Salesforce Offers Free Online Training On Its Software To Fill Hiring Pools

As online courses and programming boot camps add new options for jobseekers trying to upgrade their skills, employers are also starting to shape the educational landscape as they step into new roles. Some companies such as Intuit have helped to design the curriculum for edtech outfits like Udacity, while others such as Microsoft, Cisco and LinkedIn have opened in-house educational divisions. These tech companies are filling the gap left by U.S. businesses of all types that prefer to hire staffers who already have job-related skills, rather than training them in-house.

The latest big tech company to go down the edtech path is Web-based marketing software giant Salesforce, which announced today that it’s opening a free online training school, Trailhead, to the general public. Trailhead, which has operated in beta mode for about a year, was designed by a Salesforce team to teach people how to use Salesforce software to help their employers with tasks such as creating sales apps, customizing user interfaces, and mining data generated by connected devices.

A member of the Trailhead design team, Sarah Franklin, says demand for job candidates with these skills is high because Salesforce has become one of the most widespread software systems for businesses, on a par with Microsoft’s office tools such as the Excel spreadsheet program. Some jobseekers might score a salary bump of as much as $20,000 if they can market themselves as Salesforce developers or administrators after completing a number of modules via Trailhead, Franklin predicts.

“There are great jobs out there commanding top salaries,” Franklin says.

For San Francisco-based Salesforce, the upside of offering the free training is to boost the numbers of workers qualified to implement the company’s system for prospective Salesforce business customers.

“Everyone’s going to love Salesforce more and use it more,” Franklin says. “That’s the payoff.” Salesforce doesn’t need to draw revenues from Trailhead, and the training will always be free, she says.

Some of Trailhead’s beta users, who have earned more than 250,000 badges, have already advanced their careers, Franklin says. She cites the case of a former secretary, Gita Borovsky, who became a Salesforce “admin” and is now a director at the Red Cross, managing customer relations management programs.

No college degree is needed to take the Trailhead courses, or to have a chance at the jobs that require those skills, Franklin says.

Salesforce has plucked from the edtech bag of tricks in its effort to make learning easy and motivating. Trailhead is “gamified” to guide users down one of its learning pathways, and reward them with colorful badges when they complete a learning unit. (See some badges pictured above) Students complete challenges, such as automating a process, and get instant feedback from Salesforce computers. Students can turn their process on to see if it works as expected.

The courses currently offered include Salesforce Basics, followed by more advanced topics such as app building and data modeling. Franklin says the number of courses will be expanded based on feedback about the needs of Salesforce customers. Specialized modules may be created for specific sectors such as e-commerce and manufacturing, she says.

The badges students earn can be displayed on their LinkedIn resumes, and employers can search for candidates with those Salesforce skills. LinkedIn is becoming a showcase for such alternative credentials, including those earned by students taking courses at Lynda.com, the edtech company LinkedIn acquired for $1.5 billion early this year. LinkedIn has also published rankings of the top 100 providers of educational certificates. Tech companies occupy many of the top 20 spots on the list, including Microsoft (ranked first), Cisco, Oracle, IBM, and Google.

To serve Salesforce’s global customer base, Trailhead is offered in languages including German, Japanese and French. The instruction can be accessed on both desktop computers and mobile devices.

Franklin offers some first-hand evidence that Trailhead makes it easy to learn. “My daughter, now 11, built her own mobile app at 10 to manage her dog-walking business,” she says. “The dashboard tracks pet exercise time, doggie BFFs, and playdates.”

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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