How Google.org is helping workers prepare for a digital skill shift

Jacquelline Fuller, president of Google.org, shares how her organization is preparing for the future of work through online training that reaches those who need it most.

In an increasingly digital economy, the basic qualifications for getting a job are shifting as more roles require technological skills. In fact, research by the McKinsey Global Institute finds that by 2030, the time spent using advanced technological skills at work will increase by 50 percent in the United States and by 41 percent in Europe, and time spent using even basic digital skills will rise by 69 percent in the United States and by 65 percent in Europe.

How can the private sector make sure that the workforce has the skills to meet the new demands of the future of work? McKinsey spoke with Jacquelline Fuller, president of Google.org, to understand better how tech companies view this skills gap and how Google is utilizing online learning while also ensuring that its training is reaching those who need it most.

McKinsey: How do tech companies ensure their workforce has the right skills?

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How is Google.org helping workers prepare for a digital skill shift?

Jacquelline Fuller: The technology sector is on the cutting edge of this, because when you come out of school with a computer-science degree, you know maybe a few languages, but you’re guaranteed that those languages are going to change and the approaches are going to change. So, these are some things that tech companies are familiar with: lifelong learning, reskilling. It’s something that’s just part and parcel of our daily work. McKinsey’s been one of the leaders in helping us all understand that maybe as much as a third of us—one in three of us—are going to have to do something different, because the job that we’re doing or role that we’re doing, the skills are going to change so much by 2030.

McKinsey: How is Google.org helping more people from all backgrounds participate in an increasingly digital economy?

Jacquelline Fuller: What we learned from our own business is that we were having a really hard time filling our tech-stop1 roles. Almost every business that relies on technology to keep the servers humming, to keep our computers working, needs a tech stop—a place where you can go and say, “Help me with my computer.”

If you look across the economy, there are around 150,000 unfilled roles. This is not just a Google problem. And the thing about the tech industry is, we can overemphasize the role of a four-year computer-science degree and ignore some of the other roles that open up in a digital economy. This role in particular—IT support professional—is one where nearly anyone can do this job and go from zero skills to fully accredited in eight to 12 months.

To address this gap, we took our training and put it online, through Coursera, and we’re providing about 10,000 scholarships for folks to participate. And we got employers at the back end to say, “We will take a very close look at folks coming out of this credentialing program, to hire.” And in fact, Google has already had its first hire coming out of this program.

One of the things that we really want to see is having more women and other underrepresented groups come to the table and join us—and join the tech industry—as creators of technology, as creators of our tech solutions, our platforms, and our features. We don’t need everyone to be a coder. What we do need is to make sure that everyone who would enjoy it as a career and who’d be excellent at it has the opportunity to participate.

In the area of job skills, we’re particularly looking at people who are currently in the workforce and who are, right now, struggling either to find a job or to “up-level” their job, to improve their job situation. For example, we’re partnering with Goodwill. They facilitate one in every 200 job entries in the US each year. And they work with the most disadvantaged populations, really our most vulnerable citizens. They’re deeply, deeply embedded in communities. Google can come alongside them and help augment their digital-skills training and say, “Let’s ensure that everyone who’s going through Goodwill training who wants to have access to better digital skills [gets it]—that we can help reach more people and help raise the caliber of that training.”

McKinsey: Is online learning the solution to the skills gap?

Jacquelline Fuller: What’s interesting about online learning is, people get very excited about online learning and think, “Well, that’s a solution. We’ll just do digital skills training, and we’ll just make these courses available for free.” But if you look at completion rates for most online learning, the completion rates are fairly low, and they’re actually lowest for the people who need it the most.

One of the things we know that’s effective for people who come from disadvantaged communities and underresourced communities is having a coach. We’re now looking at how to take the evidence base of having coaches—and mentors and encouragers—and thinking about using something like AI [artificial intelligence] to develop chat bots, or more automated ways to augment human coaches and encouragers, to help. For example, sending the text message at the right time saying, “Hey, we notice you haven’t done the homework for this class.”

One of the “moon shot” areas is thinking about how we can harness AI to help us have more thoughtful, automated, and scalable approaches that help the most disadvantaged take advantage of these courses.

About the author(s)

Jacquelline Fuller is the president of Google.org. Rik Kirkland, a partner in McKinsey’s London office, conducted this interview.

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