Partnering With Naspers To Expand Our Global Reach

With two-thirds of our students and over half of our instructors located outside the U.S., Udemy has made huge strides in opening access to learning and teaching opportunities worldwide. However, we are just at the beginning of realizing the full impact of online learning. That’s why I’m delighted to welcome a new investment partner that will help us bring Udemy to even more learners and experts around the world.

Naspers, a global internet and entertainment company with operations in 130 countries, is investing $60 million in Udemy. See the press release here. Why is this so exciting? Naspers has the local expertise to help us build our growing international presence and has made investments in internet companies, including Tencent and Flipkart, that 1.3 billion people worldwide already use. Naspers provides its portfolio companies with unmatched levels of international support, including strong business strategy expertise, operating experience, and access to on-the-ground resources in key expansion markets.

Today, more than 11 million students learn on Udemy, but there are 7 billion of us on earth, and we’ve reached a critical juncture in our global economy where everyone needs to embrace lifelong learning and take initiative for upskilling themselves . With 40,000 courses currently available in over 80 languages and new partnerships forming everywhere from Brazil to South Korea, Udemy intends to continue growing our huge, global community of students and instructors as far and wide as possible.

Our mission is to help anyone with a mobile device or internet connection and a desire to pursue a better life acquire the skills and knowledge they need to achieve their goals. With Naspers now on our team, we’re opening more doors to learning and helping more people everywhere build the life they imagine for themselves.

Dennis Yang

CEO of Udemy

 

Who Are You Calling Soft? The Value Of Soft Skills In A Tech-Obsessed Economy

twenty20_0a232b5f-7cfb-411d-8f1c-7adf67fa774dFor a while, the tech skills gap has dominated the conversation around the needs of the 21st century workplace. As globalization and labor automation accelerate the growth of a knowledge-based economy, the perceived premium on “hard” skills like programming is reaching an all-time high. But inside of companies, business leaders have long been crying out for something that’s missing from the storyline: the importance of “soft” skills.

Mastering hard skills while ignoring the soft ones is a bit like going to the gym every night but being careless about nutrition. You need both elements to find success.

What’s in a name?
The term alone — soft skills — reflects the problem. These competencies simply aren’t getting their due in the larger public discussion about upskilling, and maybe it’s because “soft” implies they’re more nice-to-have than must-have.

We can talk about the value of teaching kids STEM subjects earlier or steering students toward more marketable college majors, but soft skills are the foundation for any successful career, regardless of what field you’re in. Engineers aren’t typically associated with these kinds of soft skills, but they need them just as much as anyone — and unlike hard skills, which are always evolving and could be gone with the software update of tomorrow, soft skills never expire.

Communication, leadership, cultural sensitivity, and relationship building — these are some of the most valuable skills you can have in the workplace today, but they’re often eclipsed by a focus on the IT skills shortage. HR departments now rely on resume-reading software that scans for keywords, and soft skills usually get short shrift in that process. It’s tough for recruiters to screen for those skills too.

Time to heed the call of industry
These may seem like the types of skills workers naturally pick up on the job, and until recently that’s mainly how it worked, but in today’s workplace, soft skills are often ignored and rarely nurtured.

Organizations have gotten flatter, and middle management, where it even exists, is no longer tasked with grooming the next generation. Without role models and mentors around to share what they’ve learned over the years, there’s a void in the development of younger workers. The frequency with which people change jobs nowadays only exacerbates the problem.

As CEO of an online learning company, I’m fortunate to have unique visibility into trends around corporate training. We talk regularly with CEOs who express frustration with how weak their teams are in soft skills, and we’ve seen increased demand for and consumption of these topics in our course library.

Neglecting soft skills could mean a future where computers can handle more and more of the hard skills, but humans haven’t developed commensurate skills for driving business outcomes – things like how to collaborate, lead, empathize, and build relationships. Meanwhile, if you’re someone who excels in those areas, you might end up being a more in-demand prospect than the hottest software engineer of today.

How we can fill the void
So, what’s the alternative? I think a few things need to happen. First, individuals need to take personal responsibility for developing their soft skills, whether that’s part of their formal schooling or through courses and programs they pursue independently.

