Talent 2.0: A New Framework for Job Skills Development
As long as there has been formal education, there have been challenges in adapting such education to provide individuals in this setting with the skills needed to be successful in real-world jobs. In the latter part of the 20th century, we saw a model emerge that combined four-year degree-granting institutions for broad subjects and two-year degree- or diploma-granting institutions for more vocational careers.
In recent years, we have seen the trend increasingly move toward many companies and organizations offering lucrative job roles that do not require either a degree or a diploma, but instead require a specific skill set, especially in the technology sector. Think Silicon Valley, where employers don’t care about letters after your name, but they do care about the quality of your code or your skills in tasks such as systems administration. Many of these opportunities face a shortage of qualified talent. The challenge emerging is how to fill this talent gap.
There is still a strong case to be made for the importance of formal degree-granting institutions, but they have high costs and structural limitations that are not always ideal for providing the skills needed to perform the jobs that need to be filled in the 21st century economy. The framework needs to be updated to meet the requirements of a more flexible, practical means of job skills development.
The Linux Foundation has worked to refine a model that adds to and complements the established framework with three specific components:
- Start with offering free baseline, introductory courses that provide a high-level overview of the topic and its implications, including business use cases. These courses have proven to be popular not only with aspiring technical professionals, but also businesspeople who rely on technology, even if they are not using, implementing, or administering it.
- Those who show interest in developing their technical skill set, transition into paid—but low-cost relative to traditional educational models—eLearning courses. These courses are lab heavy, providing hands-on experience with solving the types of problems students would run into in a real-world job.
- Finally, once they have completed the requisite training courses and feel comfortable in the technologies studies, technical skills are tested and verified via a high-stakes certification exam. These exams are performance based, helping potential employers to be confident that applicants holding such certifications truly possess the skills necessary to be successful in a particular role.
Particularly in the technology industry, the shelf life of any of these three components is measured in months, not years, as technology moves and changes fast. What’s viewed as relevant today is likely going to be passé in five years, and maybe even in three! It is incumbent upon training and certification providers to constantly iterate on and refresh content so students get value and potential employers maintain confidence in the validity of the training and certification. It is important to listen to these stakeholders, and even involve them in the development process, to ensure the focus areas remain relevant.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
The first component in this training and development framework is offering free, introductory courses. Online versions of these often are referred to as Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs. You may be familiar with some of the larger MOOC platforms, such as Coursera, edX, Udacity, or Udemy. Hosting a MOOC on a widely known and used platform such as these can help raise awareness of its availability, building a global audience quickly.
Aside from the obvious enrollment and completion rates, one of the greatest measures of success of a MOOC is whether a community is built around it. We have seen active forums develop where students ask questions and help each other through the courses and improve their skills beyond them. This is in addition to the support provided by the official course moderators and, quite often, the self-organizing communities provide responses and support much faster than the official moderators are able to.
eLearning is a great way of providing more in-depth training opportunities that are more accessible and lower cost than traditional in person or even live virtual instruction. We find students are attracted to this type of training as it can be taken from anywhere on their own schedule. Courses can be completed in as little as a few days if someone wants to get through it all at once, or spread over as long a period of time as fits the student’s schedule. By making courses hands on with labs that replicate real-world work experience, students are able to develop actual skills.
It also should be noted that contacts gathered from MOOC enrollments can be leveraged to promote paid eLearning courses. Our experience has shown that marketing eLearning as the next step in career training appeals strongly to this audience, and MOOC contact lists have proven to be highly effective at the top of the marketing funnel.
The final component in this framework is performance-based certification exams. As opposed to traditional multiple-choice exams that test memorization and are prone to cheating—questions often are leaked on the Internet soon after these exams launch—performance-based certification exams better demonstrate actual skills that cannot simply be memorized ahead of time.
It is important that these exams continue to be accessible remotely, as the time and expense required to travel to a testing center may make in-person exams impractical for many. We have seen great success with remote proctoring, which only requires a Webcam to verify identity and monitor the test taker.
Additionally, bundling certification exams with the eLearning courses that help prepare for them has been a compelling offer, especially when bundling offers a discount over purchasing a course and exam separately. Sales and geography-targeted dynamic pricing have helped pull in individuals from low income regions.
Implementing This New Paradigm
It is easier than you might think to put this three-component approach in place. This framework can be applicable to many different fields of study, both including and beyond technology.
Start by identifying one or two topics where a free course would be compelling and where a performance-based exam would make a positive impression on employers. Choose subject matter experts in your own organization to help develop the content for these courses and exams and get to work. If done properly, you will be able to bring in students who will become trained professionals and help close the talent gap in your field.
Over the coming months, www.trainingmag.com will post articles diving deeper into each of these three components and sharing more of the best practices The Linux Foundation has learned through development of this framework.
You also can see a real-world example of how The Linux Foundation has put this strategy into practice at https://training.linuxfoundation.org.
Clyde Seepersad is general manager of Training & Certificationat The Linux Foundation. The goal of the team is to provide high-quality training and skills development to the open source community. Over the last decade, Seepersad has held senior leadership positions in the education space, most recently as head of operations at 360training.com and before that as a senior executive of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a global leader in education.