At the most recent WorldSkills competition – the “Olympics of skills” for people aged 18-25 – Team UK came tenth in the medal table. Bagging gold in beauty therapy, as well as silver and bronze in skills ranging from visual merchandising to cabinet-making, Neil Bentley, the chief executive of WorldSkills UK, proclaimed: “The future of the UK is in safe hands.”
Many, however, argue the UK workforce is seeing a long-term skills crisis. The OECD finds the UK is now ranked 20th globally (below Poland and Estonia) for pupil achievement in English and maths, with 20 per cent of young adults below basic level.
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills found in 2016 that 36 per cent of the adult population was qualified to “intermediate level” - better than basic education but below a degree or other tertiary qualification - but predicted this would fall to 34 per cent by 2020, pulling the UK down to 28 out of 32 OECD nations.
The government estimates better skills could add 20% to productivity
With the government estimating upskilling staff could add another 20 per cent to labour productivity, the stakes are high. “What there hasn’t been is enough investment in skills and training to prepare ourselves for changes in workplace compositions,” argues Simon Richardson, lecturer in human resource management, Westminster Business School.
The UK’s traditional solution has been to import skills – but this may no longer be the answer. Arrivals from the European Union have fallen to near-zero, and in late-January it emerged that employers were being refused permission to bring in non-EU workers – even with vital skills such as emergency doctors for the NHS - because applications for visas exceeded monthly government limits.
Mr Richardson argues Brexit doesn’t just mean an end to easy imports – highly-qualified staff could leave. In summer 2017 Deloitte found a third of non-British workers were considering leaving the UK because of the referendum result – and not all of these are low-skilled. It found 47 per cent of highly skilled workers from the EU were considering leaving by 2022.
Encouraging businesses to invest in staff training has been the almost-urgent concern of all recent governments. But spectacular failures have littered the way, which has undoubtedly deterred business. In 2014 the package of schemes and grants known as the Youth Contract was disbanded after being called an “abject failure from start to finish”. The scheme was a successor to the infamous Youth Training Scheme, where in 1995 60 per cent of participants were found to have left without any qualification at all.
The latest hope is the apprenticeship levy – although it is too soon to tell whether the government has finally got it right. Mr Richardson has his own theory: “Many businesses may be actively ‘not’ training, and preferring to just get by.” He adds: “At the moment, the paradox has been skills shortages, but without the wage rise pressures that tend to follow, although perhaps that’s because firms know that as soon as they train, skills levels will rise and so will wages.”
What government needs is more flag-bearers like Birmingham-based Lander Automotive, which supplies the auto industry with specialist components such as lightweight and high-pressure pipes. With an ageing workforce and EU nationals on its agency book starting to return home, in the last two years it has decided to focus on apprenticeships. It now takes on a staggering 15 to 18 apprentices every eight weeks – most at Level 2, but some at Higher Level.
“We’re right in the heart of the automotive region here, so engineering and technical skills are in scarce supply,” says managing director Peter Tack. “We now have 83 apprentices and have moved our average workforce age to under 30. Best of all, we have people moving up through the business – like those looking after supplier quality, aged 18.
“This massively impacts young people’s confidence, and I also feel we get a double-whammy. We’ll grow the business with motivated people who don’t have any preconceived ideas.”
Skills shortages are, of course, all relative. While the hospitality sector faces real issues – the British Hospitality Association says 45 per cent of members are worried by it – other firms in supposedly skills-short industries are bucking the trend. At Lancashire-based Leyland Trucks, its human resources director Ivan Shearer regularly hosts 20, 30 even 50-year service awards. In 2017 only around 15 staff left, out of 1,000. He says he’s brought in apprenticeships because “such a stable headcount reduces promotional opportunities.” He adds: “Last year 23 apprenticeships were taken on. Around one third of all new jobs created were apprenticeships.”
Maybe there isn’t just a skills deficit, but a cultural one too
But maybe it takes an outsider to spot what’s really happening. Lars Andersen is the Norwegian-born managing director of My Nametags, which sells iron-on name tags for children’s clothes and other belongings. At his firm it’s the promise of promotion – but only if people take the initiative to learn for themselves – that ensures his skill base is high.
