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Wednesday, 12 August 2015

LinkedIn and Lynda aim to close a skills gap

Starting a new career, Mountain View business owner Jess Dang had a checklist of skills she needed to design a web app that would make it easier for people to plan healthy meals.
 
She learned all of them by watching videos on Lynda.com.

"I just didn't know how to employ the eye for design or what web designers do, so that's where Lynda.com helped me out," said Dang, founder of Cook Smarts, a meal-planning service.

In a move aimed at narrowing a skills gap faced by many workers, the business-oriented social network LinkedIn purchased Lynda for $1.5 billion earlier this year. By using LinkedIn's information about working professionals and businesses to link employees to the right online courses, the companies are bidding to help solve problems that have made it tough for employers to fill jobs -- in a way that e-learning and employment experts say hasn't been done before.

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"LinkedIn is kind of a uniquely positioned company because their whole focus is on professional skills and for professionals finding jobs," said David Guralnick, president of the International E-Learning Association and Kaleidoscope Learning.

About 38 percent of employers had trouble filling jobs in 2015, with lack of skills and experience listed as among the top reasons why, according to a survey this year by the ManpowerGroup, a human resource consulting firm.
In addition, as online courses grow, more employees are taking ownership of their job training and not solely relying on what's offered by their own companies, e-learning experts say. Online courses also give workers more flexibility to learn when they have the time.
"Technology is changing and forcing people to learn right now. The notion of going and sitting in a classroom is very antiquated," said Tanya Staples, senior vice president of content at Lynda.com.

With about 380 million members, LinkedIn has data about what companies want from their employees or new hires and what skills workers lack. On the flip side, Lynda.com has been growing its more than 6,800 courses and 280,000 videos in English, German, French, Spanish and Japanese. Courses include web software, photography, business management and more.

"This post-secondary marketplace is really going to expand in these really incredible ways, and employers are going to benefit because these new entrepreneurial ventures are going to better connect individuals to training they need faster, better, cheaper," said Jason Tyszko, senior director of policy and programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Corporations, consumers, government and education groups are expected to spend about $230 billion worldwide on online learning by 2020, up from an estimated $104 billion in 2014, according to Global Industry Analysts.

From switching careers to taking on a new job role, some employees know what they need to learn, while others might not be aware of what skills they're missing.

In New York City, for example, employers are posting jobs for workers who know a programming-language called Python, but few people who apply to those positions have that expertise, signaling that a course on the topic could help LinkedIn users, said Ryan Roslansky, LinkedIn's vice president of product.

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A person could be job hunting on LinkedIn, realize they're missing a certain skill for a position, and learn that skill by watching a Lynda.com course. An employee could be promoted to a different role and see what skills people in similar positions have, allowing them to keep up to date, Roslansky said.

"One of the things that we have access to through the LinkedIn data is a strong understanding of things like trending skills, a skills gap or where people are going to need learning a few months out," he said.

LinkedIn started offering a free trial of Lynda.com to its users this summer, and its big bet on the Carpinteria-based online learning company is already starting to pay off.

Company executives said on July 30, when LinkedIn released its second-quarter earnings, that they expect Lynda.com -- its largest purchase ever -- to contribute $90 million in sales this year, more than double its original forecast.

"We believe this could be one of LinkedIn's most transformational initiatives as it has the potential to improve the member experience across the platform," said LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner during the earnings call.

But with tech firms such as Khan Academy and Coursera offering courses for free, LinkedIn will have to convince users skeptical of online learning that Lynda.com, which charges as much as $34.99 per month, is worth the price.

Missouri software programmer David Sumler is already sold. He said he has often found online courses, especially one for a biology class through his community college, hard to follow.
But one day, while searching for a tutorial on Microsoft Access database, he spotted a Lynda.com course and decided to give it a shot.

"I just know it was really easy for me to get on there and get started. Everything is step by step," he said.

Since then, Sumler, who works for Miller's Professional Imaging in Columbia, Missouri, has taken thousands of courses on Lynda.com over more than five years.

He doesn't plan on canceling his subscription anytime soon.

"A programmer might learn a programming language, and five years later that language might be gone or dead," Sumler said. "You always have to be learning new things."

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