Training and Development

Why extra online learning might be necessary to help graduates succeed

This is a contributed piece by Rick Levin, CEO of online learning company,Coursera


It’s no secret that many of today’s recent graduates are under-employed or unemployed and in debt.

In June 2015, the Higher Education Statistics Agency reported that 60,000 new graduates were in “non-professional” roles six months after graduation, with a third working in low-income positions such as cleaning and road sweeping.

Top UK universities now demand £9,000 [$12,800] a year to study on a three-year course - at that price, new graduates should be walking into relevant, well-paid roles upon leaving university. Furthermore, nationwide economic growth is on the up, and the jobs market outlook is steadily improving.

Why, then, are so many young UK professionals out of work, or struggling to get by in jobs that don’t make use of the skills they’ve learned as students?

The data suggests that the problem has to do with the specific skills new grads do - or rather don’t - have upon finishing school. Hays’ Global Skills Index shows that over three quarters of employers cite a lack of suitable candidates as one of their biggest challenges when hiring. Businesses are especially struggling to find qualified candidates for positions that require advanced science, technology, engineering and maths skills.

In short, for many recent graduates, a degree alone isn’t enough to ensure professional success. Today’s job market demands specialised technical qualifications, many of which can only be attained through on-the-job experience or post-university training.

So how can new graduates build the skills they need to compete? And how can businesses find or develop the skilled employees they desperately need?


Bridging the gap

When Charlotte Stevens graduated from university, she accepted the only job she was able to find, as a low-paid entry-level data analyst. Her employer didn’t offer the training options she needed to qualify for a better position. But she was determined to move up, and decided to take her future into her own hands. A search for flexible, affordable options led her to online courses in the emerging field of data science like ‘R Programming’ from Johns Hopkins University on Coursera, a global online learning platform that offers online courses from top universities.

Not long after completing a number of online courses, Charlotte had a new job earning more than twice her original salary. She’s since completed a Masters degree, and is now a data scientist at a start-up. Taking courses online put her at an advantage, she says, because very few of her peers have any data science background. She also believes that this type of post-university training will become more and more common as people change jobs more often and are required to keep up with the digital skills needed in the modern workplace.

“People are going to be in and out of jobs their entire lives,” Charlotte explains. “They can't go spending £50,000 [$70,000] every five years because their job's been automated or it isn't working for them anymore.”

As Charlotte’s story demonstrates, online learning can help young professionals bridge the gap between a university degree and a successful career. Online courses are much cheaper than traditional university programmes, and allow learners to choose the precise courses that they need to make up their personal skills gaps. Online learning is also much easier to fit around existing work and family commitments, and online learners can even study on the go on mobile phones and tablets.

Given that affordability and flexibility are especially attractive to young professionals, it’s no surprise that more than half (60%) of Coursera learners in the UK are between 20 and 35 years of age. This is good news for businesses, both those seeking qualified young candidates for new positions and those looking to train their existing junior workforces to take on more advanced technical roles.

This means graduates and young professionals shouldn’t feel disheartened if they struggle to find a dream job straight out of university - after all, they’re certainly not alone. They should, however, embrace alternative methods to build the specific skills they need. Online learning empowers young people to improve their qualifications for technical jobs, and a few online courses may be all that a recent graduate needs to fill an employer’s urgent business need.

The future for new graduates is bright, and with a little extra work and initiative, that dream job is not as far away as they may think.


Also read:

Can the skills shortage square with automation fear?

UK: Is a ‘coding retreat’ better than a computing degree?


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