In many ways, COVID-19 simply accelerated some existing trends in online education. More and more Australian companies have been looking to upskill their workforce over the last few years, and many of them have been doing it online. The pandemic has just super-charged industry adoption.
Training a nimble, digital-ready workforce is no longer a nice-to-have; and most traditional, face-to-face certificates are currently on-hold. That leaves online shortcourses and qualifications, many of which have shown exponential growth during the pandemic.
We’ve been studying this trend for a while now. Research from RMIT Online found that many employers are now investing less money in recruitment and more money in staff training. Around 45% of Australian business leaders are delivering comprehensive internal training, and 44% are using external providers (like Udacity and RMIT Online).
More importantly, employers are seeing tangible results. Almost all the businesses surveyed (around 95%) said that they, as an employer, received some benefit from staff training. And two thirds of respondents said the benefits were split equally between the employee and the company itself.
Australian brand management consultancy, ARC, are a great example. With the pandemic sending shockwaves through the Australian business landscape, senior management at ARC thought now was the perfect time to upskill their staff remotely. So they contacted RMIT Online.
“COVID gave us the gift of time,” says ARC team manager, Rose Penglly. “While the whole team was working remotely at home, we wanted to use this opportunity to upskill. We completed two digital marketing courses during COVID, and we’ve already started applying some of our learnings to client work.”
Many ARC staff members were working part-time hours anyway, due to COVID, and Penglly says online learning was a good way to stay productive during down-time. And of course there were morale benefits, too. “We all did the course together,” says team member, Bridie Alman, “so it was great to have the team supporting each other throughout the course, and the deadline helped me stay motivated.”
Deloitte research has found that, every year, Australian businesses spend $7 billion on recruiting new workers, but only $4 billion on developing their team’s skills. Considering the fact that replacing a bad hiring decision within six months is around 2.5 times the worker’s annual salary, this balance seems a little strange. The benefits of internal training versus external hiring are pretty well documented by now (for further reading, check out Matthew Bidwell’s 2012 study in the Wall Street Journal), but it will take some time before companies realise the true benefit of upskilling.
ARC discovered that, during their time with RMIT Online, upskilling didn’t have to be complicated, monotonous or particularly time-consuming. “Both Introduction to Digital Marketing and Implementing Digital Marketing Strategy included a diverse mix of engaging content that made learning interesting,” says team member, Crimson Dunstan. “The bite-sized video content was particularly helpful when working through the more complex processes, and I’ve already got a range of beneficial skills that can be applied in my job on a day-to-day basis.”
“Initially, I was hesitant with how working online would be, as I’ve always learnt face-to-face,” says team member, Zoe Anstee. “But since there were many opportunities to ask questions through the group, as well as the weekly video with the tutors, it was really easy and convenient working around my schedule.”
This is probably the biggest advantage online education has over traditional tertiary study. It can be completed in small, bite-size chunks, and it’s easy to schedule learning around existing deadlines and timetables. This works for small-ish consultancies, like ARC, or huge national employers, like Telstra, who recently co-designed a new micro-credential with RMIT Online, in order to upskill their staff. The online model allows courses to scale up or down, depending on the size of the company, and there are secondary benefits when it comes to building team morale (an especially important factor, during a global pandemic).
“It was great for us to be able to experience it together,” says ARC team leader, Rose Pengelly. “We could discuss topics that we weren’t sure of, or share useful tools to help us with our work. Doing it together was like working with the study group you wish you had at uni. I felt that it was important for us to collaborate together and share mutual experiences. In a way, it was a team building activity.”
For more information on upskilling opportunities for your business, check out how RMIT Online is working to transform businesses. Or browse all of our short courses here. For more information about Australia’s shift towards online learning, check out our research paper, which we co-funded with Deloitte.