Second, companies need to incorporate screening for soft skills into the hiring process and give employees more opportunities to learn soft skills once they’re on the job; then they need to facilitate mentorships and coaching to support newer employees as they learn to master those skills.

Last, our broader culture needs to make room for soft skills when we talk about what 21st century workers need to know in order to succeed.

Hard or soft, all skills matter
In a survey conducted by PwC, CEOs cited “curiosity” and “open-mindedness” as traits that are becoming increasingly critical. Today’s star employees need the full package: hard or technical skills backed up with soft skills and emotional intelligence. It isn’t enough to say you’re good with people, a resume catchphrase that’s become empty jargon.

So, how do we broaden the conversation to make sure soft skills aren’t pushed aside while we agonize over upskilling everyone to become technologists? Science, technology, engineering, and math have all been around for ages, but when they were grouped together as the new must-have STEM skills, it gave them substance that people could understand and rally behind. Industry leaders should be equally vocal about soft skills.

This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.

Hey, grads: Your major is not your destiny

shutterstock_57140281At 22, I hit one of my first major life milestones: receiving my degree in chemical engineering. Those four years of hard work and late nights had led to this moment of celebration—yet something felt amiss. After pursuing and reaching goals for so long as a student, I no longer knew what the road forward looked like.

I’d just finished an internship where my job was to design safety valves for chemical reactors. I didn’t find much joy in it. Instead, I was actually spending a lot of my time worrying I was going to get someone hurt or worse. Previously, I’d thrown everything I had into chemical engineering, but now, at this late date, I realized I didn’t want to make it my career.

What I wish I could have told my anxiety-ridden, 22-year-old self is this: Your major is not your destiny.

In fact, your first job isn’t your destiny either. I moved away from engineering and took a job with a big accounting firm, despite not knowing much about finance. After that I spent time at a venture capital firm and then an internet marketing startup.

At the time, I was struggling to find my fit, but looking back, those early choices were good ones. I shouldn’t have worried so much! In fact, what I picked up in my wanderings is the same advice I’d share with today’s new grads.

Be patient: You’re eager, energetic, and full of ideas, but before you rush to present your thoughts to the board of directors, slow down and listen. College isn’t the end of learning; it’s just the beginning of a new phase. Use your newcomer status to observe and soak up on-the-job lessons about your work environment, interpersonal dynamics, decision making, communication styles, etc. Appreciate the transition from classroom to real world, and don’t feel bad about not having everything figured out. You’ve got time!

Go broad: Even if you think you’ve nailed down your perfect career path, keep an open mind and expose yourself to as many different things as possible early in your working life. As I found from my experience in consulting, you don’t know what you don’t know. And you can’t continue growing and evolving as a professional if you don’t stay curious and receptive to new skills, new responsibilities, and new points of view. Now’s the time for exploration and experimentation; you can specialize later.

Get mentors:  Now that I’m a CEO, I don’t get as many new hires approaching me directly for guidance. I suspect they assume I’m too busy or “important” for such interactions or they’re afraid of looking green and clueless. All of that couldn’t be further from the truth. I know from speaking with colleagues that we all feel an obligation to help when junior employees want to tap into our experience. We were all in their shoes at one point. So, don’t be afraid to approach your senior coworkers and ask to chat over coffee. You may very well find a mentor for life.

Always be learning: If I had only one piece of advice, this would be it. Take a risk and try something unfamiliar while you’re still new to the game. In fact, my other suggestions all add up to embracing a learning mindset. If you’re taking the time to listen, venturing beyond your comfort zone, and seeking guidance from more experienced colleagues, you’ll always be growing. And that will make you a valuable team member and contributor over the course of your entire career, no matter where you end up.

Back when I graduated, “job-hopping” was frowned upon and perceived as signaling a lack of commitment and seriousness. The average worker today has 12 different jobs (and counting) by the time they turn 40. Exploring new career paths and constantly evolving as a professional are now normal, expected parts of the journey. Tools like online learning give people the opportunity to reinvent themselves and create the lives they desire in a way that just wasn’t possible in the past.

If you’re 22 and just entering the world of work, go into it with an open mind and boundless curiosity. Not only will a lifelong learning attitude serve you well, it’ll make the journey a lot more interesting and rewarding.

Happy employees make customers happy #MySuccessMetric

shutterstock_150555248Popular wisdom would suggest having happy customers takes priority over happy employees. I think it’s more nuanced than that.

