Think Outside the Campus: How Google Career Certificates Address the Talent Shortage

02/15/2022
Abigail Beshkin is a Senior Editor at Toptal and a Correspondent for Staffing.com. The former editor of Columbia Business, Abigail is an expert in workplace best practices in the areas of design, media, and project management, and her work has been featured in The New York Times and on NPR.

As the Great Resignation endures, business leaders and HR executives continue to grapple with staffing shortages. The ongoing employee exodus weighs especially heavily on the tech industry, where turnover is on the rise. Yet the US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the sector to grow 13% by 2030—faster than any other industry. To fill those positions, hiring managers will have to reevaluate the criteria they use to screen talent, starting with the education section of the resume.

One increasingly attractive alternative to traditional higher education is the Google Career Certificates program, which trains people in high-growth fields: Android Development, Data Analytics, IT Support, Project Management, and UX Design. Anyone can sign up through the learning platform Coursera. Most programs cost around $40 a month, making them an affordable route to acquiring in-demand skills. The courses—all self-paced—are taught by experienced Google employees and typically take between three and six months to complete. In addition to earning certifications, participants emerge with samples, case studies, or portfolios to show prospective employers.

To date, more than 50,000 people around the world have earned a Google Career Certificate, with 82% reporting that it has furthered their career in some way, according to the company.

Certificates Benefit Companies and Job Seekers

The career certificate program began in 2018 as part of the Grow with Google initiative aimed at expanding opportunities for, among others, the more than 70 million US adult workers without college degrees. But it quickly caught on with employers, Lisa Gevelber, founder and VP of Grow with Google, tells Staffing.com. “We started this thinking: We need a better solution for people without college degrees. How do they get in-demand, high-growth, high-paying jobs?” she says. “Along the way, we realized the important benefit for employers.”

Google now has 150 companies—including Fortune 100 giants Bank of America, Verizon, and Walmart—in its employer consortium, which allows them to view the resumes of certificate holders and post jobs. “They’re eager to hire these graduates because they know they’re job-ready,” Gevelber says.

Image one has text at the top that reads Top Employers That Participate in the Google Career Certificates Talent Pipeline, followed by a line that reads 150 companies are part of Google’s hiring consortium, including these Fortune 100 giants. The graphics are the logos of the companies Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Bank of America, Intel, and FannieMae. The source for the information is Google.

She says that Google’s certification program can benefit both companies and job seekers in the following ways:

Addressing the Worker Shortage

Deloitte, the multinational professional services firm, has hired 14 program certificate holders since joining the Google consortium in 2021. “Like every other organization right now, we are looking to hire at great speed, and we are looking to hire [candidates] with specific skill sets,” Martin Kamen, principal at Deloitte, tells Staffing.com. The workers filled roles in the firm’s US Delivery Center, taking on responsibilities that support its core consulting projects. “This gives us an avenue to bring people in more quickly to fill [critical] roles,” Kamen says. “And we know folks will have the capabilities based on completing these certificates.”

Deloitte helped Google craft the curriculum for the Data Analytics, Project Management, and UX Design certificates, which launched in 2021. “We offered up our own subject matter experts—data analysts, program management experts, and multimedia experts—to make sure the courses had the things that we actually look for in candidates,” says Kamen. “Deloitte brought in their recruiting teams, too, to ensure that the courses covered areas that address client needs.”

The fact that Deloitte can vouch for the rigor of the Google Career Certificates program is part of why the firm has been willing to rethink the educational requirements for certain roles, Kamen says. “We’ve typically hired either directly through universities or through more traditional experienced-hire recruiting channels. This has opened our aperture for critical skill sets that we’ve needed.” Several of Deloitte’s certificate-program hires have no college experience or hold two-year degrees. Programwide, Gevelber says, almost 60% of those who complete certificates do not hold four-year degrees.

Advancing Opportunity

Accepting Google Certification not only expands the pool of potential hires, Kamen says, but also helps Deloitte execute its diversity strategy. “When we looked at how we could really infuse different folks into our organization from different backgrounds, Grow with Google is an amazing opportunity,” he says. “Many of the certificate completers are people from underrepresented communities. Many are veterans. This gives us an avenue to different folks that we haven’t had easy access to, based on our traditional recruiting.”

Creating an additional pathway into high-growth, high-paying fields—as well as connecting candidates with employers who need a specific skill set—was the original idea behind Grow with Google. “If you put a bachelor’s degree requirement on a job, you are eliminating about 70% of African Americans, almost 80% of Latino workers, and about 70% of rural Americans,” Gevelber says. “We started Grow with Google with this premise that Google could help make a difference around helping people achieve their economic potential.”

More than half of the Google Career Certificate participants identify as African American, Latino, women, or veterans—all groups traditionally underrepresented in tech. “Employers are super keen on these certificates because they know they’re getting high-quality talent,” Gevelber says. “They also know they’re getting more nontraditional talent, and that’s really important to a lot of people who are hiring today.”