He says: “We love training. Our head of marketing joined us a grad and has moved up from there. But maybe there isn’t just a skills deficit, but a cultural one too. The British don’t have the same incentive to learn more because business is predominantly in English. But I still need people able to talk to my Italian customers.”
Whatever the answers – and for the UK economy’s sake, they need to come fast – productivity will only rise if investment in learning takes priority.
How can you create a learning culture inside an organisation? More than 50 executives, consultants and academics responded when Raconteur asked this question. Here are an edited selection of their answers.
Culture comes from the top
When shifting the culture of any company, it’s important to first identify a clear sense of purpose beyond profit. There’s also an important role for leaders to play in creating a learning culture. Put simply: if you want to see change adopted within your company, you must first start exhibiting the mindset and behaviours you’d like to see from those around you.
Sue Siddall, partner and European managing director of design and innovation firm IDEO
Creating a learning culture can be difficult, and requires the endorsement of senior leaders. Investing in broader transferable skills, such as management and digitals skills, is still a crucial part of future-proofing businesses. If organisations can look past teething problems with the Apprenticeship Levy, they will find that it supports the creation of a learning culture, benefitting employee retention, motivation and productivity across the board.
David Willett, corporate director, The Open University
As Managing Director, I think it is essential for the team can see me reading every day, experimenting with new ideas and sharing what I’m learning. My job is to inspire… and to push. Working in digital marketing, the industry is changing at a rapid rate, so it’s important we lead as well as keep up with current trends. And there is of course the heavy hand of appraisals, where demonstrable learning is a prerequisite to career progression here at Hallam.
Susan Hallam MBE, managing director of digital marketing agency Hallam
Role models matter
Microsoft research finds that less than a quarter of businesses are undertaking any form of major programme to change their workplace and organisational culture. This is a real concern; if organisations are to capitalise on this new era of digitalisation, it’s vital that employees understand the value that automation can bring and how it can free them of repetitive tasks to focus on more creatively-charged activities.
At Microsoft UK we have role models across the organisation who engage people by demonstrating the tangible benefits of digital transformation in the workplace, which speaks much louder to our employees than words ever can.
Clare Barclay, chief operating officer, Microsoft UK
“The world won’t stop for you”
As hard as it can be to accept it, change is the best teacher. One big change we will all be facing soon is artificial intelligence - this will have an enormous, disruptive impact in nearly all aspects of work. While the prospect of change on this scale can be daunting, it can also be an opportunity to change yourself for the better. In your work, you could look to embrace automation, and in doing so expand the judgement-based, human interaction-dependent and creative components of your job. The world is speeding up, and it certainly won’t stop for you.
Vinod Kumar, chief executive, Tata Communications
Employees will need to work alongside technologies like AI, and should expect to change jobs and even careers multiple times throughout their lives. The ability to adapt will be critical. Businesses should begin to adopt an agile learning culture today, promoting the value of ongoing learning at work and encouraging workers to gain new skills. Business leaders and HR teams should work to develop a forward-looking workforce strategy anticipating the needs of the near future.
Duncan Tait, corporate executive officer, senior executive vice president and head of Americas and EMEIA, Fujitsu
Inspire the team
We invite academics, tech luminaries, and others, to deliver inspiring TED Talks-style presentations. We want to raise awareness of digital technologies, methodologies and ways of working – looking at things from different angles. This has a business benefit and we’re seeing that, through these sessions, people are coming across new ideas and then bouncing these ideas off colleagues. Tangible business ideas are being taken forward.
Ella Jakubowska, digital innovation and culture manager, Rolls-Royce
Be prepared for failure - and learn from it
As children, we learn from our experiences, and the strongest way of learning what is safe and what isn’t is often driven more from painful events rather than any warnings our parents give us. While we would like to think that we’ve become much more intelligent and logical over time, as adults we also tend to learn in the same way. The leader of an organisation has to not only give permission for their teams to fail, but also admit failures of his or her own, and demonstrate how the learnings from any failure have been used.
