‘Digital transformation requires businesses to rethink workforce strategy’

1 Sep 2022

Anthony Tattersall. Image: Coursera

Coursera’s Anthony Tattersall discusses skills education in a rapidly changing world of work and what he learned himself from taking a job at a start-up.

Anthony Tattersall has more than 20 years’ experience in the learning industry. He is now vice-president of the EMEA team at online course provider Coursera.

He oversees the growth of its corporate learning offering, Coursera for Business, which helps around 3,500 companies globally to upskill and reskill their employees.

“By doing so, we give individuals the critical skills they will need for the future, and businesses the industry-leading course content necessary to achieve their workforce transformation goals at speed and scale,” Tattersall told SiliconRepublic.com.

“The position gives me unique insights on how businesses, governments and higher education can work together to build the workforce of the future, and how data-driven insights can be used to support this effort.”

‘The foundations that any organisation’s capabilities are built on are the skills of the people and effective use of technology’

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

According to our recently published 2022 Global Skills Report, European nations – Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium – lead the world for skills proficiency. But beneath the surface, the region is also undergoing a massive digital transformation that requires businesses to rethink their workforce development strategy.

Coursera is a skills transformation and career development platform, so we enable people to learn anywhere in the world, when they want, with access to the very best content from major universities and industry partners – including IBM, Meta, Google, Stanford and Yale. The overarching goal is to utilise applied learning to improve skills, whether upskilling, reskilling or deep-skilling.

Business needs are constantly evolving in today’s workforce and employees are expected to acquire new skills at an increasingly rapid pace to perform in their roles. By delivering easy access to shorter, actionable content on job-relevant topics, we are enabling employees to quickly develop the role-based skills and human skills needed to do their job successfully.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

The foundations that any organisation’s capabilities are built on are the skills of the people and effective use of technology. Businesses that acknowledge this see a focus on understanding skill requirements for roles both right now and in the immediate future, finding the best way to address that gap. The challenge lies in making learning accessible in their flow of work, and how to utilise reskilling to create new roles internally where hiring is not easy, such as tech, data science, cybersecurity, for example.

A number of countries are struggling with graduate unemployment, partly related to the pandemic and partly because businesses want to hire people who already have the skills they need. And it’s not just about getting someone that first job after graduating – it’s also about preparing learners for all the moments of career transition that people will experience over their lifetimes.

We’re capitalising on these opportunities through offerings like Career Academy. This enables any business, government or academic institution to give individuals – even those with no college degree or prior work experience – the opportunity to learn the skills to enter a high-demand, entry-level digital job through access to professional certificates offered by leading industry partners.

Coursera has nearly 107m learners operating on the platform globally, spanning all ages and demographics, offering us a robust and diverse dataset to learn from. We can see what skills people are developing and what jobs they’re in to get a full spectrum of the underlying skill sets for those roles. In turn, this allows us to identify what their career trajectory is over time, so we get a comprehensive understanding of how those skillsets lead to role changes.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

From the beginning of my career, I wanted a role where I would have the chance to meet a wide range of people, that would bring variety, creativity and an opportunity to travel and explore different cultures.

I also wanted whatever I did to have a positive and measurable impact. After a brief stint in marketing, I quickly moved into sales and then progressively worked through a variety of management and leadership roles until I reached the point where I am now.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

Joining a very small start-up before it had hit its first million in revenue. Many, many companies fail at this stage, but you can learn a huge amount in a smaller business.

In my case, I was able to work with the board of directors, join the executive team, work with the investor community to secure a Series A investment round and figure out how to drive awareness of our offerings with a minuscule budget.

What one work skill do you wish you had?

I’m very fortunate to be working at a company that specialises in transforming people’s skills, so I’ve been able to work on the skills most critical to my role.

One skill I’ve often wished I had is the ability to code – I’ve dabbled a bit over the years, even since my university days. A lasting memory is how my attempt at coding was described as “creative, but not remotely elegant”. I never quite figured out how to do it properly, but it has so many outlets where it can be valuable.

How do you get the best out of your team?

The first thing is to hire really smart, passionate, motivated people that can be coached and will be receptive to feedback. Then it’s about aligning people to roles where their strengths and skills can be applied most effectively, enabling them to be successful and giving them the autonomy to do their job.

As a leader, it’s really important to foster a healthy culture – one which is open, transparent and honest. If people feel happy at work, if they feel they belong, they’re supported and they can make mistakes, they will bring their best selves to work.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What can be done about this?

Women and other underrepresented groups have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and automation. Technology is creating jobs, but vulnerable populations need access to flexible, affordable and fast-tracked learning and career pathways to take advantage of these new opportunities.

In partnership with the International Finance Corporation and the European Commission, Coursera recently published a global study on women and online learning in emerging markets, with user data collected from nearly 97m Coursera learners in over 190 countries.

Our findings demonstrate that women currently represent a minority of learners enrolled online in emerging markets on the Coursera platform. Additionally, a lower access to funding and financing impacts women’s learning patterns. When asked what would make online learning more appealing, both women and men cited greater affordability as the top request.

This highlights the need not only for better outreach on existing financial aid opportunities, but also for further investment in large-scale public sector partnerships to offer innovative payment models, dedicated scholarship opportunities and other emerging funding models that support online access to education as a public good.

Collating these insights offers a new perspective to the public and private sectors to work together to build competitive, equitable and sustainable workforces – and help women and other underrepresented groups unlock their full economic potential.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Two books spring to mind for me. The first is Atomic Habits by James Clear – a very practical book for helping build positive habits that lead to significant gains over time. One of the few books I’ve read that has led to genuine changes in the way I operate and a very clear positive benefit as a result.

The other is Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch – it was a truly eye-opening book for me. Until I read it I had no idea how little I understood about race in the UK and the prejudices built into our society at such a fundamental level that we don’t even realise they are there.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

I’m fairly organised in how I approach my week, prioritising my activities and using a wide range of cloud-based applications covering email, documents, presentations and communication.

But I draw my energy from interactions with people – from my team, my cross-functional colleagues, customers and partners. We also have a strong sense of purpose at Coursera and a lot of what we do can have a positive impact not just on our customers but also society as a whole. It helps to keep the more mundane and challenging tasks of the week in perspective!

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