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Credit: Cindy Chen

The online education company Coursera has once again partnered up with Penn to launch a program specifically designed for governments and nonprofits in an effort to close an increasing skills gap in the workforce.

Coursera for Governments & Nonprofits will offer courses in digital manufacturing, business English, programming, data science and more. Each organization will be able to tailor the program to meet its specific labor market needs.

“Millions of people lack the skills needed for new and better jobs, and increasing automation will only widen the gap,” Rick Levin, CEO of Coursera, said in a press release. “Governments and nonprofits focused on workforce development are eager to work with us and our university partners to deliver skills education to populations at unprecedented scale.”

This new initiative will allow government and nonprofit organizations to instantly access university courses and certificates in high-demand skills at an affordable cost. Currently, Coursera has partners in Egypt, Mongolia, Singapore, Malaysia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and the United States.

Penn professors had mixed thoughts on Coursera’s new program.

Wharton professor and Director of the Wharton Center for Human Resources, Peter Cappelli, said that basic skills such as communication, problem solving and reasoning remain the most important skills in the workforce.

“Very few people work in jobs where they will ever need to do programming or data science,” Cappelli said. “Is it better to learn a particular programming language than to improve your writing skills? Probably not. Is it better to do that than play video games? Certainly.”

However, Engineering professor David Srolovitz said that basic knowledge in data analytics or programming would be useful.

“It’s true that most jobs would not really require a lot of data science skills, but there’s sort of a literacy issue, which is to say it’s hard for anybody to evaluate the things that come from data analytics unless they at least have some fluency with the ideas behind it,” Srolovitz said.

Director of Wharton Online Learning Anne Trumbore said that courses offered on Coursera are designed to offer learning experiences much different than those offered on campus.

“Most courses are designed for learners at work who need access to education-on-the-go,” Trumbore said.

Ultimately, Srolovitz sees online education as complementing a traditional university education.

“The reality is that many things that we’re going to need as time goes on are not the kinds of things that we necessarily learn when we’re in university,” Srolovitz said. “As different things become important, [Coursera] provides a way to access them for people who don’t have access to university education at that moment in time.”

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