Carl Reader, business advisor and author of The Startup Coach
It’s important to realise that failure is just part of the normal course of operation for an organisation, and yet something which can be monitored, proactively minimised, and learned from. Most crucially, organisations need to create an environment where failure is not instantly punishable. Learning from one’s mistakes is important, but this has to be done as a team and an organisation, not just as an individual. Ironically, the “swinging axe” above any potential failure can increase stress levels to the point where people are so scared of making mistakes that they end up making mistakes.
Prof. Vikas Shah MBA, honorary professor of business at the University of Manchester and serial entrepreneur
Having the appetite to learn is essential – especially in the tech industry
Rather than trying to teach everyone everything, we cultivate an environment in which employees have the headspace to learn what’s right for them, whatever their age or experience. This is especially pertinent in the technology sector, an industry that is moving at a million miles an hour. We encourage staff to use new technology, always ask questions, take risks and perhaps most importantly, not be afraid to show vulnerability.
Anne Allen, director of People Experience at online accounting software company Xero
First, get comfortable with not everything being about the bottom line, all the time. It’s a tough message – particularly in uncertain times, when training is liable to being deprioritised. But when devising a development plan, we simply cannot be governed solely by numbers.
Secondly, get comfortable with being surrounded by employees who are better than you. The characteristics of organisations who have achieved a good learning culture are remarkably similar. Authentic leaders will drive it, both by encouraging others and making sure that they themselves are continually learning – and are seen to be doing so. They’ll take risks, demonstrating their commitment to the cause by investing in new technology that enables the most effective learning. And ultimately, they won’t call time on learning; it’s a continued cycle of learning to learn as well as learning to improve.
Kirstie Donnelly, MBE, managing director at the City & Guilds Group, responsible for the City & Guilds, ILM and DigitalMe brands operating globally
No employee left behind
There are two types of employees: those that are driven and take the initiative to learn new skills themselves; and those that are happy enough as they are or don’t think they have enough time. You need to ensure that your learning culture caters for both camps. Each employee should have a yearly allocated training budget and line managers should help and encourage employees to use it.
Jonathan Richards, chief executive at breatheHR
Create the right learning environment
Make your employees forget they’re learning. By creating an immersive environment that stimulates true learning and conditioning – one that accepts “failure” as part of the learning process – employees will naturally be part of a learning culture. For example, telling someone not to click on a suspicious link in an email is unlikely to be effective if they can’t identify what is suspicious in the first place. Instead, by gamifying the learning process and creating simulations designed to change user behaviour and empower change through reporting, employees become much more skilled at recognising genuine malicious activity and buying into becoming a part of the solution.
John “Lex” Robinson, anti-phishing and cybersecurity strategist at PhishMe
Help employees learn from across the firm
Allow every employee to have full access to the company, so they are not “boxed in” to their role or department, and therefore can learn from the rest of the company.
Our 700 employees are invited to board meetings, allowing employees at any level to get an “all access pass” to the rest of the company and see how the board operates, along with how and why big decisions are made. At the board meetings, no topics are off the table – and people do ask uncomfortable questions. This expands all our thinking, it improves each individual’s skills and makes everyone a better leader.
Bipul Sinha, chief executive at cloud data management company Rubrik
“No idea is too weird for us”
We tend to hire a lot of interns with a view to bringing them on full time and we like them to grow and develop quickly by giving them autonomy and their own projects. This ensures that they work hard, learn quickly, and want to prove themselves, so are always thinking outside the box.
Another thing which feeds into our learning culture is our flat hierarchy and how we get teams to work together. People aren’t scared of getting it wrong and that means they are more likely to try out new ideas and learn from their mistakes. No idea is too weird for us – and we want everyone to be part of the conversation.
Simon Douglass, chief executive and founder, Curated Digital
The millennial generation is sending a strong message to employers: mentoring is a must-have – and if we don’t get it, we may leave.