At Udemy, the answer was very simple at first. Any startup has to focus on market fit, growth, revenue, and customer satisfaction almost exclusively at the beginning, when survival comes before all else. However, it wasn’t long before we also figured out that employees know customers best, and happy, empowered employees lead to satisfied customers. We hired our first HR lead in 2014 when we hit 30 employees (earlier than most startups) because we had already invested heavily in our culture and wanted to ensure employee success and happiness would continue to grow along with our other metrics.

Hitting the 10-million-student mark earlier this year was a huge milestone, but we look beyond revenue and enrollment numbers to gauge our success. As CEO, I’m now focused on scalability and sustainability, and we’re tracking other critical signals to measure our success, such as course reviews to measure quality and minutes of consumption to measure engagement.

Similarly, I’ve shifted how I evaluate our success as a company internally and want to make sure our mission of helping people build the lives they imagine also applies to everyone who works here. That’s why my metric for success is employee engagement as a holistic measure of company health. When the people at Udemy are engaged, rewarded, challenged, and supported, they perform better — and that’s directly reflected in the company’s overall performance. Innovation happens at the edges, where employees touch customers directly, so it’s critical to empower people in ways that make them feel good about their roles at work and, in turn, foster positive customer interactions.

There isn’t an exact science to fostering employee satisfaction, especially at a company that’s moving and evolving so quickly, but we have a few foundational practices that ultimately drive our business success too.

  • Show me the data: We conduct engagement surveys every 6-12 months viaCulture Amp and compare our responses to other “new tech” companies through Culture Amp’s benchmarks. When I see that 96% would recommend Udemy as a great place to work (versus 83% average at other “new tech” companies), as our most recent survey showed, I know we’re doing something right. From there, we dig into the details and how we can get all the metrics upon which we base employee happiness up to that rate of approval.
  • Hire the right people: Anyone we bring on board has to identify with Udemy’s values, mission, and expectations. People who are deeply invested in the value of lifelong learning feel connected to our mission every day and that translates into superior job performance. In fact, 88% of Udemy employees say our company vision motivates them. Commitment to our mission raises student satisfaction, as they learn skills and achieve their goals, and drives employees, who value the real impact they’re having on people’s lives. Sometimes, however, we get it wrong and bring on someone who doesn’t work out. They’ll be great for another team, just not ours. The key is to recognize and fix it quickly before the rest of the team starts grumbling.
  • Go above and beyond to retain them: It’s crucial to foster an environment that supports growth and development from Day One. Millennials are an ever-increasing presence in the workforce, and they cite training and development opportunities as their number one factor in job selection, and that’s certainly an area where a learning company like Udemy can really shine. Figuring out how we can improve employee satisfaction and retention is so important to me I personally review all exit interviews. These reports contain the most truthful insights into managers and culture. Another crucial part of retention is empowering managers to move employees around to make sure every team and team member is functioning at the highest level.
  • Don’t keep them in the dark: Getting frequent feedback on job performance and transparent communication keep employees engaged in their work and the company. Our process is called the “Udemy Conversation.” It’s an ongoing dialogue between managers and workers that helps teams make on-the-fly adjustments to goals and priorities, rather than waiting for a once-a-year review period. Employees are encouraged to set ambitious goals but have support from their managers to shift focus as needed and not worry about “failing.” Our business moves fast, and our people appreciate having open channels with their managers to revisit, revise, and reprioritize their work. The flip side of this is identifying and moving out low performers efficiently.

So, sure, I check our revenue numbers and track our growth all the time, but these days, I’m really watching employee happiness as a metric of Udemy’s success. With a strong workforce and low turnover, we can continue working toward meeting our goals and helping more people access high-quality online learning resources. The impact a company makes on the world will always be its true bottom line — but it all starts with our employees being happy and deeply committed to what they do.

India: Scale Up Your CV Through Digital Learning

shutterstock_236322589This article originally appeared on IndiaPages.

How do you keep learning and gaining new skills when you’re working full-time and don’t have easy access to local resources or training through your employer?

