We talked to David Blake of Degreed on how to connect learning and career growth to business opportunities and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
David Blake: We’ve had friends close to us get COVID and seen milestone events turned upside down as many have, but we are grateful for our health and the happy moments we’ve found in 2020.
This year, we took the opportunity to transform our kids’ education and launched an apprenticeship-based school. The kids are working on running a digital tech company and learning all of the corresponding skills, in addition to a project- and book-based curriculum.
It’sIt’s been a grand experiment!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Degreed?
David Blake: My passion has always been for educational equality–to jailbreak the degree. There has been a monopoly on credentials for too long, and people have automatically thought that if they aren’t university-educated, then, well, they aren’t educated. But nothing could be further from the truth, and Degreed exists to challenge this status quo. You don’t just build skills at school or university; you make them throughout your life, in different jobs, with every piece of content you interact with.
I founded Degreed, along with my co-founder Eric Sharp, to give people a consistent way of tracking and measuring their learning and skills. And to offer people learning that isn’t always formal–it can be through a blog, a podcast, a TED Talk. In this way, upskilling is democratized. Organizations (and specifically HR and hiring managers) also get a fully up-to-date, worker-centric way of discovering workforce skills, measuring skill gaps, and measuring all the company’s learning.
How does Degreed innovate?
David Blake: Degreed innovates through its people – we pay close attention to who we hire, how we build our teams, and the principle-alignment and mission-alignment of every recruit. We enable people to grow their careers at Degreed; we want driven, forward-thinking people on the team to take our product to the next level. Diverse teams bring a diversity of thought. People have the psychological safety to know that they can suggest changes, come to the leadership team with concerns, and innovate with our existing (and planned!) products. Our CEO Chris McCarthy also has an open-door policy, and anyone can come to him to feedback or express concerns, to offer suggestions or ask questions – and similarly, on our Slack, there is a dedicated ”Ask me anything” channel where people often post questions for the leadership team.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
David Blake: There have been many changes over the past few months; learning itself had to shift to support people suddenly working remotely. For example, many Degreed clients quickly set-up learning pathways on effective remote working, designing a home office, working in a distributed team, and mental health and resilience.
Degreed was well-placed to cope with many of the challenges that the pandemic created. The majority of our workforce already worked remotely, so our tech-stack and processes were set-ups as remote-first, and we made the switch relatively seamlessly. However, we experienced significant growth during the pandemic – one in seven Degreed users activated their profile during the first three months of the first lockdown. This put many of our teams under extra pressure as they dealt with the pandemic and lockdown consequences, like the fear of infection or having to suddenly homeschool, plus their workloads increased due to user growth. We made a deliberate effort to check in regularly on everyone’s mental health and to make sure everyone knew that they could take time off if needed. We implemented company-wide days off to make sure people never got burnt out during the crisis.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
David Blake: Personally, napping is my go-to coping mechanism. It’s healthy and has many positive benefits; in the early days of Degreed, when the office was small and a single room, I’d nap on the wooden floor in the center of all desks. It’s always something I’ve tried to break the stigmas around. I don’t think I could do this job without power naps.
On an organizational level, we want to make sure all of our people are happy and healthy, including their mental health. We provide them with optional wellbeing activities, from meditating using the Calm subscription we provide to fitness challenges, yoga, and regular mental health check-ins with their managers. Ultimately people cannot do their best work if they are stressed or anxious, so we want to create an environment where this is prevented as much as possible and feel they can be open about their stresses if they do crop up.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
David Blake: When we started, companies only had a budget for LMS’sLMS’s. So while we are not an LMS, it put us in competition with the LMS companies. That is no longer the case; we created and lead the LXP category, which every major company now has a dedicated budget line item to support the LXP.
Last year, we acquired Adepto, which helped to spearhead our expansion into internal talent mobility. Taken together, we now lead both the LXP and internal talent categories, which put us in competition with the leading HCM companies.
Your final thoughts?
David Blake: My favorite quote, “In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” The world has changed more this year than any other in my lifetime and its learners who will run the future.
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