To Attract Talent, Corporations Turn to MOOCs

Workforce Training

To Attract Talent, Corporations Turn to MOOCs

By Wade Tyler Millward     May 24, 2019

To Attract Talent, Corporations Turn to MOOCs

When executives at tech giants Salesforce and Microsoft decided in fall 2017 to turn to an online education platform to help train potential users of products for their vendors, they turned to Pierre Dubuc and his team.

Two years later, Dubuc’s company, OpenClassrooms, has closed deals with both of them. Salesforce has worked with OpenClassrooms to create and offer a developer-training course to help people learn how to use the Salesforce platform. In a similar vein, Microsoft will use the OpenClassrooms platform for a six-month course in artificial intelligence. If students complete the AI program, they are guaranteed a job within six months or get their money back. They also earn masters-level diploma accredited in Europe.

For the six-year-old OpenClassrooms, based in Paris, notching such deals with high-profile customers is an impressive haul. It’s also part of a growing trend where employers are increasingly turning to online education platforms like OpenClassrooms to help upskill their own employees and find others to fill important roles.

Even for these companies, with full-fledged recruiting teams, “it’s really painful to hire new employees,” says Dubuc, OpenClassrooms’ CEO. “There is a huge talent shortage right now.”

OpenClassrooms today claims to serve three million learners across 170 countries, including 500 corporate clients, with Microsoft and Salesforce the first to co-develop educational training programs.

But it isn’t the only company to attract demand from employers who want to solve a skilled workforce shortage among themselves and their clients and partners. A tight labor market for high-tech talent, amplified by a fear that current skills may soon be made redundant as technology evolves, has driven corporations to partner with large-scale online education providers.

A LinkedIn survey of 1,200 workers in human resources and learning development teams across more than 2,100 workplaces worldwide found that the top priorities for talent developers include identifying, assessing and closing skills gaps within their companies. About 60 percent said they spend more of their budget on online learning compared to last year.

In terms of revenue, a report by MarketsandMarkets estimates that corporate learners generate the biggest chunk of revenue for massive online open courses (MOOCs), more than undergraduate, graduate and high school students. That shouldn’t be surprising. After all, it can be easier to sell to businesses that are willing to pay to fill internal positions or get brand exposure, than to educational institutions or students.

Many of the MOOC providers that began with dreams of working with universities to democratize access to higher education have since expanded into the corporate learning space. That’s what happened to Coursera, NovoEd, Udacity and several others.

Coursera, a Mountain View, Calif.-based online education provider, is best known for offering courses from higher-ed institutions. But it also has 30 industry partners—including Google, IBM and Amazon Web Services—that offer content on the Coursera platform, says Leah Belsky, its vice president of the company’s enterprise business.

Corporate clients like Google tell her that hosting courses on Coursera has helped them build brand awareness for their tools and services. An IT Support Professional Certificate course that Google offers on Coursera has had 66,000 people enrolled since its debut in January 2018, Belsky shares.

Investors have taken notice, too. Coursera has raised about $313 million in total funding. Udacity has raised $160 million. OpenClassrooms has raised about $70 million.

Some of the earliest enterprise customers of MOOC platforms were the usual suspects from the high-tech industry (like Google). But other fields are catching on. Kathleen deLaski, president at Education Design Lab, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works with schools, institutions and other partners to plug gaps in the pipeline from education to work, says advanced manufacturing is among the industries embracing MOOCs to train people. She’s starting to see health care and financial services companies embrace the trend, too.

Many courses currently offered by these enterprises are strictly aligned to jobs at that company. What the industry needs, says deLaski, is more information about how these courses are relevant to other related career opportunities—some of which may be offered by competitors in the same industry.

That is because potential employees are more likely to take a course that they know prepares them for not just one job, but the next five, she adds. “Hiring is their secret sauce,” she says. But “we have to be way more transparent.”


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