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Survey: Can MOOCs Help You Attract and Retain Gen Y Talent?


Software Advice recently conducted a study of job applications received from Gen Y candidates, in which we found that 25 percent of our applicants highly valued opportunities for growth and development in the workplace.

However, Gen Y members also prefer to work at smaller businesses. This can present a challenge, as small businesses tend to have fewer opportunities to climb the corporate ladder and limited resources for development. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which are free or low-cost classes created by experts, may be a solution to this conundrum.

In order to determine if MOOCs are a smart choice for small businesses, we conducted a survey of approximately 1,500 working-age adults in the U.S. to see how they felt about using MOOCs in the workplace. As it turns out, MOOCs have the potential to help attract, train and retain younger workers—on a budget. Here we explore the results of this survey and its implications for small businesses.

MOOCs Can Encourage Younger Workers to Apply

While some companies may create their own MOOCs, for small businesses, using pre-made, skills-focused MOOCs—such as those found on sites like Coursera, Udacity, Udemy and edX—is a great way to save time and money. These MOOCs are generally created by experts in the field, are usually free or inexpensive (subscriptions cost between $25-$150 per month) and may include text, video, interactive exercises or discussion forums to aid learning.

Such pre-made courses can save small businesses time and resources when creating training materials—it’s just a matter of finding the most relevant MOOCs for the position, and assigning them to new hires. But MOOCs have an added benefit: the ability to attract younger workers to the company in the first place. In fact, our survey revealed that access to MOOCs for ongoing, voluntary professional training was a significant factor when incentivizing younger workers to apply for a job.

Over half of 18-24 year olds in our sample noted that access to professional development training through MOOCs would positively affect their decision to submit an application. Nearly as many 25-34 year olds—also members of Gen Y—said the same.

As a job seeker, if a company offered professional development training via a free Massive Open Online Course, would you be more likely to apply?Likelihood-to-Apply
This makes sense; after all, younger workers are looking to gain valuable skills and experience with their first foray into the professional world, which is often an internship. In fact, a survey of undergraduates in the U.S.—a group which falls squarely into the 18-24 age demographic—found that, after an offer of full-time employment, the most important component of an internship was “job orientation and training.”

If you’re a small business hiring interns or entry-level workers, MOOCs can save your company’s full-time employees time when training newcomers. What’s more, by offering additional voluntary professional development training through MOOCs, you may improve your chances of attracting these types of workers in the first place.

Gen Y More Likely to Participate in MOOC-Based Training

Given that younger workers are more likely to be attracted to a company because of MOOC-based training, it should come as no surprise that—according to our survey—they are also much more likely to participate in these types of learning opportunities.

Almost three-quarters of respondents aged 18-24 said they would participate in a company-sponsored MOOC, while over half of respondents aged 25-34 said the same.

If your employer offered professional development training via a free MOOC, would you participate?Likelihood-to-Participate
These numbers are impressive when seen in the light of previous research, which has shown that even mandatory e-learning has low completion rates. The study found that, on average, only about 69 percent of employees actually participate in mandatory e-learning, while a mere 32 percent of employees participate in voluntary training.

Gen Y workers, it would seem, are the ideal demographic to target when using MOOCs for professional training and development.

Over Half of Millennials Would Stay at a Company Offering MOOCs

Once a company has attracted and trained its employees, it must be able to retain them. After all, a recent study found that the typical cost of turnover for almost any position was 21 percent of the leaving employee’s annual salary: In other words, it costs an average of about $10,000 to replace an employee earning $50,000 annually.

Additionally, research has shown that younger workers are more likely to “job-hop”: One survey found that 30 percent of companies had lost 15 percent or more of their Gen Y employees within a year. Since Gen Y employees are more of a flight risk than workers from other generations, you’ll need to offer extra incentives to keep them around.

Our research indicates that both by using MOOCs as an initial way to train employees and offering them as an ongoing resource for professional development, companies could potentially stymie some of this turnover among Gen Y workers.

As you can see, when we broke down respondents by age, 58 percent of 18-24 year olds said access to MOOCs would impact their decision to stay with a company, while over half of those aged 25-34 said the same.

If your employer offered professional development training via a free MOOC, would you be more likely to stay with the company?Stay-Rate-by-Age

MOOCs in Action: One Company’s Success Story

SkilledUp, which collates and indexes MOOCs that are available online, is an excellent example of a business that has realized the benefits of using online courses. Not only has the company used online courses to successfully attract and train interns and entry-level workers, these online courses have also helped to retain those workers.

SkilledUp’s Chief Content Officer, Brad Zomick, points out one specific example of online courses helping the company grow its team: SkilledUp’s current community manager, Carrie Silver. According to Zomick, Silver had studied to be a physician’s assistant while in college, but she became interested in social media marketing when helping a family member with their business. So she took an internship at SkilledUp upon graduating from college.

SkilledUp strongly emphasizes the online learning component of its internship program when advertising open positions—which are referred to as “Skillternships.” Given Silver’s desire to learn hands-on social media marketing skills, this program was especially attractive to her. During her training, Zomick assigned Silver an online course and let her use SkilledUp’s Facebook and Twitter accounts as a playground.

As Zomick says, thanks to the training Silver received through the online courses, “she picked things up in about two months.” Now she’s a full-time employee, and continues to use online courses to improve her professional skills: a perk that has influenced her decision to stay with the company.

While using online courses for training is a relatively new concept, SkilledUp has already been able to attract, train and  retain young workers like Silver. So, if your business is hiring interns and entry-level employees, not only can online courses help train your workers, they could even help you attract more candidates—and all on a budget.

So, should you use MOOCs to train your employees? We’ll let you decide.

Letter Y” by Emma Craig used under CC / BY

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About the Author

Erin Osterhaus joined Software Advice in 2012 after earning an M.A. in German and European Studies from Georgetown University. She focuses on the HR market, offering advice to industry professionals on the best recruiting, talent management, and leadership techniques.

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