A study by Deloitte suggested millennials who intend to stay with an organisation for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor than not. In the same survey, the millennial respondents said an ideal working week would include significantly more mentoring and coaching time than they currently receive.
“Most companies focus on recruitment and do not put resources into retention. If you don’t mentor your millennials they will leave you,” says Julie Kantor, chief executive of training and development firm Twomentor.
Workplace mentoring can be a win for mentees, the person doing the mentoring and the employer, she adds. In a survey by the Association for Talent Development, organisations with formal mentoring programmes rated higher employee engagement, retention and growth of high-potential employees as the top benefits of mentoring.
A clear purpose and well-matched pairings are vital to the success of any mentoring programme, says Emily Cosgrove, co-founder of mentoring and coaching specialists The Conversation Space. A failed scheme can potentially damage the individuals and business.
Businesses must also decide on the right model. Mentoring is traditionally seen as helpful advice over a cup of tea from a more experienced colleague, but there is an increased focus on a stronger model known as sponsorship, where an influential colleague not only provides advice but helps plan career progression and acts as an advocate when opportunities become available.
In terms of women’s progression at work I don’t think mentoring is enough if we want to change the culture and who’s on top
For female employees, for example, a landmark study by consultants Catalyst showed that mentoring is necessary, but that sponsorship is also needed for progression.
Ms Cosgrove agrees: “In terms of women’s progression at work I don’t think mentoring is enough if we want to change the culture and who’s on top. We need to be blending mentoring with sponsorship.”
“When someone starts at a company they might need some mentoring but as they advance sponsorship becomes critical. It doesn’t have the same time investment [as mentoring], but needs someone with power and a network to champion you,” adds Ms Kantor, who believes there’s a huge opportunity in sponsorship for women.
When picking the right model for staff development, logistical issues must also be considered. Introducing mentoring in the first six months of a role or someone’s employment with a firm might not work, says Ms Cosgrove, because they won’t yet fully understand their post and what they need from the relationship. At this stage the most appropriate model may be coaching, which typically focuses on developing a particular skill.
Some firms opt for mentoring for junior staff because it can appear cheaper than coaching, explains Chloe Walton, head of strategy and conversations at The Conversation Space: “It’s a free resource if senior staff lead it, but if you need to be coached, it takes a qualified person and that’s an investment.”
Coaching can help younger staff overcome a personal narrative or cultural background that they feel holds them back from progression, says Ms Walton. Adam Freeman, co-founder and managing director of Freeformers, which advises businesses on their digital growth, has found young people themselves can make great external coaches for firms. This offers businesses a chance to improve digital skills while introducing new perspectives and more diverse backgrounds to an organisation.
Reverse mentoring can close that gap for business leaders in understanding millennials
Coaching may be one way to close a firm’s digital skills gap, but experts agree that a combination of mentoring, coaching, sponsorship and reverse-mentoring – where a junior employee mentors a more senior one – is needed. Only concerted action can address the increasing levels of isolation in the workplace as technology reduces the time spent in human interaction and the cultural void between employees of different generations widens.
“Reverse mentoring can close that gap for business leaders in understanding millennials. They live a different way and you need to understand what that is and how you can address their needs,” adds Ms Walton.
More broadly, such initiatives are a chance to prepare the workforce and society for the future, says Mr Freeman. “We’re facing the challenge of really uneven digital growth. We are seeing groups of society left behind, from younger people with less formal education to older people coming to the end of the first part of their careers.
“There’s an amazing opportunity in just getting them to help each other in terms of sharing their digital skills and working collaboratively. I’d love to see reverse mentoring help do this locally at an SME level as well as in big business.”
Reverse mentoring: does it work?
Nick Blundell, 42, a partner at audit, tax and consulting firm RSM, is currently being reverse-mentored by Olivia Newell, 23, an accounts and financial reporting supervisor, as part of a new programme organised with The Conversation Space, involving eight pairs of senior and junior staff.
“Before we started, I don’t think I’d ever really spoken to Nick,” says Ms Newell, who has never been involved in a mentoring scheme before.