In addition, almost half the certificate participants come from the lowest income tier, reporting annual salaries of less than $30,000 when they start the program. The average salary of jobs available to Google certificate holders is $63,000. “That is a life-changing impact,” Gevelber says.

Upskilling Current Employees

The Great Resignation is only one of the obstacles hindering companies’ ambitious growth plans. Another is the fact that technology is quickly outpacing workers’ training and skills.

Nearly half the CEOs surveyed for PwC’s 24th Annual Global CEO Survey say they plan to increase investment in their digital transformations by more than 10%, yet as of 2020, three-quarters of CEOs were worried about the availability of talent with key skills to work in this transformed environment. In early 2021, the World Economic Forum anticipated that half of all employees around the world will need upskilling by 2025, and businesses are paying attention.

“Employers have an increasing focus on ‘How do I upskill the people I have?’” Gevelber says. “We’re seeing a real acceleration of employers asking us about how to use Google Career Certificates to upskill their own workforces.” Deloitte is among them, along with Accenture and Nationwide.

Image two has text at the top and a chart below. The text at the top reads When asked how they plan to change their long-term investments in the following areas over the next three years as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, nearly half of CEOs said they plan to increase their rate of digital investment by 10% or more (showing only ‘increase moderately [3-9%]’ and ‘increase significantly [≥10%]’ responses). The chart has ten bars, each divided into green and blue sections. There is a small blue box with text next to it that reads Increase moderately (3-9%) and a small green box with text next to it that reads Increase significantly (≥10%]). The text under the first bar reads Digital transformation and the bar shows 49% in green and 34% in blue. The text under the second bar reads Initiatives to realize cost efficiencies and the bar shows 32% in green and 44% in blue. The text under the third bar reads Cybersecurity and data privacy and the bar shows 31% in green and 41% in blue. The text under the fourth bar reads Leadership and talent development and the bar shows 24% in green and 43% in blue. The text under the fifth bar reads Organic growth programmers and the bar shows 20% in green and 42% in blue. The text under the sixth bar reads Sustainability and ESG initiatives and the bar shows 23% in green and 37% in blue. The text under the seventh bar reads R&D and new product innovation and the bar shows 21% in green and 37% in blue. The text under the eighth bar reads Capital investment and the bar shows 13% in green and 30% in blue. The text under the ninth bar reads Supply chain restructuring and the bar shows 11% in green and 31% in blue. The text under the tenth bar reads Advertising and brand-building and the bar shows 9% in green and 29% in blue. The source for the information is PwC’s 24th Annual Global CEO Survey.

The Impact of Certification Programs on Higher Education

A willingness to hire professionals without four-year degrees coupled with the cost of attending private college—which has climbed by 144% over the past two decades—has hiring managers and education experts alike debating whether certificate programs like Google’s could (and should) eventually supplant the traditional four-year degree.

Gevelber says no. “We dug into data and found that people with college degrees, when they complemented it with a Google Career Certificate, made more money and had hundreds of thousands more jobs available to them.”

Nevertheless, some higher-education experts speculate that certificate programs such as Google’s could shake up the system. Google partners with several two- and four-year degree programs to offer the certificates. Some colleges, including Northeastern University and Purdue University, offer credits for completing a certificate and count them toward a related degree. Starting in the fall of 2022, the University of Virginia will offer a $5,000 scholarship to those who earn a certificate and then go on to complete a bachelor’s degree through select online, part-time programs.

Over the course of the last two years, Google also began offering the certificates for free to all community colleges and career and technical high school programs across the country. “You can get an amazing education and complement it with these job-ready skills from the Google Career Certificates [program], and you’ll have a better outcome,” Gevelber says. “It’s a win for employers, too, because they’re getting someone who not only has a great education but actually has some of these concrete job-ready skills so they can hit the ground running.”

Training a Workforce of the Future

With technology changing rapidly and the US alone expected to add more than 650,000 tech jobs over the next decade, employers need to expand their ideas of what it means to have an educated workforce. Google is not alone in recognizing this. IBM, for instance, offers a Data Science certificate, for which students build models with the programming language Python; Meta, the parent company of Facebook, offers certificates in social media marketing and analytics, for which students create and manage social media ad campaigns and measure their success.

As many companies struggle in the face of the talent shortage, those that tap into the pool of certificate holders will likely find themselves with a competitive edge. Rather than expending resources to fill roles, they will instead be able to concentrate on what it takes to meet marketplace demands and scale in a tech-focused future.

Abigail Beshkin is a Senior Editor at Toptal and a Correspondent for Staffing.com. The former editor of Columbia Business, Abigail is an expert in workplace best practices in the areas of design, media, and project management, and her work has been featured in The New York Times and on NPR.