Modernizing Workforce Development Programs for the Jobs of the Future

Modernizing Workforce Development Programs for the Jobs of the Future

By Kevin Mills, Head of Government Partnerships 

COVID-19 is reshaping the labor market. The devastating economic slowdown caused by the pandemic has impacted hundreds of millions of workers globally and eliminated nearly half of jobs. In the United States, unemployment remains high, while job vacancies have started to disappear due to accelerated automation. For all too many workers, unemployment is becoming a long-term reality. 

We launched the Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative in April to help governments provide unemployed workers with free access to over 4,000 online courses from top educators like Yale University and Google. Our shared goal is to help impacted workers develop the skills needed to become re-employed. In the United States, 30+ state and local governments including Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, and Maine started offering free access to job-relevant online learning. Globally, individuals have amassed more than 1.2 million enrollments and 3.4 million hours of learning in key skills like web development, IT support, and project management. 

Addressing the unemployment crisis through continuous reskilling will require close coordination between public and private sector institutions. They must work together to build workforce development programs that provide long-term employment in a labor market that’s constantly evolving. This requires modernizing existing programs to enable accessibility and drive skills development closely aligned to the jobs of the future. 

Adopt online learning to make workforce training accessible at scale.

Many legacy programs utilized by governments are resource intensive and designed with smaller, in-person cohorts in mind. These formats cannot easily address widespread unemployment. With impacted workers today representing every educational background, workforce development programs must find new ways to scale.

Online learning addresses the challenge of scale by offering high-quality learning that is accessible to all educational backgrounds. Our Workforce Recovery Initiative meets a range of learning needs by offering thousands of online courses in beginner to advanced levels. One example is the Google IT Support Certificate, which quickly prepares those with no tech background or traditional degree for high-demand IT jobs. 

Online learning solves the capacity challenges that can slow down in-person training by offering one platform that’s accessible to all workers, at all times. It enables a level of educational consistency that is difficult to achieve with separate, in-person training sessions. The State of Illinois, for example, has partnered with Coursera to streamline training in every Local Workforce Investment Area across the state. Illinoisans have spent more than 38,000 hours learning skills that prepare them for more than 60,000 open jobs available through the state’s Get Hired portal. 

Embrace data to identify and train your workforce in job-relevant skills. 

COVID-19 accelerated automation at every level, propelling the future of work into the present day. Workers need continuous reskilling in essential skills in order to maintain long-term employment.

Government leaders often struggle to identify which skills are critical. The Global Skills Index closes that knowledge gap by drawing on data from Coursera’s 68 million learners to identify the skills of the future in business, technology, and data science. According to the report, governments should be training for global trending skills like project management, digital marketing, Python, or AI. The findings also show that countries excelling in critical business, technology, and data science skills see economic benefits like more income equality, GDP growth, and higher labor force participation. 

Coursera converts this data into action by helping governments curate content that equips workers with critical skills. The Maine Department of Labor, for example, has partnered with Coursera to help workers gain project management skills and connect them to more than 400 jobs requiring that skill. Workers are also learning Python and Excel skills to qualify for more than 3,300 technical and IT jobs. Preparing for a prolonged economic downturn, Maine has authorized Coursera online training as a viable work search activity. 

Prioritize job placement by encouraging the application of skills in real-world environments.  

Reports show that most government training programs to date have been ineffective at securing higher paying jobs for participants. To improve outcomes, governments need to support workers in both acquiring and applying job-relevant skills.  

Coursera helps workers prepare for jobs by offering content from industry educators such as Google, IBM, Amazon, and Cisco. These companies have a first-hand understanding of which skills are needed to qualify for in-demand jobs and can even facilitate transitions between the two. The same Google IT Support Certificate connects workers who complete the program with a pipeline of employers such as GE Digital, Hulu, and Intel.

Guided Projects on Coursera also offer hands-on learning experiences that teach the application of job-relevant skills like TensorFlow or Google Sheets in real-world work environments. These short projects offer step-by-step guidance from experts that enables workers to get practical experience they can apply both in interviews and on-the-job. 

The impact of COVID-19 on the labor market will continue to be felt by millions of workers across the country. Impacted workers will need training in job-relevant skills in order to gain long-term employment amid this new landscape. Public and private sectors should work together to modernize workforce development programs so that anyone unemployed or underemployed can future-proof their skills. 

To provide free access to high-quality training for impacted workers in your country or state, sign up for the Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative