The term corporate social responsibility (CSR) brings to mind eco-friendly practices, inclusive work environments and treating employees with dignity. A new twist on CSR is emerging and bringing the practice full-circle: training workers outside the traditionally defined employee base. Training non-employees may seem like an outlay of resources with little return, but in fact, experts said there are many benefits to upskilling those who may one day be on staff, as well as those who may never be.
The trend to train non-workers has been quietly growing particularly in the tech industry, as large and small players realize there is a potential payoff for their largesse in the short- and long-term. It’s an investment in growth for the company, as well as growth for workers. The U.S. is seeing a devastating lack of skilled workers: an estimated half-million tech jobs are unfilled today.
Changes in the way we hire under the Trump administration may be adding fuel to the fire. Increased pressure to hire American, with stricter guidelines and more oversight on the H1-B system has made the "quick fix" of hiring foreign nationals to fill IT positions challenging, for example. The inability to easily access these workers may be one reason American companies are taking a longer view of the talent pipeline.
For business large and small, training non-employees reaps three main benefits: creating a potential pipeline of workers for both today and tomorrow, developing marketing channels, and cementing corporate social responsibility reputation.
Coursera vice president of global enterprise development Leah Belsky told HR Dive in an interview that businesses are building education on Coursera and other platforms to access and train workers. "Companies are feeling the need to build talent ecosystems around their bases," she said, "they can’t hire their way out of shortages, so they're building talent pipelines."
"When companies put their content on Coursera," Belsky said, "anyone in the world can access it, but we're seeing more and more companies design courses with underserved groups in mind, offering course options that don’t necessarily require any prior tech training or a degree." Businesses are also partnering with nonprofit career-pathway organizations and offering scholarships to put training in ready hands, while building talent that feeds directly into the national workforce, she said.
"Education was universities," Belsky said, "but with technology universities can only going so far — business is stepping in to become a vehicle for ongoing learning." Large companies have always had partnerships with universities, but what's new with the advent of online learning, she says, is this is "education for the masses."
While the need to upskill may be mission-critical in tech, the trend goes further. Retailers, for example, are training front-facing employees to fill managerial positions; healthcare and hospitality are looking for alternative sources.
The candidate crunch
With hundreds of thousands of jobs unfilled today, growth in tech has hit a wall according to industry experts. "There are 500,000 open IT jobs in the U.S. alone because employers can't find the right skilled talent," IBM vice president of global talent Joanna Daly told HR Dive in an email. "More broadly it's over six million across multiple industries. So it's incumbent upon employers to adopt non-traditional approaches."
If you can train more potential workers, she said, you increase your labor pool: "you're contributing to overall national competitiveness too, so it's a win-win scenario." IBM views these non-traditional approaches to training as a way of promoting 21st century skill building. They provide access to fast-growing jobs and economic opportunity and expand the number of candidates with the skills that companies like IBM need.
Inside sales — really inside
Say a company is an established player in the market, a startup, or it has something poised to change "everything." How does that company get its product top of mind for potential buyers? Good press, sound marketing and demos may get the word out, and with a bit of luck an employer's services, brand or products could be at the top of every business wish list.
A smarter way may be through the side door. Providing free training on a company platform, to learners that work at other companies, or that are soon-to-be employed can provide the firm with internal sales reps — really internal. They know how the tool works, they know how it can be applied to the work their own firm is performing, and they're uniquely positioned to pitch to their own bosses. With zero training on the company's part, it's a soft sell. Training non-employees can create brand and skills ambassadors for life. These learners will take their knowledge to every company they work for, potentially taking knowledge of an employer's brand with them.
Many companies are looking at upskilling American workers as a new branch of corporate social responsibility. Belsky said this new movement is an effort to be good corporate citizens: as technology replaces workers, it's incumbent upon business to "create pathways to new employment, ways for people to reskill and be employable," she said. It's an investment in local economies, as well: as displaced, un- or under-employed workers advance their careers, communities grow. As business partners with local government, groups and nonprofits, they build relationships and brand loyalty within those communities.
Who’s offering what, where?
IBM calls its training initiatives "new collar" jobs. "Aside from regular coursework and classes as many vendors do," Daly said, "we have also awarded 350,000 digital badges to business partners who have earned credentials for applied expertise and can include this on their digital CVs and LinkedIn.” Badges show that partners have achieved certification in key areas like data science, machine learning, cloud computing, cybersecurity and internet of things development.
To address the skills gap in cyber, IBM provides veterans with intensive training, certification and job placement assistance. About 500 vets have completed the program, in about 20 cities around the country. Graduates have taken their new collar skills to IBM and other companies, and just in time: a predicted 1.8 million jobs will go unfilled in cybersecurity alone in the next four years.
They also offer training for registered apprenticeships, filled in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Labor. "IBM's vision for new collar apprenticeships are starting points in moving the industrial age apprenticeship model into the digital age," Daly said, "making them more accessible for other companies not just IBM."
Global and local reach
It’s not just tech companies involved in upskilling. Coursera for Refugees provides high-quality education and credentials to refugees around the world, at no cost. Launched in 2016, almost 8,500 learners from 119 counties have completed the program that partners with 10 nonprofits around the globe.
Through Coursera for Governments & Nonprofits, global organizations are providing in-demand skills. The United States Institute for Veterans & Military Families at Syracuse University partnered with Coursera to offer training and certification to 1,200 transitioning service members, military spouses, and veterans through its Onward to Opportunity (O2O) program. Courses include Java programming, full stack web development, data analysis, and hotel management: participants also receive on-base support and career services.
Grow with Google will provide $1 billion in grants over the next five years: the IT Support Professional Certificate program will provide financial assistance to 10,000 people in the U.S. in 2018 alone. They’ve also added scholarships and support to nonprofits who work directly with underserved groups.