After an initial session, Ms Newell says she feels comfortable to speak up and that it’s important in her role as mentor to be honest and not scared by Mr Blundell’s seniority.
“Trying to get feedback from junior staff can often be quite difficult in firms. This sort of relationship makes it much easier to have a more open conversation,” says Mr Blundell, who hopes that reverse-mentoring will help him navigate a world of shifting societal views and changing technology.
“RSM is historically quite a traditional firm, which has its advantages but can come with an assumption that people with more experience have all the answers. I think it’s important to challenge that and get the perspective of younger generations,” he says.
Ms Newell hopes it will encourage senior staff to be more tech-savvy and understand the business from an everyday worker’s perspective: “My generation has a very different way of looking at the world and the workplace. Eventually, I want to be in Nick’s position and he’s been where I have so it works both ways.”
By James Hill, professional services manager, Tribal
It came, it saw costs rise, but if truth be told… it hasn’t quite conquered.
We’re talking, of course, about the Apprenticeship Levy, a vital part of the government’s plan to solve the UK’s skills shortages that sees employers with an annual wage bill of more than £3 million paying 0.5 per cent as a levy to boost training.
Its aims were initially lofty, to hit three million apprenticeship starts by 2020, building on the recent popularity of this “learn and earn” form of vocational learning. New frameworks were also being set – with direct input from employers – so the groundwork all seemed to be set for a great response.
But it hasn’t been an encouraging start. Official data shows that in the first quarter of the new scheme, May to July 2017, 59 per cent fewer apprenticeships were started compared to a year earlier. The next quarter was the first of the new academic year, the busiest time for scheme providers. Yet new apprenticeships were down 26.5 per cent versus the report at the same time in the previous year. That means in the first six months of the scheme more than 111,000 places have been “lost”.
Evidently, this was never the way it was meant to be. But while the inevitable clarion calls have already been sounded – the Confederation of British Industry says the data proves “a fresh approach is needed” while the Association of Employment and Learning Providers expressed “concern” – it’s also worth taking stock. That’s because employers are taking stock too. Their “digital wallets” ― what firms pay their levy into ― take time to set up and employers have quite rightly needed time to assess the market and establish who are the most appropriate training partners. Others are waiting for their courses to be certified, while some are in the process of turning their existing training into an apprenticeship-level qualification.
We believe the figures for the next six months that will show whether the levy could be a success
All of this preparation takes time. So while it’s easy to admonish employers for not starting sooner, now that the levy is here, we believe it will be the figures for the next six months that will really show whether the levy has the potential to be a success. This will be when most levy-paying firms will have had the proper time they need to either demonstrate they are willing to support it, or demonstrate they are happy throwing money down the drain.
Not using their levy payments really is like throwing money away. Under current rules firms have two years to start using the money put into their “digital wallet” for apprenticeships, which also gets a 10 per cent government top-up. Those that don’t use it will lose it. The challenge for 2018 is for employers to start using their own money to train staff for the future businesses they want to have.
For some employers, the slow start has been due to red tape not reticence
In industry, we all know just how quickly two years can pass ― so the message for fee-paying employers is to act before it’s too late.
But there’s another reason too. It’s been well-documented that for some employers, the slow start has been due to red tape rather than reticence.
Without doubt, this is a worrying trend and we see it clearly. It’s why our apprentice management solution Maytas is designed to remove administration strain. Available in both cloud or software versions, it provides the oversights employers need. It doesn’t just deal with payments to government, then to training providers, but automatically creates and collates all the necessary audit trails (such as training hours taken and absences) needed by oversight bodies such as the Skills Funding Agency and Ofsted. Any errors are spotted and easily diagnosed.
The good news is that clients tell us what we’ve long suspected ― once apprenticeships become straightforward to manage, and the levy becomes simple to use, running an apprenticeship scheme is not the stumbling block they once feared.
