tools for assessing those skills; a record of the skills possessed by each employee; seamless employee access to a menu of skills training programs, both internal and external; a recommendation engine and possibly human advisers who suggest which skills an employee should learn next; and a feedback loop that measures the effect of particular training programs on employee performance.

Evaluating, implementing and integrating the tools that perform these functions is not easy. What is harder still is to link this set of feedback loops to the unique emotional and moral composition of each individual employee: How do employees discover how to live a purposeful life as well as one that is useful to the employer? What sort of traumas have employees experienced, and what sort of support do they require? How can the company help employees become better people as well as better employees, and how can the company listen more closely to employees and allow them to help it become a more equitable and more effective business? The companies that find answers to these questions will have a dramatic edge over their competitors.

Learn more here.

Vivek Ravisankar

CEO at HackerRank

Technical talent is far from a monolith, even among more-standardized roles. Individuals worldwide are proactively nurturing strengths like problem-solving and creativity into new skills. HackerRank's own data bears this out; our research shows that 60% of student developers are at least partially self-taught, and nearly a third are entirely self-taught, often through YouTube, MOOCs and competitive coding websites. What's more, nontraditional learning (such as mentorship, coding bootcamps or websites like GitHub, YouTube and Khan Academy) is becoming an increasingly viable path to corporate success, with 72% of hiring managers viewing bootcamp grads as equally or better equipped for the job than other hires. The bottom line: Virtual training software (whether formal or informal) is an essential tool for workers ready to reskill.

Internal company bootcamps are one successful model for nurturing new developers that need more-customized training. For example, Twilio's Hatch program sources internal employees from nontech functions and teaches them how to be production-grade engineers. Hatch uses HackerRank technical skill assessments that are broken up into different custom phases to gradually up-level employees and measure progress. Internal training programs also help shape talent for company-specific challenges and processes, using customized learning modules and assessments based on real environments.

Amazon's Tech Academy is another great example of internal reskilling. The program is open to any nontechnical Amazon employee (think truck drivers and warehouse maintenance staff), and provides intensive onsite reskilling with the goal of hiring participants as Amazon software developers. With intuitive virtual tools, companies can still assess and train workers remotely during the pandemic.

Paul Freedman

President, Learning Marketplace at Guild Education

With COVID-19 accelerating the future of work, what organizations need now more than ever are adaptable workforces to allow them to quickly respond to emerging opportunities and challenges. To achieve those workforce transformations, it will be increasingly more important for employers to help their workers rapidly build new competencies.

What we see in our partnerships with Fortune 500 companies are leaders who take a human-centric approach to supporting their frontline workers. These leaders are taking what we once called education benefits and going a step further, making them part of a broader corporate upskilling strategy. By investing in education benefits programs for their frontline employees, our employer partners see a positive impact on their bottom line, while unlocking economic opportunity by providing debt-free pathways to school for their employees.

For every dollar spent on education benefits, employers receive on average $2.44 back, a net return of $1.44, and, for one of our employers, frontline employees who participated in the education benefits program were 7.5x more likely to move into a management role than frontline employees not engaged with the program. On average, these promotions equated to a $13.5K increase in annual income.

Nathalie Munyampenda

CEO at Kepler

According to the International Finance Corporation, 230 million jobs will require digital skills in Africa by 2030. The global tech giants have launched programs to help bridge the digital skills divide on the continent, but what about local companies?

While the edtech sector in Africa is gravely underfunded and struggles with infrastructure and access issues, companies like Zedny from Egypt or Digemy in South Africa are leading the way, offering professional skills training by identifying needs — present and future — and tailoring training at a competitive price.

The edtech space, however, continues to be dominated by the e-learning giants. In Rwanda, the government recently partnered with Coursera to offer 90% of its catalogue and certificate programs to both employed and unemployed Rwandans. This is a great opportunity for those seeking to improve their job prospects, but it challenges regional training institutions to shift delivery and business models or quickly go out of business.

And here, African organizations have shown great agility and creativity. African Entrepreneur Collective for example, has shifted in-person training and consulting services to remote training via Viamo's Interactive Voice Response. At Kepler, we are adding to our innovative competency-based university model, tailored upskilling training in a blended or fully online setting for public and private organizations.

The smartest companies don't just train, though, they align upskilling and reskilling with job placement and career growth plans, for existing and upcoming opportunities as well as strategic pivots.

Mihir Shukla

CEO at Automation Anywhere

I find that the best companies employ talent that are lifelong learners. They are the true drivers of innovation. With the pandemic and the shift to remote work, trends in emerging jobs call for an explosive growth of roles in artificial intelligence and automation, which highlight skills gaps that exist across industries. Workers who are used to doing things a certain way will find it difficult to manage a shift to an automated workplace without further training and education. Now is the time for organizations to encourage their employees to learn new skills to advance their careers and achieve their organization's digital transformation objectives.

Many employees have wisely used the time at home to earn new certifications online. Think of this as the world's "Golden Hour" for online education. Organizations need to increase the development of online training programs in key areas that allow their workforce to be ready for a changing, automation-driven world. It's that important.

Compelling education programs also allow employees to pursue new roles and career paths within their company. Someone in marketing, for example, might make a really good sales manager. Training programs can dramatically improve employee morale and keep top talent from looking elsewhere. It's a win for both the company and the employee. Satisfied employees are more productive. It can be one of the most compelling investment strategies in 2020 with a commanding ROI.

See who's who in Protocol's Braintrust (updated Sept. 16, 2020).

Questions, comments or suggestions? Email braintrust@protocol.com

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