Given the rapid pace of change in today’s workplace and the increase in occupations impacted by automation, the question is hardly theoretical. Indeed, earning a university degree is no longer adequate preparation for sustaining one’s career over a lifetime. We’ve reached a critical juncture in our global economy where everyone needs to embrace lifelong learning and take initiative for upskilling themselves — but not everyone knows where to go for that type of education.

For more and more Indians, the answer has been to go online. My company, Udemy, typically sees the strongest demand in areas with young populations with growing technical economies, which describes India to a tee. We currently have almost a thousand India-based instructors teaching more than 3,300 courses, and more than a million Indian students are enrolled in our courses (a figure that’s more than doubled over the past year).

These include students like Harsh Raj, 27, of Bhubaneswar, who took sales and marketing courses so he could move into a different field of work;Vivekanand Avasarala, 33, of Mumbai, who supplemented his logistics/finance degree with courses in algorithms, predictive analytics, and artificial intelligence; and Amer Deep Gurung, 36, of Pune, who’s been working in IT for more than a dozen years but needs to keep up with new technologies and frameworks like AngularJS.

Overcome barriers of time and space

We’re actually just at the beginning of seeing the potential impact of online learning in India, but the demand is clearly there. By extending access beyond physical classrooms, online learning can help mitigate the need, expense, and logistical complications of in-person training and maximize use of existing educational resources.

Moreover, online learning does a better job connecting students to the most relevant and sought-after skills for today’s workplace, especially India’s hot tech startup scene. In India, entrepreneurship skills are among the fastest-growing courses by enrollment on Udemy, while core technical skills such as web development and programming are the most popular categories overall.

Whether hoping to launch a startup or work for one, Indian professionals don’t necessarily have the time, money, or desire to return to full-time education. Online learning fills the gaps in someone’s skill set with actionable knowledge that can be applied as soon as it’s gained. That’s a huge selling point for working adults who aren’t interested in theory and prefer to dive directly into the instruction that will help them reach their career goals quickly. [Read more…]

A Tale of Two Teaching Jobs

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Depending on your point of view and definition of the role, there’s never been a better time or a more difficult time than now to be a teacher.

The Internet has freed the act of teaching from the physical classroom and the constraints of time and space, creating exciting new possibilities for delivering education. My company, Udemy, counts on the contributions of tens of thousands of instructors to provide educational content for the millions of students in our marketplace. Thousands of new instructors join our community and publish new courses every month. This year, we’re hosting our first-ever instructor summit, and the response has been really enthusiastic. Udemy instructors are excited to touch lives around the world by sharing what they know with people motivated to learn.

These instructors come from diverse backgrounds and geographies; most aren’t teachers offline in the traditional sense. For some, being a published Udemy instructor is a professional accomplishment that elevates their standing in their field. For others, it’s an additional revenue stream to supplement their day jobs. Our most successful instructors are passionate about their subjects and excited to share their expertise with a global audience.

Our marketplace is proof that anyone can share their knowledge and help others learn. You don’t need to call yourself a teacher or work in a school to do so. That’s why I think teaching can be called a “hot” profession, at least in Udemy’s space.

Unfortunately, teachers in public education may not be faring as well due to forces largely outside their control. For them, teaching is a profession people have been fleeing more and more. One recent study found that between 40 and 50 percent of teachers will leave the classroom within their first five years; 9.5 percent leave before the end of their first year.

It’s not hard to find stories and testimonials chronicling the challenges and frustrations that drive teachers out of teaching. First, there are the modest salaries and long hours. Then there’s the crushing bureaucracy and paperwork that comes with standardized testing and programs like Common Core and No Child Left Behind. Many schools are underfunded and overcrowded, particularly in economically strapped, urban areas, creating an environment that makes it hard for effective teaching — or learning — to take place. One of the most common reasons teachers leave the profession is also the hardest to quantify — a sinking feeling that they simply can’t make the kind of impact on student success they envisioned when they started out.

Today’s teachers, many of whom buy their own classroom supplies because their schools can’t, are held accountable for learning outcomes in an outdated system that hasn’t kept pace with technology or adapted to the way people actually live, work, and learn in our complex 21st-century world. None of us, regardless of occupation, wants to stay in an environment that doesn’t bring out our best work or give us opportunities to grow and succeed.

