Last week marked the 13th straight week that new unemployment insurance claims topped one million. 1.5 million first-time claims were filed across the country, bringing the total number of workers collecting UI benefits to a little more than 29 million, the result of stay at home mandates designed to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Businesses are now beginning to figure out when and how they can open their doors again. They’re also determining what kind of skills they are going to want in their new workforce. Before COVID, employers placed a premium on employees with strong tech and digital skills. All workers will have to be digitally-capable, no matter the industry, say workforce experts.

An important question in the post-pandemic society is: how do we make sure the economic recovery is equitable; how do we make sure everyone has the skills they need to find a good job?

Economic Recovery Must be Inclusive and Equitable

Google.org has really centered its work in our philosophy—when it comes to jobs and skilling—around principles of equity and economic justice, and that’s always been the case,” says Hector Mujica, head of economic opportunity for Google’s philanthropic arm. “All the work we do is to ensure that the most vulnerable, underrepresented, and marginalized members of society have equal access to opportunity.”

Google.org does this by funding nonprofits focused on tech upskilling or training from the ground up. By giving financial support to organizations such as Goodwill, Per Scholas, and Merit America, it hopes to play a role in bringing diverse backgrounds and experiences into the tech industry. In addition to money, Google.org looks to provide support and resources such as Google volunteers to work with grantees, as well as provide tools and curriculum.

Hector Mujica, Head of Economic Opportunity for Google.org (Photo: Google.org)

“The ethos of Google as a company is to build products that work for everyone and that are inclusive of everyone. And as we’re  thinking about the economy of the world, and the next 10, 20, 30 years, it’s really going to be led by tech innovations—by the tech sector—and that’s going to have implications for everyone,” he tells me.

Mujica says as we all adapt to this new post-COVID economic reality, we have to begin to try to understand what are the new jobs that are going to be potentially created, “whether it be jobs that this new increased dependence on, or increased interaction with, technology will yield.”

Focus on In-demand Skills and Certification

As a tech giant, it’s no surprise that Google.org is focusing on programs upskilling workers for the tech industry, including for jobs in IT. The organization has partnered and funded programs offering two types of Google skills certificates: the Google IT Professional Support Certificate and a more advanced Google IT Automation with Python Professional Certificate.

The first offering is for IT generalists, is typically self-paced, and can be achieved within three-to-six months. Upon completion, trainees can quality for a variety of roles such as IT support specialists and help desk technicians.

The Python certificate builds on your IT foundations and takes about six months to complete. It’s designed to teach the learner to program with Python and how to use Python to automate common system administration tasks.

“You’ll also learn to use Git and GitHub, troubleshoot and debug complex problems, and apply automation at scale by using configuration management and the Cloud,” according to the curriculum description.

“In both of those roles, we’re seeing a general increase in demand for the number of roles that are required in these spaces,” Mujica says. “Google is committed to hiring individuals from the Google IT professional support certificate pipeline as are many other fortune 500 companies.” After certification, learners will have the option to share their information with potential employers, like Sprint, Hulu, Bank of America, and Walmart.

“Overall we also have really good relationships with other employers. For example, Walmart is a member of the hiring consortium for the IT certificate program. (Even in the face of COVID), the trend has been that most companies are continuing to hire for these help desk or IP specialist roles given that there’s an increased demand in technological solutions right now.”

Estimates prior to COVID-19, the number of jobs connected to IT was expected to grow by 12 percent—faster than the average for all occupations—over the 10 years from 2018 to 2028, according to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Shifting the Training Online

Many of the nonprofit programs Google.org has financially supported have typically required some in-person meeting or class time, but with the COVID-19 outbreak the organizations have made the virtual shift like the rest of the country. In other words, you can learn from home.

“Goodwill has been able to shift something like 75 percent of their workforce training programs entirely to an online setting, and has been successful at retaining the individual that they were already reaching,” Mujica tells WorkingNation.

The Goodwill Digital Career Accelerator (GDCA) received $10 million grant from Google with the goal of digital skills training for one million people over the next three years. With the help of 1,000 Google volunteers, the GDCA provides access to the Google IT Support Professional Certificate, as part of the Grow with Google online program.

Per Scholas is another grantee that shifted its training, coursework, and IT work to online. Two years ago, Per Scholas, Google.org, and Coursera partnered to train 10,000 individuals for IT careers and job readiness in 8-12 months. The IT Support Professional Certificate Program is available to Per Scholas alumni who are three years out of the program. It launched in New York with plans to expand nationally.

Merit America out of Dallas, Texas is also a recipient of Google.org-funded, need-based scholarships for certificates. Along with Merit America’s $1,000 stipends, Mujica says their support assists the unemployed who still have financial responsibilities and are not able to devote 100 percent of their time and focus on school.

“They do have to worry about how they put food on the table, how do they pay rent, how do they pay for Wi-Fi, etc. So, I’m a big fan of what Merit America is doing in terms of providing that stipend to their learners that opt into it with a payback model, if they’re able to land the job in the sector that they’re studying for,” he says.

Google.org’s motto is: When everyone has the chance to succeed, we all prosper.

“(It) has always been our commitment over the years, and is particularly true today, to elevate partners that are working to ensure that people from vulnerable and underrepresented backgrounds have an equal shot at participating in the digital economy and achieving upward mobility.”

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