Jobs and Skills

Skills-gap crisis: 4 ways the public and private sectors can join forces to reskill workforces at scale

This image shows people working with robotics, illustrating the need for upskilling

Upskilling prepares the workforce for newly-created roles. Image: Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

Jeff Maggioncalda
Chief Executive Officer, Coursera
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Jobs and Skills

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  • Technology is creating new work opportunities, but people need the skills to fill these new roles.
  • Businesses, governments and academic institutions must align efforts to address the growing skills-gap crisis and help students and workers transition into new digital careers.
  • Public and private partnerships can meet this moment to build competitive, equitable and resilient workforces for the digital economy at scale.

Technology is creating new opportunities in the workforce, but underemployed students and workers need access to flexible, affordable reskilling pathways to quickly transition into new digital careers. At the same time, employers need to expand and diversify hiring pipelines to fill skilled talent shortages.

Businesses, governments and academic institutions must align efforts to address the growing skills-gap crisis and social inequities as economic uncertainty heightens around the world. Here are four ways governments are working with businesses and academic institutions to reskill and upskill entire populations for the digital economy amid rapid transformation:

1. Convening local and international educators to lower youth unemployment rates and raise national education standards

In Saudi Arabia, government initiatives, including Vision 2030 and the Human Capital Development Program, set ambitious reskilling and upskilling metrics, including reducing the youth unemployment rate and helping raise national education standards.

To accelerate progress, the National eLearning Center (NELC) – the Saudi Arabian national e-learning regulator – launched FutureX. This initiative prepares students, professionals and job seekers to compete in the modern labour market. The platform aims to uplevel Saudia Arabia's eLearning sector by creating a consortium of local and global education providers that teach Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) skills. FutureX offers online learning programmes to tens of thousands of Saudi residents, including SDAIA AI Summer Champions, a programme to build national competencies in data and AI. The NELC also plans for select online courses to count as credits towards local university degree programmes.

Integrating local and global education providers into one national platform enables the NELC to offer Saudi learners a central destination to gain the skills, knowledge and credentials needed to unlock digital career opportunities at home and internationally.

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2. Preparing displaced workers for in-demand jobs with industry micro-credentials

In April 2020, New York State lost more than 1.7 million private sector jobs. To help unemployed workers reskill, the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) provided free access to skills training on Coursera.

Based on an employer survey conducted by the New York Business Council with the NYSDOL, the programme includes learning courses for ten diverse economic regions, ranging from finance jobs in New York City Metropolitan area to advanced manufacturing in areas such as Buffalo. To date, learners across the programme have spent over 1.2 million hours learning online and completed more than 1.5 million lessons in growing fields, including business, technology and data science.

This initiative also offers entry-level professional certificates from top companies, such as Google, IBM, Meta and Intuit. This prepares those with no degree or prior work experience for in-demand careers, ranging from UX design to cybersecurity. Learners who complete specific programmes can apply for open jobs through a hiring consortium of 200+ employers, which includes Havas Media, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health and Meta. According to a recent global Coursera survey, employers are 76% more likely to hire a candidate who has earned an industry micro-credential. Many of these entry-level certificates also have ACE Credit Recommendations, so learners are eligible to receive college credit upon completion.

By incorporating industry micro-credentials and regionally-relevant skills training into public programmes, workforces and higher education systems can enable more equitable participation in the local economy. And, it can address skilled talent shortages for local employers.

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3. Supporting refugees with continuous learning and employment opportunities

In March 2022, with campus closures and learning disrupted across Ukraine, the Ukraine Ministry of Education and Science partnered with Coursera and its community of university and industry partners, including Yale, University of Pennsylvania, AWS and Microsoft, to offer universities in Ukraine free access to over 5,300 courses.

Since the launch, over 30,000 students from 260 Ukrainian academic institutions have spent more than 315,000 hours learning job-relevant skills online. This includes english language communication, computer programming and statistical programming.

To connect Ukrainian talent with job opportunities, the World Economic Forum established the Refugee Employment and Employability Initiative. This convened CHROs from leading multinational employers to create a foundation for system-wide global support from employers to refugees.

The number of refugees and displaced people around the world increased from over 82 million at the end of 2020 to over 100 million in June 2022. Institutions must establish collective networks and shared infrastructure to adapt solutions quickly to new contexts and support large groups of people amid disruption, no matter where they are.

4. Funding broadband and data to connect young people to digital jobs

Of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 200 million young people, roughly 38 million are not in any form of education, employment or training. This number is rising and digital exclusion will keep many from pursuing education or participating in the digital economy.

Rwanda’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology and Innovation, Paula Ingabire, partnered with MTN, Africa’s largest mobile network operator, and Coursera to launch MTN Skills Academy. This initiative will enable those in impoverished communities across Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly youth who have exited formal education, to gain access to broadband, devices and online training for digital jobs.

MTN is funding the cost of data fees to access the online learning platform, enabling young people in hard-to-reach places to develop digital skills. The initiative will offer a public-private sector job hub to place youth in regional roles, with a focus on formal sector jobs and entrepreneurship in the digital economy.

By partnering with local telecommunication providers to remove critical barriers, such as cost and access to data, devices and connectivity, governments can broaden the reach of their digital skills training programmes and become a regional and global destination for talent.

The combined forces of the pandemic, automation and globalisation will have a profound and lasting impact on our jobs, our communities and our economies. Leading institutions are using public-private partnerships and technology to drive economic competitiveness, growth and innovation, while also powering equal opportunities for students and workers. Governments, businesses and academic institutions must meet this moment and align efforts to build competitive and resilient workforces in the digital economy.

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