The latest tool for employers builds on an old idea: business certificates—but with a modern twist, from bigger course catalogs to digital delivery to bleeding-edge topics designed to keep your workforce super current. These education alternatives can yield benefits for companies, such as improved employee retention, better-trained employees and cost savings in comparison to tuition on traditional degrees.
While formal academia can be right for certain goals, business certificates offer many benefits. A certificate's return on investment can also be faster: courses are shorter and often focus on practical applications of the work, with assignments that require students to create solutions for real-life problems at their company.
Getting business certificates can also be cheaper than attending a two-year masters or MBA program. Costs can vary; I've seen offerings from various education providers that range from $599 to $4,995 and up.
Bonus: offering tuition reimbursement for certificate programs may help with retention.
“The millennial generation is just as motivated by professional development opportunities as they are by salary, so added benefits around continuing education is crucial to capture and retain top talent, and reduce recruiting costs," says Lee Rubenstein, vice president of business development at education provider edX.
Intrigued? If you're thinking about investing in these programs to give employees a way to grow their skills and advance their careers, here are some of the most in-demand and innovative business certificates education providers are seeing.
1. Data Science
By far one of the hottest areas of growth is in data. Continuing education provider General Assembly's general counsel and VP, external affairs Liz Simon says enrollments in on-campus data programs have grown 5x, and enrollments in enterprise-focused data programs have grown a whopping 10x.
—Liz Simon, general counsel and VP, external affairs, General Assembly
In a 2017 report, IBM predicted that the demand for data professionals will increase by 28 percent by 2020, with the annual job openings in the field to top 2.7 million.
“Organizations continue to face major challenges in organizing and analyzing data, yet are struggling with a talent shortage," Simon says. “Retaining top talent, in an age of Google, Amazon and Facebook, can be tough for companies outside of that circle—by investing in employee education, companies can attract and retain the best."
Continuing education companies also see strong employer interest in soft skills training. EdX expects “considerable" demand in areas such as leadership, business strategy, management, critical thinking and problem-solving.
“Leadership and soft skills are among the most sought-after training programs across the board, [regardless] of industry," Rubenstein says.
Providers are also striving to keep up with highly specific leadership challenges: eCornell, Cornell University's online learning platform, offers business certificates in a number of management disciplines, from project leadership to sales management. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) awards certificates in everything from applied neuroscience to better manage teams to management of analytics programs.
3. Digital Marketing
As content marketing and social media become increasingly indispensable tools, companies are looking to uplevel the skills of their marketing teams. Digital marketing courses teach skills ranging from search engine optimization (SEO) to email marketing to understanding and fine-tuning analytics.
“The world of work is changing so rapidly, and companies need employees who are fluent in those next-level technologies," General Assembly's Simon says.
While there's a great deal of demand for tech-oriented hard skills, educators and employers also see a skills gap in basic communication and teamwork abilities. Employers are increasingly in need of well-rounded individuals.
They need “not just mobile programmers, but mobile programmers with marketing, communication, presentation and business skills," Rubenstein says. "Finding people with this hybrid skill set is not easy, so employers are looking for supplemental training to make sure their employees can stay ahead."
5. Social Selling
Rutgers has launched a course on social selling, a style of offering that could catch on as sales and marketing teams become increasingly reliant on digital tools.
“Many traditional sales roles were face-to-face," says Peter Methot, executive director of Rutgers Business School's Executive Education program. “Now, there's great data around online transactions—search query, social media, discussion forums." The program aims to teach sales professionals to engage with customers and brand-build digitally.
Additional Tech Topics
Additional hot certification areas providers say to consider are data analysis and visualization, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and fintech, though the relevance of that training is dependent on an employer's needs.
Ultimately, business certificates are an investment in a company's employees, and in its business. Education providers recommend choosing courses that have a measurable impact on your company.
“Students aren't learning information for learning's sake. They're learning to apply it," Methot says. "[The school is teaching] skills you can literally learn this week that help you do your job better next week."
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