How online learning platforms can help solve the skills shortage

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Even before the pandemic changed the nature of work as we know it by forcing employees to work from home, the US, the UK and other countries around the world faced a major shortage of talent especially when it came to digital skills like cybersecurity. Unfortunately though, the skills shortage has only gotten worse and now with employees returning to the office, organizations need workers ready to face the challenges of our increasingly digital world.

One of the ways in which businesses can address the skills crisis is by upskilling their existing workers using online courses. At the same time, those looking to change careers can use online learning platforms as a way to reskill so that they’re ready to take on the jobs of tomorrow. To learn more about the role online learning can play in closing the technology skills gap, TechRadar Pro spoke with Coursera’s Chief Enterprise Officer Leah Belsky.

How has the pandemic affected the technology skills gap?

According to our 2021 Global Skills Report, the UK has continued to lag behind in global and European rankings for data and technology skills, placing 34th globally for data skills proficiency and 47th globally for technology skills proficiency. 

Beyond technology skills, UK workers also lag behind in acquiring the skills needed to thrive in the remote working world. The UK only attained 13% and 21% skills proficiency for HR and communications skills respectively, and the UK has an overall 29% skills proficiency for business skills, the lowest of all European nations.

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Did Coursera see many people turning to online learning platforms during lockdown as a way to use their time more productively?

We have worked with more universities, businesses, and governments than ever to respond to the global skills crisis by increasing access and opportunity to high-quality online learning and well-paying, remote jobs. We now have over 250 university and industry partners, who are helping to deliver over 5200 job-relevant courses on Coursera.

Responding to the challenges of the employment market - the double disruption caused by the pandemic and rising influence of automation on the workplace - more and more people have been looking to upskill. At Coursera, we saw significant increases in learner activity, including over five million new registrations in the last quarter alone. The most popular courses among British learners included  ‘The Science of Wellbeing’ (Yale University), ‘Machine Learning’ (Stanford University), and ‘Foundations: Data, Data Everywhere’ (Google).

Can you tell us a bit about Coursera’s new assessment tool LevelSets and how it benefits learners?

Rapid digital transformation is increasing the urgency with which learners need to acquire in-demand skills. However, lack of time, and lack of guidance regarding professional development pathways, are major barriers for learners. Offered as part of the company’s enterprise platform, LevelSets is a new assessment tool designed to help learners determine their current proficiency in key business, technology, and data skills. 

LevelSets will help motivate learners to enroll in recommended courses and enable them to develop job-relevant skills faster. These assessments determine where training should begin, and create a clear development path for learners featuring high-quality content that aligns to their skill goals.

Customers such as Fidelity, Ingka IKEA, Pfizer, and Thermo Fisher Scientific are early adopters of LevelSets. Initial data suggests that learners within these companies are three times more likely to enroll in a recommended course within one day after taking a LevelSet assessment. In addition, course completion rates have increased 66% among those that have completed assessments.


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How can businesses keep their existing employees motivated and find new talent during the Great Resignation?

Many workers leave a company to pursue new challenges. Leaders must consider how they can provide those challenges and growth opportunities within their existing role so that employees do not feel that they must seek them elsewhere. 

Upskilling workers to help them evolve their role within the company and create greater opportunities for internal mobility is key to preventing stagnation or boredom. Amid a rapidly changing workplace, remote work, and back-to-office transitions, there is also a growing need to help employees develop strategy, change management, and human skills as they advance their careers and take on more leadership roles. 

For example, organizations could help a Computer Support Specialist develop human skills like problem-solving and organizational development, or empower them to supplement their existing technical skills in related areas like security engineering and computer networking. 

What technology skills are the most popular with online learners?

As AI’s presence in our lives broadens, curious learners have sought to understand more about its potential. It’s therefore unsurprising that machine learning was our second-most-popular course among British learners. Additionally, Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python) was also popular, as learners seek to capitalize on the growing numbers of employment opportunities that require programming skills. 

Foundational skills like business communication and digital literacy also enable workers to participate in increasingly global work environments that require high levels of interpersonal skills, and we are also seeing increased interest in these areas.

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What advice would you give to those looking to upskill or reskill in the technology sector?

The time to reskill is now, particularly for those looking to make the most of new opportunities in the technology sector. According to UK government research, the cybersecurity and data analytics skills gap means that the UK economy is urgently seeking new talent in these areas. There are many options online for upskilling, such as Coursera which offers courses in partnership with some of the world’s largest universities and organizations, with learning you can take at your own pace. 

Our Global Skills Report findings indicate that the increased uptake of courses that allow learners to access a variety of job-relevant credentials, including a path to entry-level digital jobs, will also be necessary to facilitate reskilling at scale and accelerating economic recovery - in the UK, and beyond.

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