In the rapidly evolving landscape of the modern workplace, L&D programs have emerged as pivotal drivers of organisational success. As companies strive to enhance productivity and remain competitive, the urgency for reskilling and upskilling programs has intensified. Boosting productivity (68%), staying abreast of competition (58%), and adapting to changing technology (57%) have been identified as the primary motivators for upskilling initiatives in a recent comprehensive survey report launched by Coursera titled L&D Investment Survey 2023.
L&D and HR leaders, positioned as change agents, are playing a crucial role in navigating the integration of emerging technologies such as AI into the workforce. Amidst these advancements, learning leaders face the formidable challenge of content overload, with many citing the difficulty of prioritising from an array of content options as the foremost challenge. As organisations continue to invest in L&D, we spoke with Raghav Gupta, Managing Director, Asia Pacific, Coursera, to better understand how companies can effectively navigate the many challenges of workplace learning.
How has the L&D function evolved over the last few years and where do you think it stands today?
As part of our 2023 L&D Investment Survey, we engaged with approximately 650 L&D and HR leaders across eight countries — India, Singapore, the US, the UK, Mexico, Colombia, France, and Germany. A standout revelation from our findings is the escalating support for L&D at the executive level. It's no longer solely the concern of Chief Learning Officers; Chief HR Officers, CEOs, and CXOs now recognise the vital role of L&D. The pre-existing trend of automation gained momentum during the pandemic, propelling organisations toward accelerated digitisation. The evolving landscape of work, marked by global events such as the US slowdown, the war in Europe and now Israel, coupled with technological advancements, underscores the impact on employee engagement and retention.
Against this backdrop, human skills, especially the ability to navigate virtual and in-person work, have gained prominence. Over the last 9-10 months, the significance of generative AI has surged, contributing to L&D's heightened priority on executive agendas. This increased emphasis is reflected in rising budgets, signifying a readiness among companies to invest more in L&D. Given the dynamic nature of the workplace and the challenges posed to productivity and employee engagement, continuous investment in L&D is imperative to adapt to technology, foster employee engagement, and sustain productivity levels amidst these disruptions.
It’s the era of learning. What are the greatest challenges that HR and L&D leaders are faced with as they try to create a learning ecosystem for their employees?
We have worked with several companies across industries for many, many years and one feedback I have consistently heard is people find it hard to learn just for the sake of learning. People want to learn because they want to have successful careers, and to be successful in their careers, they need to build their skills. So what working professionals and HR leaders are looking for is meaningful learning experiences. So, the challenge in many organisations is that instead of providing learning for the sake of learning, they need to work towards providing learning that is aligned with jobs. It's about providing learning that is relevant to people’s careers and enabling skill development.
Instead of saying I spent 20 hours learning something, employees should be able to say my company asked me to go from being a business analyst to becoming a data analyst and over six months, I was able to build those skills. So, curated content is extremely important. At the end of the day, content should not just be theoretical knowledge-based content, it should be hands-on knowledge. Lastly, it is critical to be able to measure skill development. Not only should learners be able to say, for example, that they have gone from business analyst to data analyst – but based on an analytics dashboard, their company should also be able to see that the employee has built those skills.
What do you think are the most essential aspects to focus on when organisations talk about reskilling/upskilling/L&D programs?
To recap, we've discussed two significant trends: the strengthening support for Learning and Development (L&D) at the executive level and the challenges in creating meaningful learning experiences while avoiding content chaos. Now, let's delve into the third trend: the prioritisation of skills by HR and L&D leaders. Companies are emphasising business skills such as leadership, adaptability, digital proficiency, and project management. Additionally, there's a focus on human skills like adaptability, resilience, leadership-related competencies, and digital collaboration.
Coursera has strengthened its collaboration with Reliance Industries in India, focusing on empowering their workforce with vital data, digital, and leadership skills. Today, over 2,00,000 Reliance employees and their families have access to Coursera, marking this our largest implementation globally and our first initiative catering to family in India. This partnership has resulted in 1,40,000 course enrollments and 500,000 learning hours invested byamong Reliance employees, emphasising skills like leadership, data analysis, communication, entrepreneurship, and business analysis.
Interestingly, while there's recognition of AI as a crucial area for skill development, particularly in generative AI, the adoption seems to be in its early stages. Despite expectations, companies are not yet fully embracing AI-related skills, indicating that we're still a few months away from witnessing widespread momentum in this domain. I'll now pause for any questions before sharing some insightful examples of how companies are addressing these trends.
The survey talks about the AI-driven future and how many organisations are still discovering how to adopt and deploy AI effectively. Do you think HR and L&D leaders need to prioritise AI-based skills and learning?
The rapid evolution of generative AI is creating a landscape where everyone is grappling to understand the potential impacts. A recent study revealed that nearly half of knowledge workers could witness their tasks being influenced by large language models like ChatGPT. Subsequently, a study by McKinsey, identified major professions — customer operations, sales, marketing, R&D, and software development — that would experience the most significant impact and productivity gains from generative AI. The integration of Gen AI into work processes is expected to enhance productivity but may also lead to the reduction of certain jobs. Notably, unlike the earlier wave of AI that automated low-education jobs, the current impact extends to high-education jobs. The challenge lies in deciphering the implications and determining the necessary scaling and upskilling efforts.
This rapid pace of AI evolution has left many grappling with the uncertainty of its impact and the corresponding scaling requirements. This conversation extends beyond businesses, with universities recognising the need to adapt curricula for an era of AI and governments addressing potential large-scale disruptions to the labour force and so on.
Coursera has responded to this demand by offering a robust selection of AI and generative AI courses. With over 770 AI-related courses and more than 20 generative AI courses, the platform has seen a massive enrollment surge, totalling 1.8 million enrollments in India alone during the first three quarters of 2023. These courses range from fundamental introductions to more technical offerings like prompt engineering for ChatGPT or generative AI with large language models, catering to a diverse audience seeking to navigate the transformative impact of Generative AI.
What does the future hold for Coursera?
The Coursera platform will continue to focus on educators, learners, and institutions, particularly business learners. Additionally, we are forging partnerships with Indian institutions, aiming to bring more content from these esteemed institutions onto the platform. Another significant area of concentration aligns with the National Education Policy (NEP) — particularly online degrees. IIT Guwahati now offers an online degree in AI and Data Science on Coursera, which launched a few months ago, with ongoing efforts to attract more learners. Similarly, BITS Pilani provides a fully online bachelor's degree in computer science on our platform. These steps underscore our commitment to advancing online education.
In the realm of technology, we are actively integrating generative AI into the Coursera learning experience. This innovative approach aims to enhance the learning journey for our users, aligning with the rapid advancements in technology and education. These three focal points — partnering with Indian institutions, expanding online degrees, and incorporating generative AI — underscore our commitment to providing diverse and cutting-edge learning experiences on Coursera.
Click here for access to the L&D Investment Survey 2023.