Checking in with Google about the goals of its Career Certificate program and how the company hopes to help jobseekers without—and with—four-year degrees. Also, California’s new master plan for career education, and Nevada’s push to train 30K young workers with online certificates through Coursera.

Big Tech’s Biggest Push Into Credentials

Google is among the most established players in the noncollege certificate space, and certainly the highest-profile one. So it’s no surprise that Google Career Certificates are at the center of debates about the value of alternatives to the four-year degree and whether dropping degree requirements in hiring will amount to much.

Six years after launching Grow with Google, which offers training, tools, and expertise for digital skills development, the company says more than 200K people in the U.S., and more than a half million people globally, have earned one of its six online certificates. Google’s approach has evolved as the program added certificates.

“Along the way we learned that many people with degrees” were earning the credentials, says Lisa Gevelber, Grow with Google’s founder. “And that was a surprise.”

The company has embraced the degree-plus option. It now has more than 400 higher ed partners, many of which offer students paths to college credits when they earn Google certificates, or pair the credentials with undergraduate degrees, to help students earn “industry-relevant” skills.

Adding skills learned through one of the certificates to a degree has benefits, Gevelber says. For example, she cites data showing that a psychology major who acquires data analysis skills through research or an internship can unlock more than 100K additional entry-level jobs paying an average of $60K annually, versus $39K for psychology majors overall.

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is the latest to offer the certificates to students. Josh Shapiro, the state’s Democratic governor, touted the new partnership last week. Shapiro dropped four-year degree requirements for state government jobs in his first move after taking office and just waived the college credit requirement for aspiring state troopers.

The original purpose of Google’s foray into certificates, Gevelber says, was about solving a problematic mismatch in the U.S. economy, where 80% of U.S. jobs paying more than $30K require applicants to hold a four-year degree, while roughly 40% of workers have earned one. The company also has stuck to creating certificates in high-demand fields, with continued growth projected.

“We wanted to try to ensure that more Americans, and people around the world, have access to good and good-paying jobs,” she says.

The certificates can help people make a career or job-role change, according to Google. For example, the most common certificate pursued by the 1K Google employees who have earned one is in project management, says Gevelber. Many of those employees were administrative assistants who were looking to upskill and advance in the company.

Google realizes that creating more opportunities for workers without college degrees is no easy task and that changing employer attitudes is the key to moving the needle. It has pulled together a consortium of employers to help vet the content for the certificates and to encourage their uptake in hiring. For example, Grow with Google included a hiring assessment from Deloitte in the data analytics certificate program.

All the entry-level certificate programs seek to teach learners “everything they need to know to get an entry-level job,” says Gevelber.

Some overheated headlines have trumpeted Google certs as replacements for the bachelor’s degree. Google has said that the certificates will qualify applicants for eligible roles at the company, such as apprenticeships and “certain introductory-level jobs.” Yet Gevelber stops well short of encouraging people to skip college if they want to work for Google.

“We consider people’s relevant experience,” she says. “We consider these certificates relevant experience.”

There’s no question college can be a good way to break into a rewarding career, Gevelber says. But Google’s investment in creating credentials is about creating options other than the four-year degree.

The Kicker: “It can’t be the only pathway,” says Gevelber.

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The Signal and the Noise

The certificates from Google are part of a growing array of more than 35 professional certificates Coursera offers on its online learning platform. It’s hard for experts—let alone consumers—to parse what a career or professional certificate actually is and how they differ from other forms of nondegree credentials.

The nebulous language “will have to change if we’re going to get to a place where certificates can be considered true alternatives to degrees,” says Katy Knight, executive director and president of the Siegel Family Endowment, which focuses on the impact of technology on society.

For example, Knight points to the challenge of understanding the differences between many certificates aimed at IT workers, including those offered by community colleges, continuing education programs at four-year universities, or Big Tech companies; those validated by COMPTIA or other professional organizations; and those acknowledging completion of a training program from Per Scholas or another nonprofit group.

“Where does the average person get the information to know what’s best?” she says. “How does the average HR recruiter know what has credibility?”

Nevada Goes Big: An endorsement from a state government is one way to try to build trust in a professional certificate. Louisiana last year began offering online certificates through Coursera to jobseekers across the state. This week, Nevada announced it has partnered with Coursera to offer the credentials at no cost to unemployed and underemployed state residents.

The LearnNV program from the Nevada Department of Employment Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) seeks to prepare people without a degree or prior work experience for entry-level jobs in the digital economy, with an initial focus on young workers. It just launched in Clark County, home to Las Vegas, with plans to roll out statewide by the end of the year.

The state’s ambitious goal is to train 30K residents over three years.

“Collaboration with other organizations will be really important to ensure students hear about and sign up for the program,” says Kevin Mills, vice president of Coursera for Government. “DETR is working to partner with community-based organizations and local high schools to reach young adults directly, even if they’re not signed up for unemployment.”

The digital jobs that the certificates seek to prepare workers for aren’t necessarily in tech, Mills says, noting that many companies need cybersecurity analysts, UX designers, software developers, and project managers.

“There is a strong appetite for these programs within the state, especially among young people who aren’t interested in or able to attend college right away but still want to get a good-paying job that has an actual career path,” Mills says.

