• Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are one option to help companies upskill their employees with the capabilities needed to compete.
  • Leadership must create a robust system for identifying skills needs and supporting and motivating employees to upskill successfully.
  • A clear vision will ensure that training provided will improve retention rates and identify talent from within.

As the gap grows between employee capabilities and the skills companies need to remain sustainable, this deficit is becoming an urgent problem to address to remain competitive. According to PwC’s latest Global CEO survey, 55 percent of CEOs said they are not able to innovate effectively due to skills gaps. Yet the ability to upskill large sections of the workforce is creating challenges in terms of organisation, resourcing, time management, skills development and training capabilities.

Cloud technologies and cross-platform solutions like Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), however, are helping reinvent how employees learn, adapt and improve. These online courses allow unlimited participation and are openly accessible via the web. 

MOOCs offer employees both professional and personal advantages, such as the ability to undertake university level coursework at one’s own pace, to study individually or in a community, at any time and anywhere. As employees, they can be proactive, improve organisational skills and satisfy a desire for improvement. At a professional level, it gives them the opportunity to prove themselves to their employers. The most important advantage however is that these learning opportunities help people to take personal ownership of their own development.

For companies incorporating MOOC learning into their training programs, the advantages include the ability to upskill and prepare a workforce, improving its overall flexibility. It also helps to attract new talent with the promise of growth and improve retention of current employees, building trust that they are worth being invested in. Importantly, it also helps to create a learning culture, and the basis for a growth mindset. Like all efforts in the pursuit of upskilling, however, they should not be undertaken as a standalone, and ideally, bundled with other tools such as podcasts, challenges, academies, quests or gamification.

Despite the clear benefits, it’s important to remember that the pursuit of upskilling can be difficult. The ability to motivate employees, and effectively communicate the benefits to the individual and the business, are key. 

A strategy for
data upskilling

With the spotlight on upskilling globally, we propose following a strategy that includes how a plan should be designed, the potential pitfalls, and how MOOCs can enhance the learning experience.


Learning Needs and Skills Portfolio

Converge resources — First, you will need to gather the key stakeholders from your team, business lines or units in order to optimise  divergent thinking. The objective is to focus on data related activities such as data analytics, visualisation, and management.

Conduct a skills portfolio analysis — Each strategic leader must define the analysis of their skills portfolio through 3 stages. The first, a “learning needs analysis” stage is to develop an annual skill portfolio analysis (stay focused on your client’s needs or issues to solve on one side and those from your workforce on the other). Second, the “needs assessment” stage through the use of surveys (quantitative) or interviews (qualitative). Last, the “needs gathering” stage, collecting insights from the team members themselves, to devise an optimal training solution.

Do not forget, if there are some very specific needs, they need to be highlighted.

Opportunities and Nomination

Analyse your training and opportunities — Once you’ve identified what exists within your company in terms of training and skills capabilities, you will need to synthesise this information to define what is needed and for whom. Needs can be grouped by technical capabilities (such as analysis, visualisation, automation) or by organisation (for example business unit, role, grade). Do not forget to pay attention to the skill gap of the individual when understanding these needs.

We suggest deploying a LMS (Learning Management System) that offers a predefined amount of courses to employees so as not to overwhelm them with choice. The dual advantage of this system is it will prevent employees becoming paralysed by the options available (by proposing a top 3 for instance), and allow them to feel trusted to make their own choices.

Determine the nomination process — Workforce upskilling programs can be viewed in three ways. Globally, by upskilling all your team members at the same level, via expertise, by upskilling only a few specialists who will provide the expertise for the team, or as a mix of both in order to have a team that is able to identify opportunities supported by specialised elements.

Once your scope is determined, you can opt for one of two approaches. A top-down approach,where management chooses training participants, or a bottom-up approach, which links to an effective communication plan and relies on employee motivation to self-select training according to their needs.

Motivation and Monitoring

Encouraging long-term motivation — Companies need to make sure that knowledge is transmitted to motivated people who find meaning in what they are learning. This means encouraging interest to ensure that the learning is retained. Important keys to help with this include: leadership sponsoring, efficient company time management,centralised tools to manage training, dashboards to follow-up learning, effective communication, creation of a learning culture, and at the end, reward systems such as digital badging or the company paying for final certificates.

Finally, keep in mind that content quality is fundamental. If the MOOCs’ content is poor or irrelevant, people will very quickly drop out. The relevance of content is what matters most to employees, according to a study done by Coursera in 2017.1

Evaluating success — To monitor your data upskilling strategy, use stakeholder feedback and a continuous improvement mindset. This will allow you to adjust your strategy if things falter, and put you on a better path to upskilling your workforce.

Evaluation is the most complex step. Training is about skill development, having the right people at the right time for the right task. Upskilling is about having enough skilled workforce to handle your business needs. Hence, options for evaluation are KPIs (e.g. percentage of workforce upskilled), ROI (e.g. skills identification with market comparison) or skill assessment (e.g. before/after challenges). Another measurement could be innovative ideas and process improvements that have been made by applying the skills learnt, a tangible proof of having more efficient skills in the company.

The importance
of a clear vision

While the MOOC industry may have started life with the goal of disrupting classical education, it is likely that they will become an ‘add-on’ rather than a total replacement of learning. Even so, the professional opportunities and upskilling possibilities they enable could be a powerful tool to help companies build the workforce of the future. 

Ultimately, a clear vision will make all the difference. A leadership team that prioritises learning, while allowing employees to drive their own development, will help to retain and identify talent within the organisation.



Bernard de Villepin

Bernard is a data programme officer in PwC Luxembourg’s Data Management Office.


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Theresa Cook

Theresa leads the Learning and Development Unit at PwC Luxembourg.

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