Do you know what your next career will be? Does it even exist yet?
When LinkedIn released its list of the top skills companies need in 2020 earlier this year, there was a new skill claiming the top spot.
According to LinkedIn, knowledge and skills related to blockchain are in the highest demand this year. Seeing as blockchain wasn't even in the top 10 last year, LinkedIn's research underscores how quickly the demand for certain skills can evolve from year to year.
As new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing become increasingly essential areas of knowledge, companies and employees are turning to online course providers to help them keep up with the pace of change.
Online courses help upskill and reskill
Whether for hard or soft skills, online courses are an attractive option for businesses looking to upskill and reskill employees so that they can incorporate the latest innovations into their work.
upskilling: helping someone develop their skills to improve their performance in their current role.
reskilling: helping someone acquire new skills to help them transition into a substantially different role.
The rest of the top five on LinkedIn’s list reveals familiar technologies that companies are trying to incorporate into their products. Cloud computing, which topped the list of in-demand skills last year, is now number two, followed by analytical reasoning (or data analysis), artificial intelligence, and user experience (UX) design.
|LinkedIn Skills List highlighting the skills companies need most in 2020:|
Employers are also looking for soft skills—those less tangible “people skills” that allow employees to be successful at their jobs— and there are courses for those, too.
Leading LinkedIn’s list of soft skills is creativity.
According to the report: “Organizations need people who can creatively approach problems and tasks across all business roles, from software engineering to HR. Focus on honing your ability to bring new ideas to the table in 2020.”
Next on the list is persuasion, followed by collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence.
For many employees, online courses are an efficient way to pick up new skills without having to invest the time and money necessary for a degree at a brick and mortar institution. Online classes can often be updated with the latest industry developments and tailored specifically to the student’s interests and needs, as well as offering students the flexibility to be able to complete them on their own schedule.
|Related: The Promises and Pitfalls of Virtual Classroom Tools →|
The evolution of online courses
The jury is still out on that bold prognostication, but it’s clear that online courses have come a long way, driven in large part by growth in the tech industry.
While some argue that online education started as far back as the 1960s, or even earlier if you count other examples of “remote learning,” an early pioneer in the movement to make course material widely available via the modern internet was MIT, which launched its OpenCourseWare project in 2002.
MIT initially published materials for 50 of its courses online, making them available free of charge to anyone in the world. As of today, MIT offers materials for over 2,000 courses.
The MOOC market as a whole has boomed over the last decade—in 2019, there were over 110 million students taking online courses, with more than 13,000 different courses offered by 900 universities worldwide, according to Class Central.
Still, online learning hasn't come close to replacing colleges and universities. A report last year in Science magazine analyzed data from online courses provided by Harvard and MIT, which together founded the edX online learning platform. They argued that massive open online courses (MOOCs) will not revolutionize higher education, in part due to low student completion rates for the courses.
Though they haven’t replaced the need for traditional higher education degrees, MOOCs offer promise in changing the way businesses approach employee development.
We can already see evidence of that growing interest and demand at G2. Traffic to G2’s technical skill development software category page — which includes online course providers that specifically target technical skills, like computer programming, IT management, and artificial intelligence — increased by 77% over the last year.
Similarly, traffic to online course providers grew 40% over the last year. Online course providers includes platforms with course offerings in less technical areas, including digital marketing, business management, career skills, or academic subjects.
Companies investing in online learning
Employers will continue to need employees who can develop these specialized skills. Computer and IT jobs are expected to grow 12% between 2018-2028, adding about 546,000 new jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which tracks employment trends.
The BLS predicts that much of this demand for new workers will stem from “greater emphasis on cloud computing, the collection and storage of big data, and information security”—exactly the kinds of skills many of these online technical courses specialize in.
A growing number of MOOC providers are offering online degrees, many aimed at mid-career professionals who might not otherwise have the time or money to pursue a masters at a brick-and-mortar university. There are also more than 800 so-called “microcredential” programs, according to Class Central, essentially a certification that someone completed a course and demonstrated proficiency of the new skill, based on an assessment at the end.
While the value of these microcredentials will depend on the credibility of the course provider, they are an increasingly popular way to pick up a new skill without the commitment of a long degree program.
Companies have recognized the need to keep their employees’ skills up-to-date and are willing to invest more in online training, according to LinkedIn’s 2020 Workplace Learning Report, a survey of 6,600 learning and development professionals, managers, and learners from 18 different countries.
Companies are increasingly shifting their budgets to online skill development, with 57% of L&D professionals expecting to spend more on online learning this year compared to 21% planning for more spending on in-person training sessions, according to the LinkedIn report. But the survey revealed mixed results on support from company leaders. While 83% of learning and development pros agreed that “executive buy-in is not a challenge,” only 27% said their CEOs are “active champions” of learning.
Image Source: LinkedIn 2020 Workplace Learning Report
Another challenge is finding time for the learning to happen. While 94% of learners said they see the career benefits of carving out time for learning, about half also said they don’t have time to learn at work, according to the LinkedIn report.
Those retention goals are likely within a company’s grasp. Despite the millennial generation’s reputation for being fickle job hoppers, people are actually staying in their jobs about the same amount of time as a decade ago. In 2018, employees had been with their current employer for 4.2 years on average, compared to an average tenure of 4.1 years in 2008, according to the BLS.
Continuing education with online courses benefits workers too
Giving employees access to online courses is ultimately a win-win situation for both employee and employer. While the employer gets a worker who can contribute to company products in new ways, without going through the costly process of recruiting a new employee, the employee gets some shiny new skills to put on a resume.
According to the BLS, few people stay at the same job for their entire careers. On average, baby boomers held 12.3 different jobs between the ages of 18-52 years-old.
By making online technical courses more available, companies can ensure their employees are more productive in their roles, happier to be at that company, and ultimately more prepared to be successful.