Last month, the British government finally set out its post-Brexit digital strategy, which included plans to offer digital skills to millions of individuals, charities and businesses by 2020, and help with access to free training for adults lacking core digital skills. Of course worry over the IT skills gap is not new; in fact, UK skills sourcing company Arrows Group recently suggested that Brexit is already leading to a 10 per cent reduction in skilled tech workers from within the EU relocating to the UK.
The government has secured pledges from private sector organisations such as Google, which is launching a summer programme to teach digital skills aimed at boosting tourism and growth in coastal towns. Google already offers a variety of skills training online, for example through Google Digital Academy, Digital Skills for Africa, and Google Developer Training, and last year, CEO Sunday Pichai announced the company’s intention to offer five hours of free training to everyone in the UK; “No matter where you live, no matter where you’re from, no matter what your job is – you deserve access to all the information, education, and opportunity the web has to offer."
Now Google is expanding its online training portfolio further, by teaming up with online learning platform Coursera to offer cloud computing training. Launched this week, the two organisations have worked together on courses such as, Google Cloud Big Data and Machine Learning, a 1-week accelerated on-demand course that provides an introduction to the Big Data and Machine Learning capabilities of Google Cloud Platform. Also available is a four-course accelerated specialisation Google Cloud Platform for Systems Operations, with further courses planned.
We spoke with Leah Belsky, VP of Global Enterprise Development at Coursera, to find out more about the collaboration, and why digital skills training is so vital. A lightly edited Q&A can be found below.
Coursera has teamed up with Google to provide cloud computing training. Can you tell us more about this and how it came about? Why team up with Google, specifically?
Cloud computing is one of today’s hottest career paths. With companies rapidly shifting their infrastructure to the cloud, the demand for cloud computing experts is enormous. In fact, adoption of cloud technology is often limited not by cost, complexity, or security, but by the shortage of trained professionals available to fill open roles in cloud systems administration, data engineering, application development, and more.
By collaborating with an industry leader like Google, we’re able to offer applied, industry-specific courses that complement the holistic computer science and data science courses created by our university partners.
The Digital Strategy report unveiled by the DCMS outlines steps to plug skills gaps by offering free training. Why is this so important for the UK’s technology sector?
Affordable training (doesn’t necessarily need to be free) is extremely important. The scale of online technology is increasingly making high quality and affordable education possible. But removing the cost barrier isn’t enough. The participation of trusted universities and top employers is an absolute must to cement the credibility of online learning moving forward.
There’s a lot of talk in the media about encouraging more girls to follow STEM careers, but according to the Science and Technology Committee Report, the UK will need 745,000 additional workers with digital skills to meet rising demand from employers between 2013 and 2017. That’s now. So, while it’s obviously important to prevent the gap from widening in the future, what else should we be doing to plug the gap right now?
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) provide a safe space for women to train in fields traditionally dominated by men in a setting and timeframe that suits them. 34 per cent of our course completions in STEM fields are done by women. This is substantially higher than the share of STEM degree graduates - but still it’s not enough. There are women out there who want to work in digital industries, but aren’t necessarily encouraged to do so - or feel like they can’t. We recently did some research on our platform and found that women are much more likely to enroll in a STEM course if it’s taught by a woman. So part of the solution has to be getting more women role models into teaching positions.
Many are worried about the effects of Brexit on British industries, technology in particular, but in light of the DCMS announcement, could it actually offer more opportunities?
Brexit or no Brexit, the UK needs people with the right skills to help keep pace and thrive in a digital future. It is also an issue that is not exclusive to the UK or even Europe – it’s a global pressure point. Brexit will hopefully inspire the UK government and employers to think harder and plan accordingly to ensure businesses remain competitive and flexible to changes in the workplace.
A number of technology companies have started offering veteran training and job placement programmes in the hope of plugging the UK’s skills gap – does Coursera have any specific plans in this regard?
We actually have a very similar partnership in place right now in the US where we are working with the Institute for Veterans & Military Families (IVMF) to offer training and certification to 1,200 transitioning service members. This is part of our recently launched Coursera for Governments and Nonprofits initiative in which we work with organisations and agencies devoted to workforce development. We provide the same service to companies like L’Oreal, BCG, and BNY Melon through Coursera for Business. These initiatives have only just launched in the last few months so it’s just the beginning. We’re in talks with a number of organisations in the UK as well where we see growing demand for new ways to train the workforce at scale.
A study by TEKSystems found that 73% of managers say they can't find experienced, skilled workers, yet 29% of workers are told they’re overqualified. Is it possible the skills gap is in part due to poor communication on the part of IT leaders who aren't doing a good enough job at explaining the skills they actually needy
We consistently hear from the businesses we speak with that the most challenging problem they face is hiring for the skills they need not today, but tomorrow. Both employees and employers need to change their habits to make constant learning a priority, and yes - managers need to learn how to anticipate the skills they will need and communicate this to employees so they can plan their career and education plans.
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