At the same time, all parents want the best for their kids, and we need the best teachers to get them there. Despite the tough conditions and obstacles put in their way, there are still many, many school teachers who remain committed to their jobs and are putting their students on a brighter path to the future. Imagine if school teachers around the world felt respected and rewarded in ways that kept them engaged and excited about their own futures? That was the rallying cry of GEMS Education founder Sunny Varkey at the Global Teacher Prize ceremony I attended earlier this month in Dubai. “We must treasure teachers” is how he put it, and I couldn’t agree more.

I applaud those proud individuals who do stay dedicated to teaching, despite the difficulties. We’re always going to need more great teachers, no matter where technology takes us. We still rely on the time, effort, and passion of high-performing teachers to produce the successful students who’ll become tomorrow’s successful adults. As a society, let’s reexamine how we view and treat teachers and do whatever it takes to make teaching a truly “hot” profession.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

Invest In The Future – But Don’t Give Up On Workers of Today

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There’s been a lot of talk about how public schools in America are in desperate need of an upgrade, and Silicon Valley is starting to show interest in applying technology to solve the problem.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan donated $20M to help school districts across the US bring high-speed internet into their classrooms. AltSchool is opening brand-new elementary schools promising an individualized experience, while companies like Tynker, TapToLearn, and Wonder Workshop are introducing kids to technology earlier than ever. Schools are even starting to pop up on the Silicon Valley campuses of tech mainstays like Oracle.

I applaud the tech community for their commitment to preparing future generations for careers in the 21st-century workplace – but what about the millions of working-age Americans struggling to keep up with changing technology and the growing skills gap those changes are creating today?

The “21st-century workplace” isn’t some futuristic concept we need to plan ahead for; it’s already here. With globalization and labor automation more commonplace than ever before, companies are desperate to find employees with current tech skills as well as those who understand how business is conducted across borders.

We can’t afford to wait for better-suited graduates to enter the workforce 10+ years from now. The next generation of workers needs a modern education, but they also need parents with jobs.

While the unemployment rate may have fallen to an eight-year low in January, we also have a record number of job openings. This may sound positive, but it reveals a disconnect between people looking for work and companies looking for talent. According to the latest report by the Social Security Administration, more than half of all US workers currently earn less than $30,000 a year, which means a lot of employed people are stuck in crummy, low-paying jobs. Moreover, many of those low-wage workers simply don’t have access to the education and skills training that would qualify them for better jobs.

Even workers comfortable in good jobs don’t have a sense of security anymore. Great employees are the lifeblood of great companies, and in today’s knowledge-based economy this is more true than ever. At the same time, though, today’s “great” employee is quickly outdated with the next update of tomorrow.

For companies, hiring employees of every age who are willing, able, and excited to learn new skills is now vital to maintaining a competitive edge. These employees continue to make valuable contributions over the course of their careers, even as their roles change to meet new market demands.

Retaining these lifelong learners — and creating an environment that continues to attract them — means providing the resources to pursue skills growth. It also means fostering environments conducive to continuous learning and giving employees generous access to training programs on platforms they can access from anywhere and anytime.

Of course, providing the resources is only half the battle.

Companies can provide every educational resource under the sun, but employees are the ones who ultimately must use them. Employees must be engaged and actively want to learn. They expect to consume educational content just like they consume every other kind of content — as on-demand, interactive video that is accessible across devices.

In addition, educational programs should expand people’s areas of expertise. Workers should be encouraged to explore skills potentially unrelated to their work but delivered in a way that demonstrates relevance. For example, everyone can benefit from learning new project management skills, but the way you deliver training to an engineer is not necessarily the most effective way to train a marketer or salesperson. Ultimately, programs should be tailored to meet the unique skills of the individual.

Not every company can build its own training platform. However, when the democratization of educational tools and resources is taken into account, it is possible for every company to make significant strides in reskilling their employees and setting them up for ongoing success in today’s rapidly-changing workplace.

Just as investing in the workforce of the future is key to staying competitive in the long term, so too is investing in the workforce of today. In our eagerness to solve for the needs of tomorrow’s workers, let’s not forget the people who can keep the economy humming while that next generation skills up.

This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.

Embracing the power of experiential learning through Talentbuddy acquisition

talentbuddy-udemy-logoWe’re constantly exploring new ways to help people learn on Udemy. Many of our students — particularly those enrolled in programming courses, our most popular category — crave more hands-on interaction to support their absorption of new information. And we know experiential learning can be a powerful force in helping students reach their goals when woven seamlessly into the course-taking experience.

