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How free online courses may help close employers' skills gaps

Posting in Design

A couple of months back, at IBM's annual IMPACT event, I moderated a panel of IBM executives and customers that delved into the best ways to manage the changes burgeoning cloud and mobile interactions and transactions are bringing to enterprises. We all agreed that the convergence of mobile and cloud capabilities -- that makes computing resources available to anyone who needs it, wherever they are -- mean tremendous opportunities for today's enterprises.

Photo credit: Michael Krigsman

However, a point that was of significant concern to the enterprise customers on the panel was the availability of skills to make this new world a reality. There simply aren't enough people with the right skills. Enterprises are being digitized at an enormous rate, and it's understood that the shift to digital and data-centric approaches means gaining competitive advantage. But many organizations are scrambling to find people with the skills that can make this happen.

In addition, there are many smart professionals out there who can help fill these gaps, but have skills that are rapidly being outdated.  And going back to school to relearn is often difficult and expensive for many mid-career professionals. (Think COBOL programmers, for example.)

The rise of massive, open online courses (MOOCs) may offer a means for many professionals to pursue new skill development, while providing employers a relatively inexpensive way to upgrade their workforces.

In a new post in Learning Solutions Magazine, for example, Jennifer Neibert points to one Boston-based staffing firm that has taken matters into its own hands and has built up its own online training machine that is delivering skills updates to tens of thousands of professionals.

Aquent's "Gymnasium" program bases its course selections from needs expressed by clients. In Aquent's case, the staffing firm specializes in design and graphics placements, and the course curriculum is designed accordingly — offering courses on topics such as HTML and CSS, responsive design, UX design, and various front-end development tools.

In her article, Niebert reports that Aquent's course on HTML5, attracted 10,000 participants in August 2012, when the agency first launched its program. The staffing firm was able to place more than 200 candidates from the course in new positions.

Niebert quotes John Moore, the interactive director at Fish Marketing in Portland, Oregon, who found Aquent's MOOC to be a far more effective way to bring applicants' skills up to speed than traditional learning methods:

"Moore sees MOOCs as a key link for employees who need to learn new skills for jobs that are in high demand and for others who may be looking for second careers. In Portland, where Moore is based, there is high demand for talented coders and programmers, but it can be a challenge to find good candidates. With MOOCs, Moore sees an accessible option for education that didn’t exist 18 months ago and is excited about the potential for people to learn new skills and find well-paying job opportunities."

— By on July 8, 2013, 1:53 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure