Industry Insights | Google closing the education inequality gap

UI/UX Design
Sep 24, 2020

Here’s the latest scoop in the education landscape. On 13 July 2020, Google introduced the new and ground-breaking Google Career Certificates. The Google Career certificates will help any individual enrolled in the course to get high-paying high-growth job fields — no college degree required. The courses are designed to be completed in about six months, a drastic cut in the years we take to finish our traditional university degrees. And the best part of this? As Kent Walker, Google’s SVP of Global Affairs wrote, “Google considers these career certificates as the equivalent of a four-year degree for related roles.” A 6-month course priced at 10% of our 4-year university degree is honestly not a bad deal, I would say. Say goodbye to student debt, everyone!

In this single move, Google has effectively delivered the most devastating blow to universities, the unchallenged giants in higher education, compared to the collective efforts of EdTech companies and Bootcamp companies who have at best, chipped away at slowly in the past few years (us at Hatch included).

When I first heard the news, the underlying significance of this change made me sit up a little straighter. This move by Google is monumental - one that would irreversibly transform the higher education scene and hiring landscape. What a day to be alive and witnessing this change! Let me share some of this excitement.

What are Google Career Certificates?

The Google Career Certificates teach foundational skills with the aim to help job-seekers find employment immediately. The programs are designed to directly respond to the industry’s needs, something that most universities have been missing the mark on.

In Google’s words, the program intends to "equip participants with the essential skills they need to get a job," with "no degree or prior experience required to take the courses." Each course is designed and taught by Google employees who are working in the respective fields.

“The new Google Career Certificates are built on Google’s existing programs to create pathways into IT support careers for people without college degrees.  One such program is the Google IT Certificate program. It has become the single most popular certificate on Coursera, and many have found new jobs and increased their earnings after completing the course." Kent Walker, Google’s Senior Vice President for Global Affairs and Chief Legal Officer, adds.

“College degrees are out of reach for many Americans, and you shouldn’t need a college diploma to have economic security. We need new, accessible job-training solutions—from enhanced vocational programs to online education—to help America recover and rebuild.”

Importance of universities

Traditionally, universities fill the gap in training higher-level skills necessary for management and professional jobs in the economy. An educated populace is vital, as trained individuals are the ones who can develop the capacity and skills that drive local economies, support civil society and lead effective governments. They lay the strong foundation of an effective and well-governed country.

However, there have been gaps in the current higher education landscape. As outlined by Mr Hamoon Ekhtiari, founder of Toronto-based consultancy Audacious Futures, these gaps are namely access, quality and readiness.

1. Access - who gets the opportunity to participate in higher education?

Presently there are many systemic barriers that prevent someone from pursuing higher education, ranging from the inability to afford tuition fees and other exorbitant costs, to whether the admission systems are using the wrong metrics to measure one’s suitability for university and advantage certain groups over others. For instance, the current system is set up with clear benefits for applicants to fine-tune their test-taking skills and inflate their resumes. These systems distort the admissions processes.

2. Quality - does a university education really upgrade the skills and knowledge of students?

There is significant feedback from the industry that university graduates even after four years of education do not significantly improve on skills that matter most.  These skills include skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving. Many higher education institutions have failed to effectively move the needle for students over the time they are in these higher education institutions.

3. Readiness - how employable are the students when they graduate?

Universities need to address the increasingly dissonant complaints of skills mismatch, where employers say students are not ready for what the market needs and do not have the skills required for a job. The reason for this could be that higher education systems are challenged by the fast-changing nature of the industry. The world of digital technology moves very fast compared to the world of education. Education systems  progress in careful, slow steps. It needs time to adapt from textbooks and memory-based written exams to incorporate technology in the teaching syllabus.

The value of university education is slowly eroding as the mismatch between university education and the skills demanded by industry is becoming increasingly wider.

Significance to HR Trends

This move is monumental as Google is the most aspirational employer in the world. (Reputation Institute, 2019 Global Workplace 100 Study) It’s that company that young, bright-eyed university students look at right when they enter universities and say, “I want to work there.” Google is now declaring that they will equate the value of a 4-year degree to this 6-month course. They will give the reasonable compensation, role and prestige given to someone who has gone through 4 years of university education and extending this to someone who has gone through the 6-month course. As one of the 5 companies in the US to rule American business, Google is influential in shaping and changing the trends and norms adopted by the industry.

They are rewriting the unspoken rules in hiring. If this movement by Google is successful, educational qualifications - the traditional proxy and hurdle that signalled someone’s abilities and potential - is now effectively obsolete. If other big important corporations jump on the bandwagon, this movement will undoubtedly accelerate the demise of accreditation. Google is now in the driver seat, asking everyone to join them in their mission to change the future of work. If Google manages to garner mass acceptance of GCC certificates in lieu of four-year degrees, Google will have changed education forever. Academia’s structure of prestige will only be weakened and the barrier to enter the tech industry will be drastically dropped.

What does this mean for us in Singapore?

You know that tendency we have to self-eliminate when we are applying for jobs?

“You need to have a Bachelor’s in [insert any course specialisation]” (I have some experience but my major is completely unrelated  - does this mean that I do not qualify for this job? )?

With this shift, it signals that in the future these jobs do not need a Bachelor’s degree. They need you to have the skills to do the  job. That is on very tangible and quantifiable terms of language proficiency, interpersonal skills and ability to understand and condense large amounts of information.

You should apply for that job if you want to work in that company and have the skills to do that job. If you do not get that job, perhaps there are some skills that you really do not possess (it is important to still read job descriptions carefully). But the reason that you do not apply for that job should not because you do not have a paper qualification. It is important though, that we ensure that we stay ahead of the curve by upskilling ourselves constantly to have the skills needed to meet the demands of the change.

Singapore’s SkillsFuture movement is crucial in signalling this need for Singaporeans to upskill and stay competitive. By providing opportunities for all Singaporeans to pursue something they may be passionate about at different stages of their lives, it pushes us to consider that regardless of our starting points, we can realise our goals and aspirations through a holistic system of education and training.

How can we prepare for this change?

Google has started the conversation on how we should really look upon higher education and the role that traditional educational pathways play in the increasingly disruptive world that we live in today. If the sole purpose of higher education is to prepare us for employment, the introduction of these micro-certifications are 95% more effective in equipping graduates for the jobs they're seeking. (Scott Galloway, 2020) Google's alternative not only costs a fraction of traditional university education, it can also be completed in far less time.There is, of course, some skepticism on this new move. There is a general worry that just like the current situation with universities, the influx of GCCs into the market may dilute the value of these microcertifications. And if the supply far exceeds the industry demands, this will make GCC as irrelevant as university degrees in the long haul. As Google plunges head-on into this educational niche, the big thing to monitor will be if Google will commit to awarding significantly more certificates than it can hire. It is also important to take into account the transferability of the skills taught by Google to the equivalent of another role in another company in the industry.

But even if this Google experiment does fail to some extent, it is an important starting point for all of us, across the globe, to start embracing innovative solutions in education and stop recognising archaic methods of assessing individuals’ potential and abilities.

Hatch is an impact-driven business with the mission to make digital and design opportunities accessible for all.  That's why we are committed to sharing valuable resources like these freely and openly for the community.

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