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How Coursera incentivized a quarter of its 1,400 employees to take learning courses each month

September 27, 2022, 11:50 AM UTC
Woman studying at desk
Coursera offers development courses to employees to help them score promotions.
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Good morning!

Skills-based hiring and development have become en vogue as companies, especially those in tech, look to expand their pipeline amid a talent crunch. Employers like Google and Amazon have launched flashy upskilling and certificate programs for employees in recent years with the goal of retaining and retraining already available talent. But what do these skilling programs look like on the inside? And are certificates enough to get employees promoted? I went to the source to find out. 

The edtech company Coursera is actively working to upskill as many of its 1,400 employees as possible. It’s a task that chief people officer Rich Jacquet describes as a cyclical challenge. Jacquet has spent his HR career working within tech companies like Yahoo and Gigamon, where he’s had to source highly-skilled talent for technical roles that didn’t exist just years before. He spoke with Fortune about how Coursera, a skilling platform, goes about skilling its own employees and shared some of the most common challenges the company faces in doing so.

For Coursera, he says, it starts with a rubric. Jacquet and his team map out what skills are required to be successful in each role and create a rubric based on that. “We identify the core skills that you need to demonstrate and at what level you need to demonstrate those skills in each role,” he explains.

The people team then matches the requisite core skills to relevant content that’s available on Coursera’s own platform, so employees know exactly what training programs and certifications they must obtain to be considered for a role. No surprise, Coursera has its own skills specialist to help curate courses for various career paths within the company. It’s also developed a system that allows employees to track their skills progression against the rubric for a given job. 

But Jacquet notes that these certifications mean little to hiring managers if workers can’t also demonstrate proficiency.

“We’ve created individual growth plans that are meant to bridge the gap,” he says. Employees continuously discuss their internal career goals with managers and, together, conceptualize how employees can obtain hands-on experience after courses are completed. 

“Once you demonstrate competency and skills at the next level for six months, then you’re eligible to be promoted,” says Jacquet.

To some, the program might seem incredibly rigid, but the systematic approach works, he says. About 25% of the company’s employees take a course each month. Jacquet expects that number to approach 40% by year’s end, but admits the company has struggled to compete for employees’ attention amid increasingly stressful times. 

“You hear a significant amount of people talking about career development, progression, and wanting to gain skills,” he says. “The fact is people are still feeling emotionally overwhelmed.”

To alleviate that pressure, employees are able to complete certification courses during work hours, and the company implemented a learning day in August wherein employees could spend the entire day taking classes. 

“People want to build their careers, but it’s difficult for them to find time even if it’s during work time,” he says.

Amber Burton
amber.burton@fortune.com
@amberbburton

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