For Educators, the Upskill Boom Offers a New Imperative for Digital Transformation

Educators need to look beyond the immediate boom and assess how post-Covid trends will shape the future of education.

The Covid-19 pandemic was devastating for educators. When the virus made its debut in early 2020, countless institutions and training organizations were compelled to close their doors, empty their classrooms, and make the faltering switch to remote learning. 

Now, however, opportunity is cresting the horizon. Vaccinations are on the rise, social distancing restrictions are relaxing, and the demand for skills training has risen to nearly unprecedented levels. As a result, the Fall 2021 semester offers program leaders a much-needed chance to refill their classrooms and expand their rosters — provided, of course, that they can convince students to choose their institutions and programs above their competitors’. 

To propel themselves above the crowd and make the most of the opportunity at hand, educators will need to look beyond the immediate boom and assess how post-Covid trends will shape the future of education. In the current industry landscape, transformative change isn’t an extra-credit assignment; it’s a competitive imperative. 

A Window of Opportunity: The Post-Covid Upskill Boom

To understand the current upskill boom, one first needs to understand the catastrophic impact that the Covid-19 pandemic had on some economic sectors. 

Between March and April 2020, the United States experienced job losses not seen since the closing days of World War Two. Some of these losses were temporary; others would become permanent as contact-heavy industries (e.g., gyms, restaurants, commercial real estate providers, transportation) shrank amid prolonged lockdowns. 

People who experienced this “permanent” job loss faced an unenviable choice: they would need to either luck into one of the few remaining positions in their field or upskill into an industry where jobs were more plentiful. Realizing this, many workers began to seek out the practical skills they would need to qualify for these higher-paid, in-demand roles quickly and affordably. Their demand sparked the opportunity educators seek to leverage today — the upskill boom.

“Right now, every institution is trying to figure out what they can do to attract and handle the incoming wave of students,” Will Shu, Gerent’s VP of Technology, explained. “Everyone’s opening, there’s higher demand, and not all organizations are prepared for the volume.” 

However, capacity isn’t the only issue at hand. If higher education and training organizations want to make the most of the opportunity at hand, they need to provide experiences that acknowledge and serve upskillers’ needs.

Developing Programs and Structures to Suit Upskiller Priorities

As a unique cohort driven to learning by unprecedented economic circumstances, upskillers naturally do not have the same motivations, priorities, or needs as students pre-pandemic. 

Those who experienced permanent job loss need to regain employment. For that reason, upskillers as a specific group may tend towards shorter, cheaper, and more skills-based programs that will allow them to qualify for roles and return to work quickly. 

Education platforms that provide such programs have found themselves in a position to capitalize on the rush. 

The primary case study for this market shift is Coursera, an e-learning platform that collaborates with hundreds of leading universities and dozens of companies to offer top-tier learning opportunities at an affordable price point. According to Coursera’s 2020 Impact Report, the e-learning provider’s student base expanded by a whopping 353% between mid-March and September 2020. 

Coursera was perfectly positioned to reach learners during the pandemic. The e-learning platform set a standard; today, education-based organizations are asking themselves how their offerings can compete with Coursera’s. 

The answer, of course, is through digital transformation. 

For Educators, Transformative Change is Competitive Imperative

For educators, digital transformation — i.e., the deployment of technology to facilitate new educational and operating models — provides an invaluable competitive edge. It also can impart reputational gains, bolster an institution’s financial health, and transform the student experience for the better. 

Now, as upskillers begin to gauge their options and enroll in classes, that pressure to implement transformative change and optimize their operational and program offerings has intensified. 

“Some schools are just looking to brush up their outdated processes and portals and keep up with the Joneses,” Shu said. “But others are looking to totally transform everything because they need to grow their business, drive revenue, and fix student experience — everything from soup to nuts.”

According to Shu, being in the latter category brought clear benefits during the pandemic-prompted shift to remote learning. 

“Those who proactively thought about how technical issues tied into student experience and satisfaction were better prepared to navigate the shift to remote learning and, in some cases, even grow during the pandemic,” he explained. 

Throughout the pandemic, it has become abundantly clear that institutions that chose to double down on advancement are now in a far better position to attract new students, adapt to change, and design journeys that acknowledge who students are and what they want.

Achieve Your Organization’s Vision for Success With Gerent

Digital transformation is a universal necessity for education providers. However, the execution of that transformation is anything but generic. 

Every institution is unique; at Gerent, conversations about transformative change always start with a request -- namely, ‘tell us about your student journey and who your stakeholders are.

Once briefed on an educator’s unique challenges and vision, Gerent’s team collaborates with program leaders to figure out which cutting-edge Salesforce solutions will help the organization achieve its ideal future state. 

In Gerent’s work with Coursera, for example, we realized that the e-learning platform’s main concern was one of scalability. Amid the upskill boom, the organization had grown significantly and required more bandwidth to handle the influx. 

To address this problem, we recommended implementing Marketing Cloud, which would provide Coursera with the digital infrastructure it needed to better understand student needs, advance outreach efforts, improve efficiency, and design effective student journeys. Coursera agreed to the plan — allowing Gerent’s solution architects to leap into action. Now, the e-learning platform enjoys a 360 view of its students and scaling flexibility. 

A successful Salesforce implementation empowered Coursera to achieve its vision of accelerated growth during the upskill boom. As a result, the e-learning provider has positioned itself for success, both for the upcoming fall semester and the oncoming, digital-savvy era of education. 

The question is, can your organization say the same? Let us help you meet the future — contact Gerent today to find how we can help your institution chart a path to greater achievement!

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