Dispatches from the Front: EdTech Leaders Face Covid-19 – Week 5
Dispatches from the Front
EdTech Leaders Face Covid-19
This is the fifth of a series of mini-interviews ODP conducted with EdTech Founders and Senior Executives to gain insights into how industry leaders are adjusting their strategies and evolving their management practices during the current pandemic.
THIS WEEK: David Blake, Executive Director and co-founder of Degreed
David Blake, Executive Director and co-founder of Degreed.
Degreed, the workforce upskilling platform used in one in three Fortune 50 companies: 6 worldwide offices, 400+ team members. Degreed uses behavioral and data science to analyze employee’s skills, and to automatically personalize career development based on their jobs, strengths, and goals. David has spent his career innovating in higher education and lifelong learning. Prior to Degreed, he helped launch a competency-based, accredited university and was a founding team member at Zinch (acquired by Chegg NASDQ: CHGG). He is also the CEO of Learn In and BookClub, and the Co-author of The Expertise Economy. David was selected as a “Top EdTech Entrepreneur” by the Stanford School EdTech Lab, sponsored by Teach For America and the New Schools Venture Fund.

1. Now that the school year is underway, what has surprised you the most about what your customers/students are doing and what’s happening in your market in general?

There has been huge growth in the market, with a significant influx of investor interest (and investment) and companies investing in technology that can help them navigate this difficult time and build the skills needed for pivoting and recovery.

There is an appetite for upskilling among individuals too. One in seven Degreed users activated their profile during the first months of lockdown. More than a quarter of workers are worried that they lack the skills needed to help their employer and economy recover – half increased their online learning during the pandemic.

Due to the widespread disruption of the past few months, we face an unparalleled opportunity to reset the education system. Now is a good time to understand what practices need to change and what can we make better for the future. Companies need to find more flexible, tailored ways to upskill their workers, so they are ready to get back to work and for emerging challenges.

2. What does the new normal for Degreed look like and do you see this continuing or do you think education will go back to what was ‘normal’ prior?

Some things have changed for Degreed and other areas have remained the same. Degreed has experienced significant growth and customer demand, the team has responded in innovative ways to help our customers with their challenges. We’ve launched the platform with new clients in mere weeks, offered advice for customers moving to remote workforces for the first time, and we even created a kids’ activity book for our customers and employees who were suddenly homeschooling. The team stepped up in an incredible way and set the bar for our customer support for years to come.

At the same time, our remote-first culture was really stress-tested during this time and it proved itself. This will continue to be our new normal, giving people the flexibility and autonomy to choose where and how they work best.

The education sector won’t go back to ‘normal’. Too much has shifted with learner needs and demands, and the skills that businesses need. As we look towards recovery, it’s clear that workforces need to become more agile and responsive, and education will lay the foundations for this. I expect to see far more emphasis on upskilling and reskilling existing workforces, moving towards projects and tasks instead of job roles, and mobilizing people to work on projects based on their skills. This will build the agility and productivity needed to thrive post-COVID.

3. How long do you expect your employees to work remotely (or were most of them always working remotely)? What are your plans for using your office space going forward?

Degreed is a remote-first company so the majority of our employees were working remotely before the crisis and our processes and tech stack were set-up to support remote working. When the time is right (and this will be based on local public health guidelines as well as our employees’ feedback) we will open our offices again for people to work from when they choose to.

4. How has your leadership style changed – or not – during this period? What might you be doing differently now with your team?

My first priority has always been on making sure Degreed’s people are okay. People are under extreme pressure with the fears surrounding COVID-19, homeschooling for the first time, dealing with wildfires and other natural disasters, political and social instability… the list is endless. Degreed puts family first, so during this crisis, we (the leadership team) wanted to make sure that our employees know they can take time off to care for family and themselves if they’re feeling burned-out.


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Robin Warner

Managing Director

Oaklins DeSilva+Phillips

(212) 651-2605