Coursera: The power of online training to close the skills gap

A conversation with Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO, Coursera

Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of online learning platform Coursera, is my guest in this episode of the Work in Progress podcast.

Founded in 2012 by two Stanford computer science professors, the company is now one of the biggest online training platforms in the world. Early in the pandemic, Coursera decided to help people losing their jobs by launching its Workforce Recovery Initiative, a partnership with more than 30 state and local governments.

Through the governments, millions of unemployed workers were offered free access to more than 3,800 job-relevant courses and professional certifications through the end of December. The courses prepared them for certificates in technology, public health, and other industries.

“If you simply look at the representation of students who are taking these kinds of entry-level digital job training programs, these professional certificates on Coursera, they clearly are not your PhD students and masters degree students and people with MBA, these are folks who are trying to get into a new digital career, and frankly, they haven’t had a place to go or felt like they had something that worked in their lives, and it is a more accessible on-ramp,” Maggioncalda tells me in the podcast.

“This that’s just an on-ramp, it’s a first step. Once you get that entry-level job, you can if you want, continue to get a college degree online and that entry-level professional certificate could count as credit, or, online you could continue to take more and more advanced content so that you can continue to develop more advanced skills, and open up the career opportunities in front of you,” he adds.

Coursera’s work with the states and cities does not stop with the New Year. It is actively working with these governments to identify transition paths for those impacted workers, including targeted workforce development programs and scholarships through the company’s industry and social impact partners.

Working with Employers

We talk about some of the companies that are partnering with Coursera to help workers take that first step toward a good-paying career.

“It started with Google. They realized many years ago, in 2017, that they needed a lot more IT Support professionals. They also realized that they could really get a more representative workforce, they could make job opportunities available to people who didn’t have a college degree, they could learn the skills to do IT Support,” says Maggioncalda.

Google is now funding 10,000 scholarships for the Google IT Support Certificate to support veterans, refugees, and low-income students from select nonprofits.

IBM has now launched a entry-level professional certificate in data science, no college degree, no background in data science required. Also in cybersecurity, so you can become a cybersecurity analyst by taking the IBM cybersecurity analyst entry-level professionals certificate, and then data analysts, there’s a lot of data analyst jobs.”

Salesforce also just launched the Salesforce Sales Development Representative Professional Certificate. “There are a lot of jobs in sales, and a sales development representative is someone who kind of tees up the sale for the sales executive to close. But there’s more jobs than people who know how to do the job, but you can learn to do that job without a college degree, without any background in sales,” Maggioncalda tells me in the podcast.

The Year Ahead

I think that 2021 is going to look like this: the economy is not going to be too bad. We believe that the rate of transmission and the rate of vaccination will vary by region, by country and by population. So not everyone’s going to get a vaccine right away. Many people will choose not to get a vaccine at all. I think that means that we’re still going to have a little bit of an unbalanced society, I don’t think everything’s going to be open. Not all jobs will be back to normal in 2021,” Maggioncalda tells me.

In any event, most of the future jobs are going to be digital, he says. And upskilling will be even more critical than ever. Maggioncalda says COVID-19 has accelerated the need for new skills and he believes that workers and government agencies will become even more aware of the efficiency of learning those new skills online.

“We think it’s going to be a very exciting year, full of possibility and opportunity for people who frankly have not had so many opportunities in the past. So we think this is a good chance to improve social equity in our country and other countries around the world.”

Maggioncalda and I had so much more to discuss. You can listen here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Download the transcript here.

Episode 158: Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO, Coursera
Host: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch, Melissa Panzer, and Ramona Schindelheim
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

You can check out all the other podcasts at this link: Work in Progress podcasts