Research shows employers have strong support for apprenticeships, which now cover 1,500 occupations across 170 industries. Most firms welcome the design input from their trade associations, ensuring learners will acquire the skills employers need for the future. Firms realise too that they’re tapping into a growing understanding among young people that vocational learning is a viable substitute to university study that doesn’t leave them with a mountain of debt.
So, we’re at a crossroads. Like or loathe it, the levy is here. But, those big enough to pay it shouldn’t see it as a tax, money to be written off because it’s too complex to spend. With the right support, running an apprenticeship scheme can be straightforward. Don’t waste the opportunity the levy actually presents.
James Hill is professional services manager, vocational learning, at Tribal
Tribal’s software and services empowers the apprenticeship provision of employers, training providers and colleges. Get your free guide on how your business can make the most of apprenticeships. Click here
Three myths about apprenticeships
Myth one: apprentices are usually male
Reality: 54 per cent of apprentices in England in 2016/17 were female
Myth two: apprentices are typically making and fixing things
Reality: the top three areas for apprentices in England are health and social care, business/law and retail
Myth three: apprentices are teenagers
Reality: apprenticeships help retrain older workers; in England 25 per cent of people starting an apprenticeship are 35 or over
“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind,” said Sir Winston Churchill—surely one of history’s most impressive on-the-job learners.
In addition to his two terms as British prime minister, Churchill served as an MP, first lord admiralty of the navy and chancellor of the exchequer. He served in the army, could pilot a plane, and received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953. He was a war correspondent and even a science writer, discussing robots, mobile phones, cloning and nuclear bombs as early as 1931.
Not bad for someone declared by his father as too dim to attend university. How did he do it? A combination of purpose, industry and relationships with the finest scientific minds, from HG Wells to the physicist Frederick Lindemann, says Graham Farmelo, author of Churchill’s Bomb: A Hidden History of Science, War and Politics.
“He really believed that in order to achieve his ambition of being prime minister he had to learn things,” says Mr Farmelo, explaining how the young Churchill got his mother to send books for his own “private university” when he was a soldier in India.
“He was not spoon-fed. When he was in parliament he looked for people who could help him. He wanted people to talk with him in a civilised way about things he didn’t understand.”
This approach meant Churchill was “intellectually prepared” for new developments, from the first flight of the Wright brothers to the tank, says Mr Farmelo. His devotion to learning was life-long and is reflected in his legacy: in the 1950s he helped establish Churchill College, Cambridge, to further science education in the UK.
The Spectator magazine now hires blind. Applicants must remove any mention of their school and university, and talk only of their ideas and potential. As a result the latest intern is a 48-year-old mother-of-three from Yorkshire.
It’s a bold move, but it makes sense. As The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson put it: “She’s an inspiring person with a simple question: why, aged 48, shouldn’t she roll the dice again? If we’re all going to work until 70, that’s plenty time to learn a new trade.”
He is right. And Britons agree: the number of people choosing to revamp their career skills with professional education has soared. Naturally, online is the top way to learn.
Universities are experimenting with online tuition for the masses. Oxford University is a leader. It offers a broad range of online courses. There are commercial courses such as social entrepreneurship, and technical qualifications such as a post-graduate certificate in nanotechnology, which instructs beginners in the science, applications and research methods of science at the atomic scale. The course is composed of three modules, lasting seven to ten weeks each. Students are expected to study ten to fifteen hours per week, in addition to timetabled lessons. Participants routinely come from blue-chip brands such as Hewlett Packard as well as academics in other fields looking to broaden their horizons.
Cambridge, Edinburgh and other universities are expanding their online tuition, as the Ivy League in the United States.
The Oxford nanotech class costs £8,115. But there is plenty of opportunity to build skills for free. The new frontier of education is “Moocs” or Massive Online Open Courses offering no-charge education to anyone with an internet connection. Again, universities offer Moocs. But more popular are the new breed of providers, with big names including Khan Academy, Coursera and Wikiversity.
Some employ a “freemium” model where you can learn for free but pay to unlock extra exercises or a certificate of completion. Others, such as Lynda.com, focus on corporate sales where an employer for a fee can allow all its staff to access a wide range of courses without charge. Others fund themselves on donations.
