The Tech Legend Who Pays Staff To Upskill

August 17, 2018



Over the past couple of years I’ve covered automation and skills extensively.  For instance, it’s pretty well established now that attempts at digital transformation are being held back by a shortage of digital skills.  This is especially so with AI-based transformation, with many companies desperate to do something with AI, but few, if any, advancing past pilot stage projects for want of a lack of skills (among other things).

What’s more, this is largely the tip of the iceberg, as the introduction of AI into the workplace is likely to result in not only a requirement for AI-based technical skills, but also skills in new areas associated with AI.

As opposed to the simplistic notion that robots are going to take our jobs, a more realistic scenario is that there will be a fundamental re-engineering of many jobs, with some of the tasks we perform being automated, and new tasks being created that are better suited to the things humans are so good at.

All of this will require an emphasis on learning that is sadly missing from so many firms, and indeed across society as a whole.  It’s an absence that is largely not the fault of poor provision, with the various MOOC platforms, such as Coursera, providing individuals and organizations alike with the opportunity to take high quality short courses for very little money.

Leading the way

Sadly, few organizations seem to be adopting MOOCs as a way to provide employees with an easy and affordable way to keep their skills up to date, but one who most definitely are is the tech startup C3 IoT.

The company, which was founded by technology heavyweight Tom Siebel, offers employees over $1,000 for each MOOC they take.  The aim is to provide employees who have been recruited in large part because of their desire and their willingness to learn, with the tools they require to keep their knowledge up to date.

“In order for us to stay ahead of this, when we interview people we tend to self select for people who are well educated and who are challenged by interesting problems,” Siebel told me recently. “People who have a book in their hand. We like to think of our people as self learners, and this is part of our core values to be inquisitive and always learning.”

The fields of deep learning, neural networks, natural language processing, edge computing and so on are moving so quickly that it’s vital to their competitive advantage for their staff to be as informed and knowledgeable as possible.

“We have published a list of Coursera courses, and we pay our people between $1,000 and $1,500 to get their certificate,” Siebel says. “It’s been really quite remarkable. We’ve had 77 employees taking 177 courses, with the average participant taking 2.3 courses.”

Investing in skills

These courses have covered a wide range of topics, with the most popular being on machine learning, Javascript and Kubernetes, but they go beyond merely the transactional qualities of delivering knowledge.  The company strive hard to make learning a form of recognition, with certificates given and employees championed for their willingness to learn new things.

Read the full article on Forbes here.