Lisa Gevelber is chief marketing officer, Americas Region at Google and the founder of Grow with Google, which, among other initiatives, offers certificates online and in-classroom in partnership with technical schools and colleges.
When she thinks What the Future, she’s focused on bridging skill gaps to drive economic opportunities for the workforce of today and tomorrow.
Matt Carmichael: What did you hope to achieve when you started Grow with Google?
Lisa Gevelber: Our goal was to make sure that the opportunities created by technology are truly available to everyone. It’s about making sure that we’re not only helping people with economic opportunity, but trying to catalyze the ecosystem to create a more equitable and inclusive job market. If you look at today’s jobs, two-thirds of middle-skill jobs—which might require a high school degree, but not a diploma—require middle to high levels of digital skills. We wanted to make sure that people have easy ways to learn those skills. No one was born knowing how to use a spreadsheet. So helping people get the skills they need for today’s jobs has always been the focus, and a big part of that was creating the Google Career Certificates.
Carmichael: How did you build the certificates with employers in mind?
Gevelber: We looked at data to understand which career fields are in demand, growing and will continue to grow for the next five to ten years—and pay well. We took that list and we looked at which of those fields Google had real expertise to contribute and we started building career certificates for those fields. It wasn’t enough to build a certificate. We needed to create employment opportunities for those certificates. We have more than 130 employers who have vetted our certificates and use them as a way to hire candidates. This is the content that we use to train our own people.
Carmichael: Where will a program like Google Career Certificates fit into the educational ecosystem of the future alongside four-year, two-year, vocational programs, etc.?
Gevelber: The certificates are all about providing credible skilling options for job seekers, students and employers. Some folks will decide never to go to college. Maybe college isn’t accessible for them for one reason or another. And a lot of low-income workers don’t have the luxury to sit in a classroom on a regular schedule. We’re also finding increasingly that institutions of higher education want to include the Google Career Certificates in their programs. Four-year institutions like the State University of New York, Northeastern University and Purdue University give credit for the Google Career Certificates. I think that’s a really exciting model because it doesn’t have to be an “or” where you get a degree or you get a certificate. I think what we’ll see in the future is more “and.”
Carmichael: Our data show that Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans are more interested in these types of education programs. Can programs like this help with diversity and inclusion, and close gaps in the pipeline?
Gevelber: I really think so. What we’re hearing from employers is an authentic interest in diversifying their workforces. About 53% of our graduates are females and minorities.
Carmichael: What did the pandemic change in terms of our understanding, acceptance and willingness toward virtual education?
Gevelber: We launched our first career certificate in January 2018. The pandemic accelerated a lot of trends that were already under way. Projections from the World Economic Forum suggest that around 50% of us will need to reskill within the next several years. The environment is right to make a portable, on-demand, easy-to-access, high-quality program. The online channel is an effective one, especially for adult learners who need to be able to access the course on their own time.
Carmichael: I saw an interview where you spoke about the importance of combining life skill lessons with work skill lessons. How does that work?
Gevelber: Well, we also teach problem-solving, critical thinking and, depending on the certificate, a lot of soft skills. For a project management certificate, we teach cross-functional collaboration, we teach influence, we teach how to create psychological safety, because part of managing a project is making sure everyone’s on one page and that all the issues and topics come up in a timely way.
Carmichael: You’ve used behavioral science to better understand why people don’t complete a program. What are some of the hurdles, and how do you help students overcome them?
Gevelber: One of the principles is called social proof. In essence, that’s the understanding that people are highly influenced by what their peers are doing and that you can use that in an encouraging way. For example, we can put a little machine learning prompt that shows up right alongside important content. “Hey, do you need help? We can see 70% of your peers review this lecture before they take the assessment.” Or if you don’t pass the assessment on the first try, which lots of people don’t, we can say, “Hey, lots of folks don’t pass on their first try.”
Carmichael: That sounds like a way to mimic some of the experience people might have in an actual classroom and bridging some of the social aspects of in-person school.
Gevelber: It’s such a good way to bring in the emotional support and insider tips. We all know that our jobs are a little bit about how well you know the topic you’re working on and a little bit about knowing how to be successful in a job. Most of us learn along the way, but if we can help people learn it as they’re doing the certificate, they bring that with them. It’s not just about being successful in their job, but those are all great skills for life.