Khan Academy – “Our mission is to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere” – started with MIT graduate Salman Khan tutoring his cousin in maths using Yahoo! Twelve years later it is a vast ecosystem; around 40 million users log on to the Khan Academy every month, to connect with two million teachers.
Coursera integrates more than 2,000 courses from well-known universities, such as Python computer programming from the University of Michigan, to Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies by Princeton University ― an 11-week course open to all, for no cost.
Wikiversity is the offspring of the Wikipedia Foundation. With 25,000 courses, it is strongly tilted towards science and maths disciplines. Business barely features.
One leader in Moocs is the Open University, with its OpenLearn platform and an international-focused FutureLearn platform that brings together lessons from 107 universities and commercial partners. The OU pioneered remote learning and boasts than two million graduates since 1969. OpenLearn takes the OU winning formula and uses Moocs to broadcast to the wider public. The numbers tell the story: OpenLearn’s website has had 44.2 million visits since launching in 2006, and the iTunesU learning portal has seen more than 70 million downloads of OU material. Both OpenLearn and FutureLearn offer genuine rigour ― since 2016 it has been possible to convert modules into course credits for degrees and MBAs.
The reviews mean you know what works, and what students want more of
The explosion of Moocs means anyone with a desire to learn are spoiled for choice. There really is something for everyone, with online reviews helping highlight the best. Navin Chandak is a popular supplier of lessons on the Udemy platform, teaching Excel to 20,000 students in 153 countries. His flagship course, ’20 hours Beginners to Expert Excel’, has 581 published reviews averaging 4.6 stars out of five. “The reviews mean you know what works, and what students want more of,” says Mr Chandak. Over time his courses have improved, with better audio and visual, subtitles, and take students to advanced levels, suitable for data analysts in the financial sector. “You can learn on an iPad, mobile, or desktop, at your own pace,” he says. The entire experience is customer-led. The glowing reviews, and repeat custom, indicate the level of satisfaction.
Many experiment with a Mooc. They extract the bits they want, and move on
Is there a downside to Moocs? The drop-out rate is high. A 5 to 20 per cent completion rate is typical. But it cannot be compared with the drop-out rate for a conventional course. As a review by The Times Educational Supplement found, many are experimenting with a Mooc. They extract the bits they want and move on. And the cost is either free, or less than a round of drinks.
And traditional university courses have high drop-out rates too. A Freedom of Information request by Sky News to 24 universities found that for some courses two-thirds of students failed to complete their first year. These students would have spent thousands of pounds for little return. Moocs avoid that risk.
It is still early days for Moocs. Universities and employers are still grappling with the implications. But the omens are outstanding. The only limit for students is their appetite to learn.
What is it like to improve professional skills with a Mooc?
Connor, 20, is from Bournemouth and an apprentice engineer with Dorset-based manufacturer Heatric. His line manager suggested he look at FutureLearn and Connor soon signed up.
“I wanted to improve my skills and knowledge so I could apply it at work. Also for a personal sense of achievement, to reignite the joy of learning and learn more about my interests.”
He took the ‘Business and Finance Fundamentals’ course.
“The programme lends itself to some aspects of the work that I undertake for my job. I had no previous experience of business so it’s all new to me. I was learning at work from my teammates and this looked like another good, effective way of learning and I could do it anytime.”
Afterwards, he took other courses, and has so far signed up to 11, including ‘The Science of Nuclear Energy’ and ‘Effective Networking’.
“Project management is a big part of my new role so the courses around business are a massive help. Since completing the course on effective networking I have tried to network effectively as much as I can and I’ve had good results. The ‘Effective Communication’ course has also helped me a lot in terms of presenting and delivering my presentations. I feel I am doing well in my new role.”
He concludes: “FutureLearn itself kept me coming back. The whole setup, for me, is perfect. It’s healthy to learn and FutureLearn has helped me to enjoy doing it again. It’s free, and you can do it at a time that suits you, what’s not to like?”