This morning, Google is announcing the next steps in its plan to disrupt the world of education, including the launch of new certificate programs that are designed to help people bridge any skills gap and get qualifications in high-paying, high-growth job fields–with one noteworthy feature:

No college degree necessary.

The new tools could be a game changer for a growing number of people who consider the current educational system broken, or for the millions of Americans who are currently unemployed, much due to fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has led to a truly horrible year,” Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai tells Inc. in an interview. “But it has also created profound shifts along the journey to digital transformation in ways no one could have imagined.”

The plan includes:

  • The release of three new Google Career Certificates on Coursera in project management, data analytics, and user experience (UX) design
  • A new Associate Android Developer Certification course
  • Over 100,000 need-based scholarships
  • Partnerships with more than 130 employers working with Google to hire graduates of its certificate program
  • A new Google Search feature that makes it easier for people to find jobs for their education level, including no degree and no experience

Most enrollees will finish in six months or less, putting the cost at about $240 for U.S. students. Some may need only three months, cutting that cost in half. Google is offering 100,000 need-based scholarships in the U.S.

In an exclusive interview with Inc., Google shared further details and the thinking behind the new certificate programs and the broader “Grow With Google” initiative, its plan to help accelerate economic recovery and provide millions the opportunity to find a job or grow their career or business.

Why now

While the shift to digital was greatly accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, Google was in a unique position to observe a more gradual shift over the past several years. But as more and more digital jobs became available, it became obvious that there was a skills gap.

“You can’t just say the next generation will naturally have the skills they need,” says Pichai. “We saw a lot of unfilled positions when it came to jobs in tech. It was a supply mismatch. Yet people were hungry to fill those positions. So we asked ourselves, ‘Why is there a gap?'”

One reason, explains Pichai, is that not everyone has access to a four-year degree, because of socioeconomic and other factors.

For example, when analyzing the data, Google noticed that the Google IT Support Professional Certificate program, which the company launched on Coursera in 2018 and served as a model for the new courses, enrolled a high percentage of students from nontraditional backgrounds. In addition to many not having a degree, 46 percent reported being in the lowest-income bracket, reporting less than $30,000 annual income.

So Google concluded it was important to offer programs that were available to as many people as possible … and that taught in-demand, real-world skills. The programs should offer a clear path to a high-paying job and a stable career, or even be a steppingstone to starting a business.

Lisa Gevelber, vice president, Grow With Google, sums up the company’s ambitious goal: “How do we create economic opportunity for everyone?” The result is a continually developing plan, with the online certificate programs at its core.

Each of the new certificate programs is available on the online course platform Coursera, which works with universities and organizations like Google to offer courses, certifications, and degrees in various subjects. Students will need to enroll with Coursera to take the new certificate programs.

But while the new programs offer a fast track to new skills and possibly even a new job in a fraction of the time of a degree program, students shouldn’t expect the courses to be a walk in the park. “Gaining a certificate is based on passing the assessments,” says Gevelber. “That proves someone can do the job.”

And passing those assessments isn’t easy. Gevelber describes them as “rigorous,” with more than 100 assessments for each course. “It’s not uncommon for a student to stumble even on their first assessment,” she explains. “But we’ve worked with our course designers and a behavioral science team, along with Coursera, to make sure students know they’re not alone, and help keep them from getting discouraged.”

How Google chose the courses

In the three years since the program for the Google IT Support Professional Certificate launched, it’s become the number one certificate on Coursera. It says 82 percent of graduates claim the program helped them advance their job search or career within six months, including getting a raise, finding a new job, or starting a new business.

So when Google began developing the next set of programs, the company held to strict criteria. Each program had to:

  • Provide a path to a high-demand job, with high entry-level wages
  • Be in a field in which Google had expertise
  • Be able to be taught in an online format

The new courses seem to tick all of those boxes. According to Google, the median annual wage for the jobs connected with each course ranges from $75,000 (UX designer) to $93,000 (project manager).

But Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda, who has worked closely with Google on the new initiative, identified another advantage of the new programs.

“The IT Support Professional Certificate is very valuable, but it leads to a customer-facing job,” says Maggioncalda. “But what if that’s not appealing to you? You might say, well, I’m more creative, I’m more design-oriented. Then, the UX course might be the right fit. Or maybe you say I’m neither of those things, but I’m very organized. Then, you have the project management course available, or the data analyst course.

“It’s really expanding the kinds of careers people can get into.”

Changing Google Search

When speaking with Google, I was especially curious to hear more about the additions to the search bar. After all, it’s not often you come across a change to a tool that so much of the world uses every day.

Here is where the pandemic likely played a major role. Google says this year alone, searches like “how to find a job with no experience” or “great jobs without a degree” spiked more than 750 percent.

“Part of what motivates us is that we see people come to Google in these critical moments,” says Pichai. “And we asked ourselves: How can we be more helpful? How can we make that experience better?”

The answer was to add a feature to Google Search that makes it easier for people to find jobs for their education and experience level.

Now, when people search for topics like “no degree jobs,” they’ll see a job carousel highlighting relevant opportunities. They’ll also be able to filter jobs on the basis of education and experience requirements, including the phrase “no degree.”

Google is also working with job sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn, along with U.S. employers, to make these requirements clearer on job postings.

You can imagine how this could help those millions of Americans in need.

People like Rey Justo, who, before Covid-19, was making more money than he ever had as the team lead for a fireplace installation company. But once the pandemic hit, orders plummeted.

“No one wants someone entering their house who is going from one home to another,” Justo says. In a short time, Justo, his wife, and his four children were sharing one room in the home of his grandparents.

Justo ended up enrolling in the Google IT Career Certificate, which led to a job at Zennify, a computer software company in Sacramento. Now Justo and his family are closing on a deal to buy a house.

Interestingly, Justo nearly missed his opportunity. He first learned about Google’s certificate program through an email from the city of Sacramento that had an interesting subject line: Digital Upskill Program. “I almost didn’t even see the email,” Justo says.

With the new search function, Google is hoping to make it easier for people in situations like Justo’s to find the opportunities they’re searching for.

Disrupting the career path

One of the complaints about traditional higher education is that while universities teach critical thinking skills, they often leave graduates unprepared for the working world. To help combat that problem, Google partnered with other employers to vet the respective curriculums and to make sure they provided job-ready skills.

“We received feedback and input from employers like Accenture and Deloitte, including real-world exercises to reference when building our curriculum,” Gevelber says. As an example, for the Data Analytics Certificate, Google referenced case-study templates Deloitte uses with its own data analysts, as an exemplar for a capstone project.

Additionally, Google established the Google Career Certificates Hiring Consortium, a group of more than 130 employers working together with Google that now includes companies like Bayer, Deloitte, Verizon, SAP, Accenture, Intel, and Bank of America.

Many of these employers have made commitments to hire a specific number of graduates from Google certificate programs over the next few years. Google has also partnered with Guild Education, a learning technology company that helps develop education programs for companies like Walt Disney, Walmart, and Lowe’s, which in turn will be able to offer the Google Career Certificates as a tool to upskill their workforce.

Pichai says a key to success will be a holistic approach: “We’ve focused on looking for mission-driven companies with a genuine, clear commitment to diversity and a commitment to hiring certificate graduates who don’t necessarily have a four-year degree.”

“We wanted to create a real pipeline for nontraditional talent and work together with companies to remove the traditional barriers,” adds Gevelber. The combination can be powerful.

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