We talked to Robert Furtado of CourseCompare about helping people make sense of the changing education landscape, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Robert Furtado: I’m an optimist who’s always looking for silver linings. Despite the tragic scale of the pandemic and the monotony of lockdown, I’m grateful for the time I’ve had to spend with my family. My one-year-old has no idea what’s happening, and “global pandemic” is still mostly an abstract concept to my four-year-old. I take some comfort in that.
I just hope that when life returns to (a new kind of) normal, people will remember the lessons this pandemic has taught us, not least of all about the centrality of healthy personal relationships to a happy life and how the compulsion to be constantly “busy” can become an affliction, unhealthy and counterproductive. I also hope we’re brave enough to seize new opportunities presented by this crisis. Remote work, the future of education, and the power of global tech firms, for example, all deserve careful reexamination.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded CourseCompare.
Robert Furtado: The vision for CourseCompare came together while I was a marketing agency executive consulting for clients in the higher education space. At the time, I was also teaching undergraduate students part-time about all things marketing and digital media.
It was clear to me back then that there was a disconnect between North America’s future skills needs and what was being taught at many colleges and universities. I also noticed new players edging their way into the market, from coding bootcamps to Silicon Valley startups and tech behemoths like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft.
In 2018, I created CourseCompare, Canada’s marketplace for education, to help people make sense of the changing education landscape and find the best programs based on their career goals and learning needs. We’ve since helped more than 500,000 people worldwide pursue in-demand skills and launch new careers.
How does CourseCompare innovate?
Robert Furtado: It sounds cliché, but we start by listening to our users. A lot of companies merely pay lip service to this idea; we literally advise thousands of learners every year, carefully documenting their pain points to understand how we can solve the problem of matching people to in-demand careers and training opportunities at scale.
I think we do other things right, too: We’re agile and constantly implementing and testing new ideas. The team is also highly interdisciplinary in its approach, with journalists working alongside digital marketers, designers, data analysts, and full-stack developers, for example. This allows everyone to approach problems with the kind of vulnerable curiosity that leads to great questions and insights.
Finally, we hire great people: smart and experienced professionals who believe in CourseCompare’s mission and are themselves committed to lifelong learning.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Robert Furtado: Back in March 2020, when the WHO officially declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic, dozens of CourseCompare’s college and university partners began rolling out what were supposed to be multi-year plans to take their courses online. The challenge was they only had a few weeks in which to do it. Digitizing entire programs was also obviously going to be expensive.
At the same time, students and student unions were concerned — and quite vocal — about the value of online education, calling for reductions in tuition and student fees.
To make matters even more challenging, Canadian colleges and universities were worried about losing revenue from international student tuition, which accounted for almost half of all tuition in 2019. The prospect of turning away international students because of the pandemic posed an existential threat to some schools, with one publicly-funded university in northern Ontario, in fact, filing for creditor protection in February. (The reasons for this are complex, but declining international student enrollment was undoubtedly a factor.)
So, let’s just say it was an uncertain time.
Luckily, CourseCompare was well-positioned for success. We had a robust ecosystem of education partners going into the pandemic, some of them already leaders in virtual training and education like the Chang School at Ryerson University, the University of Fredericton, the Digital Marketing Institute, and coding bootcamps BrainStation and CareerFoundry, to name a few.
We’re also seeing an unprecedented surge in demand for everything from online MBAs to micro-credentials as people use their spare time to upskill or altogether switch careers.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Robert Furtado: We’ve been very lucky in this regard. We temporarily put hiring and expansion plans on hold, but our team has grown in the past six months, and we’re moving forward with important work focused on health care and the trades.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Robert Furtado: The pandemic brought us closer to our partners, and that includes more deeply integrating our technologies. To ensure students get the help they need faster, we’re integrating our platform with admissions databases at schools across the country. When users visit CourseCompare, they are literally just a few clicks away from program advisors who can help them with everything from student visas to scheduling, funding, and financing for hundreds of programs and courses.
Your final thoughts?
Robert Furtado: For the first time in history, no one truly knows what the job market will look like in 20 years. The pandemic has presented unforeseen challenges, but let’s not forget it has also accelerated changes that began taking shape long before government lockdown orders went into effect. For the individual, the pandemic is a stark reminder that we’re never done learning and that grit, creativity, strategic thinking, and strong social skills will always be in demand.
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