That’s why we’re excited to announce that Udemy has acquired Talentbuddy in order to accelerate the integration of coding exercises into the Udemy experience and strengthen our experiential learning capabilities. Talentbuddy’s interactive learn-to-code platform has already been used by 45,000 developers to improve their ability to solve problems, build applications, advance their careers, and get new jobs. The Talentbuddy founders, Octav Druta and Andrei Soare, will join us as Udemy employees.

This acquisition is especially great news for Udemy’s community of instructors, who will be able to offer even more engaging, hands-on practice to their students. We know these types of tools enable instructors to better communicate course material, which can lead to better student outcomes.

Introducing tools to enable experiential learning lets instructors get creative with their course material, and find the right blend of video content and hands-on exercises to ensure students master the material as they go. Students can easily share code on sites like GitHub where prospective employers or clients could see it too. This provides ample opportunity for feedback, so students go beyond just absorbing content and are actively engaged in applying what they’ve learned.

The Talentbuddy team is eager to apply their knowledge and expertise on a large, global scale at Udemy. Together, we share a vision for the future of learning where anyone can build the lives and careers they imagine for themselves. Talentbuddy hasn’t just been building products the last few years; they’ve been working with actual students to understand their needs and have gained an intuitive sense about what enables aspiring programmers to reach their goals. They’re focused on students and their learning, just like us.

As Udemy’s first acquisition, this is an important milestone on our path to building a richer experience for our 10 million students worldwide. As our community grows, we’ll continue to pursue opportunities that help us evolve our platform, ensuring students learn what they set out to achieve, and translate their hard-won skills into career opportunities. Our mission is highly ambitious by design. Employers are grappling with finding qualified candidates and would-be workers are struggling to prepare themselves for the tech-driven jobs of tomorrow. We believe access to learning that matches the pace of our world can close the global skills gap and facilitate upward mobility for people everywhere.

Hey, World Leaders, This Tiny Nation Wants to Eat Your Lunch

shutterstock_195617891Here in the U.S., our leaders (and would-be leaders) have been busy talking about how to make higher education more affordable. I’ve been saying for a while now that putting college within reach is only one step toward leveling the playing field and bringing better futures within reach for a broader swath of the population. The other important part of the equation is supporting the ongoing training needs of those whose college days are already behind them — workers in the 21st century economy, where technology changes the tools we use so quickly, the only way to keep up is by making continuous learning the norm.

What people learn in college isn’t necessarily what employers seek and, regardless, they need to keep building their skills throughout their careers to stay competitive. This isn’t just a U.S. problem. Look around and you’ll see the UK battling its own skills gap. In other developed countries, as birth rates are declining and the workforce is aging, it’s getting harder to find qualified workers. Meanwhile, in the developing world, growing populations face rapid urbanization, education systems can’t scale up, and youth unemployment is a big problem. At either end of the spectrum, individuals can only enjoy improved economic opportunity when they have access to the most up-to-date, relevant job skills. And traditional economies must transform into knowledge-based economies that are well-positioned to compete for future growth.

So, it’s significant that in Singapore, a country with only about 5.5 million citizens, the government is taking real action. To close the skills gap and improve employability, Singapore has launched the SkillsFuture program, an innovative program that could serve as a model to other countries as well.

Singapore’s achievement represents a big leap in scale for a government to leverage digital technology to upskill all of its citizens. Under SkillsFuture, every working adult age 25 and older receives S$500 to put toward skills-based learning resources approved by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), supported by public agencies, and offered through approved training organisations and partners like my company, Udemy.

For Singapore, the SkillsFuture program is not a catch-up act; it represents an entire nation looking at the same unknown future we all face and choosing to be proactive and innovative about it. Globalization is nothing new, of course, and it’s not going away. Outsourcing impacts thousands of low-skill workers, and now we’re starting to see the effects of automation in many industries as well. Singapore is trying to get and stay ahead of the curve by preparing to meet the needs of the global economy with lifelong learning and skills training.

