Is a Nanodegree Worth Your Business Investment?

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From programming and AI to data and analysis, nanodegrees are often the simple solution to short-term development and learning; especially when part time degrees or longer-term learning is not an option. Below Brian Hickey at Udacity offers some insight into this increasingly used educational model.

The UK economy is facing significant cross-industry talent shortages, and it is not the only one. From continental Europe to the Americas, practically every nation across the world is reckoning with the growing digital skills gap and the need for lifelong learning.

The speed of development in technology and the pace of change in the workplace undoubtedly play a major role in this crisis. The undergraduate degree, once the basis for skills that would be honed over the course of a career is no longer sufficient by itself.

While technology is driving uncertainty for workers, however, it also provides the tools to solve the problem via online education. Businesses now have greater access to quality employee training options than ever before, many of which come at reduced costs and increased relevance.

Beyond providing an excellent avenue to solve the digital skills gap within your organisation, there are ancillary benefits that may be equally important: namely employee engagement and retention.

Me, myself, and automation

Disruptive developments in technology have drastically shortened the lifecycle of roles for many professionals. We need only look to the mobility-as-a-service industry, and the myriad Uber, Lyft, and Black Cab drivers set to be displaced by the advent of autonomous vehicle technology, to see this. Goldman Sachs recently outlined the degree to which this will impact the workforce, finding that – when autonomous vehicle saturation peaks – a staggering 300,000 US drivers could lose their jobs per year, every year.

Sooner than we think, demand for those who can programme a driverless car may outstrip the demand for drivers themselves. This is a daunting prospect, and unfortunately, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to adequately source candidates with the relevant skills required for these fast-emerging roles. At least in part, this is due to the structure of our education system.

Take a bachelor’s degree in computer science for example; by the time a ‘machine learning’ module has been appropriately vetted by the faculty, it is often out of date. Universities cannot keep pace with the evolution of technology. The likes of Penn, Berkeley, and Cornell have even made headlines for belatedly introducing modules in blockchain and crypto.

For most SMEs and even large enterprises, however, it is often not financially and logistically feasible to enrol their employees on a part-time master’s course in blockchain or AI that may take up to five years to complete.

These companies must look to alternatives, and structured online courses may very well be the answer.

The Nanodegree

No matter what sector you operate in, fierce global competition means that regular, targeted and relevant employee training is a must to achieve growth and remain competitive.

One tool some companies are using is the ‘Nanodegree’, courses designed in partnership with industry leading companies such as Google, Jaguar Land Rover, and Bosch to make sure their content is cutting-edge and relevant. From AI programming to flying cars, these courses serve to fuel the imagination of the students while at the same time give them the necessary skills required to reach ambitious career goals.

Develop a competitive advantage

Of course, another way to stay one step ahead of the market is to buy-in talent. The caveat to this approach, however, is that the price tag associated with experts in nascent fields can be prohibitively high, and large companies with deep pockets are often the only ones with enough capital to acquire such talent. For example, when DeepMind, the A.I. lab acquired by Google, revealed the average salary for their staff was £345,000, few reacted with shock.

Nanodegree programmes allow SMEs, startups, and anyone else not enjoying success on the Nasdaq to effectively compete by playing a different game entirely – giving an employee who is willing to learn the opportunity to become the expert they need. Such a move will not only introduce key skills to the business, it may even assist you in tackling another operational problem entirely: staff turnover.

The days of the job for life are long gone. Every HR manager worth their salt is equally focused on retaining current employees as well as sourcing new ones.

Even in Japan, where the culture has historically served as the poster-child for company loyalty, there has been a major shift. In 2017, the number of people who made a job move reached 3.11 million after seven years of sequential rises. Professionals, particularly those with digital skills, have found they command a market value seldom seen even in the beginning of this century.

As a result of this shift, demand from employees worldwide for better access to L&D initiatives is also growing. Approximately 69% of employees under 40 say that training opportunities play an important part in deciding whether or not to stay at a job.

Today’s young workforce is only too aware that their education must now be a lifelong process. Employers too need to understand this, and invest now, if their businesses are to survive in a fast-changing world.

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