Employee Upskilling Initiatives at Google

Americans need digital skills to get ahead. To provide those skills, Google launched Grow with Google in 2017, and so far the program has trained more than three million Americans on digital skills. Through a network of 5,000-plus partner organizations, including schools, nonprofits, and local libraries, more people are getting the skills, connections, and opportunities they need to reach their full potential.

Natalie Van Kleef Conley, Product Lead at Google, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about the Grow with Google initiative, and how many in higher ed are beginning to incorporate Google certificates directly into their degree programs.

The Desire to Upskill Internally

“Back in 2014,” Natalie said, “I used to run Google’s IT residency program, which staffs Google’s in-person and remote IT support function. We had struggled to find qualified candidates for the role, but we also knew that qualified did not have to mean having a four-year college degree.” 

Look in the market: there are more than 215,000 unfilled IT support jobs in the U.S., and the majority don’t require a four-year college degree. So the career is relatively protected from degree inflation.

Anyway, while Natalie was running Google’s IT residency program, the company partnered with a non-profit organization for low-income young adults called Year Up. This partnership evolved into a  long term training and hiring pathway into IT support internships and full time roles at Google. One catch, though: to be an intern at Google, you need to be enrolled in a college program. 

“And so we rolled out a full scholarship for our Year Uppers to get an associate degree in IT at their local community college and had great success there,” Natalie said. 

This project gave Natalie and her team the proof of concept that IT is a relatively teachable field and if they could prioritize skills-based training over traditional degree requirements, they could create real paths to jobs.

We wanted to make these opportunities available to anyone anywhere,” Natalie said. 

So Google designed the hands-on IT support professional certificate for entry-level talent with no experience or training in IT support. This approach tackles that classic job seeker’s dilemma that you can’t get the job without the experience, or the experience without the job. On the program’s two year anniversary, it expanded to include a new IT Automation with Python professional certificate.

Google’s effort has called upon individual employers to shift their focus from competing for talent to jointly develop a pipeline that’s needed to build the workforce. 

“It wasn’t enough to provide the training,” Natalie said. “We needed to take it a step further and ensure that our learners were connected to the employers at the end of this program.”

Google is also extending this consortium model to more local employers and focusing on regional economies, which has a reinforcing effect of creating more pathways to jobs for learners who complete the certificate program. 

Helping Your Organization Reflect the World Around You

Employers know that their best work comes when the workforce reflects the world around them. In order to do that well, course content needs to resonate with learners from many different backgrounds and perspectives. 

“We’ve been really successful in reaching nontraditional learners,” Natalie said. “Among the many people enrolled in our IT support certificate, 60% identify as female, black, Latino, or veteran, who have been underrepresented in the tech industry.”

Natalie believed Google needed to launch resources that provide job search skills such as interviewing and resume development. So Google recently launched a course on Coursera that includes a suite of Google-created resume and interview prep videos, downloadable IT support specific resume templates, free virtual interview practice, and a job board featuring regional and national IT support roles. 

Next Steps for Incorporating Google Certificates into Academic Degrees

Natalie offers three important notes for academic institutions considering any sort of curriculum. 

First, extending industry-developed curriculum into academia should be aligned with the broader needs of the industry. The IT support professional certificate, for example, is not focused on Google enterprise specific technologies. In fact, the platform’s products are Google agnostic. So the program is designed for learners to jumpstart their careers at any company across any sector. It is not a revenue generator for Google.

The second note is that it’s important that these programs have the sort of modularized and flexible design that recognizes the needs and expertise of individual colleges and faculty. Thus, the Google certificate is broad and can map to a different set of courses and programs. This approach gives faculty and institutional leaders a lot of options to integrate and reformulate it.

Finally, anytime learners can be offered credit for prior learning, that is important, because it creates an accelerated and typically lower cost pathway toward a degree. Google’s IT support certificate has a credit recommendation from the American Council on Education, which is the industry standard for translating workplace learning to college credits. Learners can earn up to 12 college credits for completing the program.


This post is based on a podcast interview with Natalie Van Kleef Conley from Grow with Google. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.