With globalization, technological evolution, and a tight market for talent making frequent adaptation essential for today’s companies, the question of “readiness” is top of mind for many boards and executives. But what’s the best way to improve readiness? And how should business leaders approach partnerships, including those with external learning and development strategists and content providers, as they work to do so?
At a breakfast event in London on Friday, June 9, Coursera and General Assembly invited the local business community to discuss these questions, share experiences, and brainstorm creative solutions to the ever-evolving challenge of preparing their workforces for the future. Julia Stiglitz, Coursera’s VP of Enterprise and International, and Anand Chopra-McGowan, General Assembly’s Head of Europe, both contributed advice and perspectives, and Andrew Palmer, Business Affairs Editor for The Economist, served as moderator.
Key takeaways from the very lively, dynamic, and productive conversation are summarized below. A huge thank-you to all who joined us—we hope to see many of you at another Coursera for Business event soon!
There’s a rising demand for scalable, high-quality workforce development
Neither Coursera nor General Assembly started as a B2B company—both were drawn into the space by demand. In General Assembly’s case, it was the realization that about 50 percent of students were being reimbursed or funded by their employers; in Coursera’s, the discovery that significant numbers of learners were signing in with corporate email accounts.
After launching their Enterprise business lines, both companies found opportunities to help large organizations solve unique learning and development challenges. AT&T came to Coursera for support in re-training thousands of employees as they navigated the transition to a technology company; few, if any, other L&D providers were able to provide high-quality training at that scale. Meanwhile, a 6-month technical leadership program at General Assembly grew out of Capital One’s insistence that they couldn’t just “wait for the market” to provide the talent they needed to succeed.
Today’s career paths are jungle gyms, not ladders
Employee retention is a big concern for many employers today, and it becomes especially salient when considering investments in employee development—after all, it’s hard to overlook the risk of training an employee only to have them leave.
But Coursera’s Julia Stiglitz encouraged corporate leaders to get comfortable with the idea that an employee might leave after a few years. She recommended focusing on developing employees to make an impact during their tenure, and to leave a meaningful legacy behind. Stiglitz also noted that employees are more likely to stick around if they have opportunities for learning and growth, and that growth doesn’t just mean moving up—it could also mean moving laterally. “Think of a modern career path as a jungle gym rather than a ladder,” she said. “Careers aren’t linear anymore, and we need to adapt to dynamic patterns of change.”
Soft skills are essential
General Assembly’s Anand Chopra-McGowan drove home the importance of so-called “soft” skills, like communication, negotiation, collaboration. In fact, he said, the term “soft skills” is a bit of a misnomer—these skills are a hard requirement for employee and business success. You can’t effectively apply a technical skill if you’re not comfortable working in a team, managing stakeholders, and talking about your recommendations and results.
Stiglitz also pointed out that newer technology has made it much more feasible for employees to develop soft skills online. Peer-reviewed assignments and forum discussions, both of which the Coursera platform offers, are a fantastic way to develop communication skills, and offer program managers with a reliable means of evaluating employees’ grasp of soft skill-related topics. Small in-person learning groups can also provide a space for employees to practice applying soft skills in contexts specifically related to their jobs.
Content alone is not enough
When asked to talk about some of the mistakes they’ve seen companies make, both Stiglitz and Chopra-McGowan menti
oned the perception that simply providing access to training content is sufficient to build a skilled workforce and establish a culture of learning.
Chopra-McGowan emphasized that companies need to go further to create space for learning in the corporate environment; employees need time to learn, support from management, and appropriate incentives to succeed. Stiglitz mentioned the need for curation to ensure that content provided is closely aligned to individual and company goals—Coursera offers curation as a service to many enterprise customers, and has seen high success rates in programs that guide employees toward specific career-relevant content.
We’re learning how to measure, and increase, the ROI of learning
Quantifying the return on investment from training programs has always been a challenge, but both Coursera and General Assembly have been diligent about tracking results—and the early numbers look very good.
Coursera regularly surveys course completers, and has found that about 85% of respondents who enrolled in a course with specific career goal in mind say completing the course had a positive impact on their career. And in an independent audit commissioned by General Assembly, 99% of respondents reported accepting a job offer within 180 days of their program ending.
If you’re interested in Coursera for Business, please contact us.