Personalized learning can unlock great value for Indian enterprises: Chris McCarthy, Degreed

India is a learner-centric market and if people are guided towards the right set of skills, there is a phenomenal opportunity and value waiting to be unlocked, says Chris McCarthy, CEO of Degreed. 

Degreed is a lifelong learning platform that individuals and organizations can use to discover learning content, build skills, and certify their expertise. 

With customers including Cisco, Unilever, Github, Dell EMC, NASA, Mastercard, Airbnb and more, Degreed is creating a personalized experience to help employees learn new skills in the age of constant disruption. 

In an exclusive interaction with IDG Media, Degreed's CEO Chris McCarthy shared his insights on enterprise learning software and the trends in the skill marketplace. 

Edited excerpts:

How is Degreed different when you compare it to other online learning platforms?

What makes Degreed different is a real focus on putting the learner at the center of the platform. While many platforms inside the enterprise have been consumerized over time, enterprise learning software is one of the last to be consumerized, which is putting the employee at the center, focusing on their needs and giving them the choice. 

... The market wants to speak the language of skills, but it can’t, and so it still uses jobs, resumes and degrees. This has created the gap where there are more jobs but people have trouble filling them.
Chris McCarthy
CEO, Degreed

Enterprise learning is also about giving the employee the opportunity to take ownership over the broad arc of their career. Not just transact on it, but actually empower them to take control of their own learning, build their own skills and take with them over their careers. And this is what sets Degreed apart. 

What technologies have you deployed for Degreed? What is the technology stack?

Our job is to bring together all areas that people learn, which could be hundreds of different places that the employee might have to go to learn and build their skills. 

They are separate islands of learning. At the end of the day, different islands of learning are not moving together in a cohesive, unified experience. We have built the Degreed platform to do that. 

So much of what we do is to borrow the best from the consumer web and apply it to our enterprise learning application. One part of that is to get access to data about the individual and then of course all the learning content available to them. We take the massive scale and reach of data, apply data science and machine learning capabilities to create a great learner experience. 

We have a big chunk of our company working on this today. And the result is that you get a truly personalized learning experience. That requires great data science underpinnings. 

How are enterprises leveraging Degreed to train their employees and help close the skills gap?

“They are separate islands of learning. At the end of the day, different islands of learning are not moving together in a cohesive, unified experience. Our job is to bring together all areas that people learn, which could be hundreds of different places that the employee might have to go to build their skills.”

Almost all our clients start with the Core Learner Experience platform, which is very much the next generation enterprise learning platform. 

That takes all of the content and training opportunities inside and outside of the enterprise, brings it all into one place, uses complex business logic to integrate with all the existing systems and personalize the learning experience. That’s almost always the first product that we start working with learners. We are working with about 300 companies today for that product.

Then, what we do is take the learning that’s happening and the consolidated data stream that’s coming back up and measure the specific skills which employees and groups inside the organizations have. 

Skills Measurement is the second product and a good chunk of our clients are using it now. Specifically in India, we see an incredible appetite and demand for skills measurement in different ways.
 
Outside of these two products, once we own the employee experience layer and have the consolidated skills transcript of record, it allows us to lead into other areas of the talent stack whether it is talent acquisition, performance management, succession planning, workforce planning, etc. 

There are a lot of fears that AI and automation will take over jobs in the future. What is your opinion?

In some sectors, that certainly could be the case. Right now, the average career life is 40-50 years, with people staying in individual jobs for 4-5 years on average. The average half-life of a skill today is about five years. 

The reality is that for any job, whether it is manufacturing or sales, the onus is on us to continue to evolve, learn new skills and adapt to remain competitive. While AI and automation get a lot of press, everybody needs to continue to learn every day and build their skills. 

How do you see the demand from Indian enterprises for your platform in the next 5 years?

On one hand, there are jobs and employment gaps here. But more than half the companies report that there is trouble filling up open vacancies. There is certainly no shortage of skills. What that says to me is that there is a market failure to have proper data and systems matching demand and supply of those skills. India is certainly a couple of years ahead of US in openness and receptive to this.
 
The market wants to speak the language of skills, but it can’t, and so it still uses jobs, resumes and degrees. This has created the gap where there are more jobs but people have trouble filling them. AI and personalization are great enablers. At the same time, India is a learner-centric market. If people are guided towards the right set of skills, there is a phenomenal opportunity and value waiting to be unlocked. 

As you said that skills are becoming redundant every 5 years, do you think that college degrees will be relevant in the future?

It’s a great question. I do believe formal college degrees will always have a role but the biggest change that people will see is that it will not be the only way that we have to represent our learning or what skills we have. 

College degrees are not going away but I do think a big chunk of colleges especially in the US will disappear over the next ten years. Colleges will have to adapt and the role of the universities will have to change.

Increasingly, it is the cost of credentialing that is sky rocketing whereas the cost of learning and skill building is actually plummeting to near zero. Once the recruiters stop valuing degrees alone, we are going to see this happen much faster. 

Which industry verticals are you getting most demand from particularly in the Indian market?

Learning is one of those rare things which every company wants. We have clients from different industries across the board. Technology, professional services, financial services - these are the industries we have the most clients in. We also have customers ranging all the way from trucking companies to manufacturing and to CPG. 

But to our surprise, we have seen that manufacturing companies, because of the industry 4.0 which is picking up pace, are looking at job roles and skills from a different lens altogether. We are having great conversations at a mature level in the manufacturing sector as a result.