NEW DELHI | BENGALURU: Last year, nearly 3,500 employees of technology major Ericsson in India opted to do something that’s not part of their key responsibilities: encouraged by the management, they took up online courses to brush up their tech skills and stay employable.
Sameer Khanna, head of human resources at Ericsson India, said the number was much higher than the previous year and that he is confident it will rise further this year. The company has formed learning communities to explore new and upcoming technologies. It has also tied up with online education providers including Stanford and Coursera to allow its employees access courses through the company system.
Ericsson is among tens of companies pushing their employees to join massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered by the top universities to upskill themselves even as online education upends established teaching norms, getting rid of the classroom and giving learners the ability to study from just about anywhere. Not only has it allowed students the freedom to take any course that interests them from top universities — mostly free if they don’t want a certificate — but it has also provided employers the freedom to upskill their employees as and when the need arises.
“Many corporations that we are working with in India today are looking to upskill and re-skill their employees urgently,” said Anant Agarwal, founder of edX. He said there needs to be a nationwide scale re-skilling in India.
The opportunity is massive for online players. Recruiters are increasingly looking for well-rounded candidates — those having the necessary technical skills complimented with important soft skills, said a survey by job-oriented social networking service LinkedIn that offered more than 5,000 online courses free for a week last year. India is already the second-biggest market after the United States for both Coursera and edX with the latter getting 11% of all its users from India, against 30% from the US.
For Coursera, India accounts for more than 1.8 million of its users out of a total of 25 million, and is one of its fastest-growing markets.
Company heads said courses like data analytics, artificial intelligence and coding are gaining popularity in India with millennials making a beeline for them because these courses are great value adds to their resumes at a time of rapid digital disruption.
“Companies realise that millennials want constant growth and they need to provide this to their employees else they won’t be able to attract or retain their talent,” Nikhil Sinha, chief business officer at Coursera, told ET.
Business and financial software company Intuit said last year there was a 35% rise in the number of its employees opting for online courses. Amazon Web Services training, data science and machine learning have been the most popular, it said.
At Skillsoft India, the list of the top online courses includes data sciences, machine learning, big data, artificial intelligence, digital transformation, digital productivity and IT security.
Coursera’s most popular courses this year in India include machine learning, programming for everyone, learning to learn, and data science. For Coursera, its most active users in India are young professionals in their 20s and 30s aiming to gain technical skills.
While the increasing popularity of MOOCs for upskilling is driven by employees, some companies are tying up with course providers for specific, or even customised, courses for their employees. For example, employees of a top FMCG company are currently undertaking a supply-chain management course online on edX platform. Several tech firms, for whom upskilling and reskilling of employees are critical, are also increasingly betting on online courses. Some players like Simplilearn offer offbeat courses in specific fields.
According to Simplilearn, courses that are trending this year include ethical hacking, app development (Android/iOS), video marketing and YouTube marketing, and SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud). Emeritus Institute of Management, which offers advanced online business courses, said design thinking and digital marketing are currently its most sought-after courses.
“Employees who are looking for a career change typically get a hike in their salaries of about 30-40% after completion of their course,” said Ashwin Damera, executive director at the institute. Salaries for people with design thinking and digital marketing skills range from Rs 15-30 lakh at the managerial levels, depending on their experience, and over Rs 40 lakh for the director roles, he said. A study by British Council predicted that India will have the largest student population by 2025, and all online players want a piece of this pie.
Francis Padamadan, country director at talent management solutions provider KellyOCG, said companies are actively encouraging employees to take up online courses to bring in efficiency, which means a better way towards working.
But some say online courses still find limited application in India. “Online learning is still at a nascent stage in India, and platforms like Udemy and Coursera, while having a good variety of courses, still have limited participation from the Indian workforce,” said Kunal Sen, senior vice president at TeamLease Services. While employees see value in such courses the price of pursuing a certificate course can be a constraint, he said.
Yet, these courses come at a fraction of the cost of studying full time. But simply taking online courses isn’t enough, say experts. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so it’s essential to apply the learning. “That is what interviewers look for — recruiters today will ask how a potential candidate has used the learnings from online courses in their own projects,” said Asha Rajesh, head of technology learning at Intuit India Development Center.