Any Nevada resident who can benefit from the free training can register for the program, says Valentina Bonaparte, director of communications for DETR. The state will get the word out through its job centers and youth hubs. “This is an opportunity to help the next generation of Nevadans get the skills they need to succeed,” Bonaparte says.

A Master Plan for Career Ed

California’s governor laid out an ambitious plan last week to bring the state’s education and workforce systems together to prepare more people for in-demand jobs, including ones that don’t require a degree. He also directed the state’s Department of Human Resources to start systematically reviewing and dropping bachelor’s degree requirements for government jobs—a move similar to what a dozen other states have done.

In the executive order, Gov. Gavin Newsom set an aggressive 13-month timeline to develop what he’s calling a Master Plan for Career Education. The work will bring together a wide range of state agencies, including education and labor, and the California Community Colleges, California State University, and University of California systems.

Christopher Nellum, executive director of the Education Trust–West, sees Newsom’s move as a major step forward for the state, and especially for its students of color. Silos in our education and workforce systems serve no one, hinder progress, and perpetuate inequities,” he says.

Marty Alvarado, vice president of postsecondary education and training at Jobs for the Future, says the signaling effect of the executive order is powerful—and “the focus that it places to set a cohesive and integrated agenda is fantastic.” The real heft, she says, will come from how the order influences upcoming state budget negotiations.

Already the state has been pouring billions into career-oriented education and training, including $4.6B to develop better pipelines in healthcare and education, $600M focused on clean energy jobs, and $500M for education and training grants for Californians who lost jobs in the pandemic, especially student parents. It’s also investing heavily in K-16 collaboratives built around equity and good jobs, paid internships for college students, apprenticeships, college-and-career savings accounts, and a cradle-to-career data system.

“Tens of billions of dollars invested in the last few years, 12 different agencies, but not a cohesive, connective tissue—not a compelling narrative that drives a vision and drives a focus forward,” Newsom said at a news conference to announce the master plan initiative, according to an EdSource report.

The master plan would bring together that work around three overarching areas:

  • Career pathways, including a focus on exposing students early in high school to well-compensated and high-growth careers, including ones that don’t require a degree.
  • Hands-on learning and real-life skills, including paid earn-and-learn opportunities for students and workers.
  • Universal access and affordability, including reducing debt burdens and the challenges of navigating complex bureaucracies.

Newsom also laid out some specific goals, such as building an online portal for jobseekers in California and reimagining the student transcriptEdSource reported. He called for a “career passport” that would go beyond grades and include marketable work skills developed through apprenticeships, internships, and other experiences.

Both the proposed jobs portal and the career passport, a type of learning and employment record, would rest on the state’s cradle-to-career data system. Once a laggard in managing and using education and workforce data, California has been investing heavily in its combined data system and in creating user-friendly tools. In an analysis last year, the Data Quality Campaign called it one of the “most ambitious, inclusive, and thoughtful efforts in the nation.”

The state is certainly not alone, however, in betting big on both better data and better coordination of education and workforce investments. “This is indicative of a larger trend we’re seeing around the country,” says Andrew Smalley, a policy specialist in education at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Alabama, for example, just launched a new talent marketplace that cuts across higher education and the labor market and that required coordination among 19 government agencies. Missouri has formally combined its departments of higher education and workforce, and Smalley says at least four other states, including Indiana and Arkansas, have created governor’s cabinets that coordinate education and workforce development.

“A lot of this is driven by state attainment goals,” he says. “There’s a growing recognition that meeting those attainment goals can’t just be left to the higher education institutions in the state.” —By Elyse Ashburn

Open Tabs

Occupational Segregation
Black workers in the U.S., with or without bachelor’s degrees, make less than equally educated white workers, according to a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The research group found that regardless of educational attainment, substantial occupational segregation persists, with Black workers concentrated in a smaller range of lower-paying jobs than their white peers.

Stacking Credentials
Despite having the potential to add more equitable access for students, stackable credential pathways remain rare in fields outside of healthcare, and in many cases these pathways are found in just a few institutions, according to the Education Strategy Group. A new guide from the group seeks to help institutional leaders with creating credentials that stack, including for students as they move through credit and noncredit programs.

Skills-Based Hiring
A new funder initiative seeks to catalyze a more equitable skills-based hiring ecosystem by leveraging learning and employment records. Launched this week, SkillsFWD is a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors with support from several large foundations. It will award eight grants of up to $1.5M to teams working on the scaled adoption of LERs. The initiative is seeking letters of interest and will release an RFP next month.

Job Moves
Nicholas Kent has been appointed deputy secretary of education for Virginia. He currently works as chief policy officer at Career Education Colleges and Universities.

Multiverse announced three recent hires:

  • Gary Eimerman is the apprenticeship-focused company’s chief learning officer. He previously was chief product officer for Pluralsight.
  • Alex Varel is the chief revenue officer. Prior to Multiverse, he worked at Zscaler and several SaaS companies, including Udacity and MongoDB.
  • Asha Aravindakshan is U.S. general manager for Multiverse. She most recently served as vice president of operations at Sprinklr.

I’ve been overwhelmed with news and have had to push back some coverage. Thanks for keeping the tips coming. Revenue remains a challenge for this newsletter and Work Shift. Please reach out if you’d like to help us expand our independent reporting on these crucial issues. —PF

A veteran higher education journalist and analyst, Paul focuses on the connections between education and the American workforce.