Google to fund 100,000 online certificate scholarships

The Silicon Valley titan has promised scholarships for its tech-focused certificate courses alongside $10 million in job training grants.

group of women at office meeting
  • America is facing a "middle-skills gap" thanks to the rapid digitalization of work.
  • Google announces new online certificate courses and 100,000 need-based scholarships to train people for in-demand skills.
  • The need for middle-skills will grow as the COVID-19 pandemic hastens technological adoption.

  • American has a "middle skills" gap. Good jobs requiring a high school diploma have contracted since the 1990s, while workers wielding a college education continue to excel. But according to a report out of Georgetown University, two out of three entry-level jobs today require some training and education beyond high school but not a bachelor's degree. This demand for middle-skilled workers has resulted from the assimilation of work by the digital revolution, while people have been outpaced by the technology they rely on.

    As Stephane Kasriel, former CEO of Upwork, wrote for the World Economic Forum: "Our current education system adapts to change too slowly and operates too ineffectively for this new world. […] Skills, not college pedigree, will be what matters for the future workforce" To bridge the skills gap, many employers and institutions have turned to online education and other non-traditional models. One such employer is Google.

    Unable to find enough qualified candidates to fill necessary positions, the Silicon Valley titan created its own certification course of Coursera to teach people IT support skills. The program proved so successful that earlier this week, Google announced it would expand the program to include three new courses. It's also offering scholarships to help in-need people enroll.

    An improved educational pipeline?

    color-coded jobs versus education chart

    A chart showing the increase and decrease of "good jobs" based on level of education required.

    (Photo: Georgetown University)

    The new suite of courses will train students in skills necessary for data analyst, project manager, and UX design positions. While Google has released no specifics on these courses, they will likely follow the current certificate course template. This means they won't require a degree to enroll, will be entirely online, and will be taught by Google Staff.

    Like other massive open online courses (or MOOCs), they will likely be self-paced. According to Coursera, Google's current IT support course takes between three to six months to complete at $49 a month. To offset those costs, Google is also offering 100,000 need-based scholarships.

    "College degrees are out of reach for many Americans, and you shouldn't need a college diploma to have economic security. We need new, accessible job-training solutions—from enhanced vocational programs to online education—to help America recover and build," wrote Kent Walker, SVP of Global Affairs at Google, in a release.

    By the courses' end, students will have created hands-on projects to build their portfolio and will receive a certificate of completion. In the release, Walker states that Goggle will consider the certification as "equivalent of a four-year degree" for job seekers. The current IT support course has credit recommendation from the American Council on Education, meaning it may be possible for students to translate the certificate into some college credits. No word on whether the new courses will also have credit recommendation.

    "Launched in 2018, the Google IT Certificate program has become the single most popular certificate on Coursera, and thousands of people have found new jobs and increased their earnings after completing the course," Walker added.

    As part of the initiative, Google.org, the company's charity branch, has committed $10 million in job training grants. The grants will go to Google's nonprofit partners, such as YWCA, JFF, and NPower, to help women, veterans, and underrepresented groups obtain jobs skills relevant to today's in-demand positions.

    An improved educational pipeline?

    The need for middle-skills will grow as the American workforce continues to digitize at an extraordinary rate. According to the Brookings Institution, in 2002 just 5 percent of jobs studied—which covered 90 percent of the workforce—required high-digital skills while 40 percent required medium-level skills. By 2016, that percentage rose to 23 and 48 respectively. In the same period, jobs requiring low-digital skills fell precipitously, from 56 to 30 percent. Beyond rapid job growth and competitive advantage, those with the skills are set to reap the economic rewards.

    But more needs to be done.

    As of this writing, more than 275,000 people have enrolled in Google's IT Support course, but it's unclear how many companies will accept the certificate as proof of capability. While Google and its Employer Consortium, a group of employers who connect with Google to find prospective candidates, may consider the certificate equivalent to a four-year degree, MOOC certifications lack the universality of either associate's or bachelor's degrees. Without mainstream acceptance, graduates may be contending with each other within a puddle of prospective companies, not the vast, oceanic marketplace of corporate America.

    And the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't halted but accelerated digitalization as companies widely adopt new technological trends to survive. Many of the 20 million unemployed Americans may suddenly need to upskill or even find their jobs outsourced to the digital realm. They'll need a quick, yet employer recognized, means to acquire new skills to help find work.

    Ten million dollars will buy Google—a company valued at one trillion dollars—a nice commemorative brick in the path to a solution and hopefully help many lives. But we have many miles of work to go.

    A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

    An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

    Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
    Surprising Science
    • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
    • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
    • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

    The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

    Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

    "It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

    The Barry Arm Fjord

    Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

    Image source: Matt Zimmerman

    The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

    Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

    Image source: whrc.org

    There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

    The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

    "This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

    Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

    What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

    Moving slowly at first...

    Image source: whrc.org

    "The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

    The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

    Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

    Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

    While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

    Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

    How do you prepare for something like this?

    Image source: whrc.org

    The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

    "To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

    In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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