Published on 2014/07/25

Partnering to Create Responsive Corporate Training and Development Education

Partnering to Create Responsive Corporate Training and Development Education
The nanodegree partnership between AT&T and Udacity allows the tech giant to create training and development programming that addresses skills gaps as they arise.

The following email Q&A is with Scott Smith, senior vice president of human resources operations at AT&T. AT&T recently announced a partnership with Udacity to launch a nanodegree program geared toward individuals looking to qualify for high-demand jobs in the high-tech industry. The partnership is significant on two levels. First, it marks a major departure from convention for a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) provider, and exemplifies Udacity’s movement into the corporate training space. Second, it is a significant example of corporations taking prospective employee development into their own hands. In this interview, Scott remarks on the development of the program and discusses how he expects the nanodegree partnership to impact the rest of the postsecondary industry.

1. What was the impetus for AT&T to become involved in developing the nanodegree program with Udacity?

AT&T developed the nanodegree program with Udacity because of its great potential to help our employees build skills in critical software disciplines — and to also widen the pipeline of applicants skilled in key technologies.

We’re transforming our company from hardware-based to a software and fully mobile-centric business. The nanodegree offers an efficient, accessible and affordable way to offer continuous learning for skills that help create a larger pipeline of STEM-trained workers. And it’s not just technology companies that will need these skills. It could be anything from manufacturing to retail clothing — wherever there’s a need for more software developers. 

2. Why did AT&T choose to partner with Udacity rather than a traditional college or university?

Udacity is a pre-eminent leader in the MOOC space and the MOOC platform will allow us to scale to a wide audience with an affordable program, anywhere there’s a broadband connection. It will also be accessible to diverse populations under-represented in the tech field. We will be able to guide development of the curriculum based on tangible hiring and training needs and tweak the courses as we go along.

The nanodegree complements traditional university programs and is not a substitute for them. We continue to support existing universities and will continue recruiting the best and the brightest from them.  We will use both paths to recruit the best talent.

3. Recognizing that the program is young, how does AT&T hope to benefit from the nanodegree program?

For starters, the first courses being offered this fall will be based on requirements needed now for entry-level jobs in computer science. These include front-end and back-end development as well as iOS mobile application development. We will provide up to 100 paid internships that we will offer to high-performing nanodegree learners.

4. As the nanodegree program grows, what do you expect the response from higher education institutions will be in regards to programming that helps individuals gain critical workforce skills?

The nanodegree is very different from university programs. It focuses on lifelong learning and addresses the needs of a dynamic workforce. We very much support existing universities. AT&T has sponsored a new online master’s degree program in computer science with Georgia Institute of Technology and Udacity. This program has attracted thousands of applicants, and hundreds of students are presently enrolled.

The nanodegree is more focused on the specific skills required for specific jobs. The demographics will also be very different. Most Udacity learners have already earned advanced college degrees. At the Georgia Tech program, we find that the average student age is 11 years older than traditional on-campus students. Many learners will be employed, have a family and benefit from the fact that all education can be delivered through mobile devices. So the nanodegree will be complementary to traditional universities.

This is about adding more choices and options to help increase STEM skills and STEM employability.

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Key Takeaways

  • The AT&T-Udacity nanodegree program is not intended to replace traditional university education, but to provide a pathway to lifelong learning to address specific skills gaps.
  • AT&T created this program in partnership with a MOOC provider to take advantage of the scale a MOOC platform can offer.
  • Through the partnership, AT&T will be able to customize the curriculum to match hiring and training needs.

Readers Comments

Will Jenkins 2014/07/25 at 10:54 am

For those who have been wondering about a business model for MOOCs: Udacity has shown us the way. MOOCs, as they currently are, have achieved debatable success, but I’ve always believed that its platform is its real value. By shipping it out to companies essentially looking for a new way to offer professional development, MOOC providers have guaranteed their long-term relevance in this space.

Quincy Adams 2014/07/25 at 11:58 am

I’m confused about how a nanodegree is different from a post-graduate certificate or diploma. Perhaps the inclusion of “degree” in the name makes it more attractive for students, but I don’t see it creating different outcomes for students than other lifelong learning opportunities.

Peter Gunderson 2014/07/25 at 12:32 pm

It’s interesting to see how private companies are coming around to the idea of that continuous pipeline of well-trained employees. This partnership is exciting because it demonstrates the evolution of higher education into a truly collaborative effort by employers and institutions to improve outcomes for individuals. It will be interesting to see uptake of this nanodegree program (Smith doesn’t make it clear whether this training is required for employees) in the coming years.

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