The origin story of Grow With Google, like so many initiatives at the global technology company, begins with data.

In 2016, Google was considering how it might evolve to ensure opportunities created by technology were available to everyone — and that aspiration that led Google’s Lisa Gevelber to dig into information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

She learned two-thirds of the U.S. population have not earned a bachelor’s degree — a figure that translates to 80 million people without four-year degrees in a labor environment where employers increasingly were requiring them. This mismatch, Gevelber noted, leaves millions of people unable to improve their economic mobility.

Gevelber, Google’s chief marketing officer for the Americas region, founded and now leads Grow With Google, which offers tools and training to equip people with skills to find better jobs and advance their careers. She discussed Grow With Google’s start, mission, and success with Strada Impact President Ruth V. Watkins on the most recent episode of Strada’s podcast, “Lessons Earned.”

“We homed in on this idea that we could really make a difference for folks without a college degree because society needs that,” Gevelber said on the podcast. “We can’t have a country where two-thirds of people are locked out of good jobs, and we really thought we could start to make a dent on that.”

A bedrock piece of Grow With Google is its series of low-cost professional certificates that require six months to complete and target high-growth industries. More than 80 percent of individuals who complete a certificate report a positive career change: a new job, a promotion in an existing job, or a pay raise. And Grow With Google reports that almost half of the people who earn the certificates were from the lowest income bracket in the United States.

“We are trying to create, truly, a more equitable and inclusive job market, where it doesn’t matter what your education or experience level is, you can get and succeed at a great job,” Gevelber said.

Strada Public Viewpoint research released in July 2021 explored the value of nondegree credentials for students who complete them. The nationally representative survey found 2 in 5 working-age adults in the United States had completed a nondegree credential, and 1 in 5 report it as their highest level of education.

Among the 20 percent who complete nondegree programs but do not hold a college degree, two-thirds agree it was worth the cost and half believe it helped them achieve their goals — numbers that, according to Strada Senior Vice President of Research Dave Clayton, indicate the potential and importance of these postsecondary education pathways.

Here are some foundational ideas Gevelber said guided Grow With Google’s approach as it created its career certificate program:

Meet learners where they are.

Grow With Google set out to create on-demand, online, flexible learning opportunities — but also found some certificate seekers want to learn within a cohort of students and perhaps have an instructor-led experience. Today more than 100 community colleges offer Grow With Google certificates, and 100 career and technical high schools have signed on to offer them as well.

Be smart about what professional certifications to offer

Grow With Google was selective about its offerings, using data to identify the best opportunities. It sought job fields that are growing today and expected to grow for the next 10 years, plus provided opportunities for individuals with skills but not necessarily a college degree.

Gevelber said Grow With Google also chose to stick to areas where it could offer particular expertise. The lineup of four professional certificate programs now consists of information technology support, data analytics, user experience design, and project management.

Remaining close to its expertise also enabled Grow With Google to grow partnerships with institutions such as Johns Hopkins University, which wanted to create a certificate program for health care IT support. “Because we had already built the fundamentals of IT support, all they had to teach was the health care portion,” Gevelber said.

Engage employers in the curriculum-creating process.

Only a professional certificate that aligns with its intended industry can help individuals become more employable.

When creating the curriculum, Gevelber explained, Grow With Google performed job task analysis to uncover what it takes to be successful in a particular role. Once the curriculum was written, employers vetted it and provided feedback to ensure students would be learning the skills companies need.

“We had to build these certificates from the job back because our goal isn’t to train people,” Gevelber said. “It’s to give people real economic mobility, which means they have to be successful in these jobs.”

Tap into local and regional changemakers already devoted to solving the workforce challenge.

Gevelber said she frequently joins meetings where representatives from throughout a community — employers, educational institutions, nonprofits, workforce development boards — are coming together to support learners and workers who want to improve their lives.