Singapore’s SkillsFuture program is a wake-up call to other countries because we all are feeling the same pressures of technology automation and globalization. While individuals share some responsibility for keeping their skill sets current, governments need to follow Singapore’s lead and do more to help working adults too. That includes providing financial support for people to pursue skills training, regardless of when they earned a college degree. The good news is that online technology is breaking time and space barriers, and the private sector is starting to step up too. Udemy, for example, just announced a partnership with Microsoft to offer online skills training to youth in the Middle East and Africa (MENA), where unemployment rates continue to climb.

Just as investments in infrastructure and healthcare have tremendous macro benefits, so too do investments in lifelong skills training. The government of Singapore knows this. Does the U.S.?

What Obama failed to mention about the ‘skills gap’

shutterstock_216021430In his final State of the Union Address, President Obama shared his thoughts on the future of work. Echoing industry leaders across the nation, the president addressed what many are calling the “skills gap” — the disconnect between the needs and expectations of employers and the current skills of our nation’s workers.

“Real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job,“ the president said. Later in his speech, he stated that “Americans understand that at some point in their careers, they may have to retool and retrain… Say a hardworking American loses his job  –  we shouldn’t just make sure he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.”

I couldn’t agree more and applaud the president for bringing much-needed attention to this growing issue. In today’s economy, skills are a universal currency, and many American workers are coming up short. Moreover, our system of higher education can’t meet the needs of this population segment, as most working adults don’t have the money, time, or desire to go back to school every time they need to update their skills, which happens more frequently in the 21st-century workplace.

With technology reshaping virtually every aspect of how the world works — and with lots of companies, nonprofits, think tanks, and other institutions exploring new models for education and continuous learning (including my company, Udemy) — you’d think we would be closing this gap. Yet reports continue to indicate a record number of job openings and stagnant new hires. So, simply creating new digital tools isn’t the cure-all for getting Americans into good-paying careers.

Even providing greater access to educational resources isn’t enough. As the adage goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. In a country stillin love with traditional higher education, not everyone has embraced the idea they must assume responsibility for their ongoing skills development — and then to go out and do it. We’re still at the stage where most online learners are people who are already self-motivated, ambitious, and proactive in pursuing their career goals.

With leaders like our president sounding the alarm, however, more people should get the message that college is a good start but not the end to learning if you want to keep your career on track. I just talked to a Udemy student who told me he hated learning in school, but after he got out and worked for just a few years, he saw that “the world was leaving me behind.” He knew he had to put in the effort and advance his skills if he wanted to keep up and not miss out on opportunities. Now, he’s a huge fan of online learning and loves that he can control the experience — taking courses when it’s convenient, in bite-size pieces whenever he has a free moment, at his own pace. As he put it, there’s no excuse nowadays for people NOT to take advantage of available resources to up-skill themselves.

But that student isn’t reflective of the majority of working adults in the U.S. That’s going to take a broader cultural shift away from the structured rigor of tradition and toward an appreciation for curiosity and lifelong learning.

Employers can help foster this attitude by building it into their onboarding and mentorship programs. Many of them are already rejecting elite degrees listed on a resume in favor of candidates who can actually show their skills in action and demonstrate an aptitude for learning new ones. Corporate training, once dismissed as unbearable drudgery, should incorporate new digital technologies that make learning more engaging, effective, and manageable too. By encouraging employees to grow and stretch beyond their current roles — and helping them do it — companies can develop a skilled workforce in house instead of waging a battle for qualified talent on the open market.

Governments, too, can have great impact on how people equip themselves with 21st-century skills. Singapore recently made headlines with the launch of a massive government-supported re-skilling program called SkillsFuture. The program provides $500 for every Singaporean age 25 and over that they can put toward various skills-based courses. This bold government initiative is the type of undertaking needed to close the growing skills gap in the U.S. It also serves as a powerful signal that the skills gap is not just a domestic challenge and a failure to address it will have real economic consequences.

President Obama has brought the skills gap issue to the fore of public debate, encouraging government to invest in up-skilling the country’s workforce and calling on tech companies to help solve society’s biggest problems. But it’s also on us as individuals to take the initiative and develop our skills. The tools and resources are here, with options to fit virtually any career goal and lifestyle. Let’s make it a priority, as a nation, to get every working adult excited about lifelong learning and the future it can put within reach.

This article originally appeared as an opinion editorial in The Hill.