Retraining is often held up as a salve for those laid off when factories close, stores shutter, or when businesses pick up and move overseas. But what if job training was treated not as an event, as in teaching coal miners to code, but rather as a critical, ongoing part of keeping a local workforce employed, one that could lessen the need to retrain fired workers for entirely new careers? Udacity CEO Vishal Makhijani says this challenge arrives at a critical moment for the U.S. economy. “The core hypothesis we have as a company is that society has to embrace lifelong learning,” Makhijani told VentureBeat, describing how his company has partnered with the burgeoning tech community of Reno, Nevada, and how it’s a test case for potential partnerships with other cities.
“I think we have to try not to say ‘How do we save 3,000 driving jobs?’ We say ‘How do we train people to do the next job?’” said Makhijani, who spoke Wednesday at a VentureBeat gathering to launch its Heartland Tech channel and upcoming Blueprint event. Makhijani appeared onstage with Brad Stone, senior executive editor at Bloomberg. The gathering was part of VentureBeat’s editorial initiative to explore the economic and tech divide between Silicon Valley and the rest of America.
“We can educate folks with these skills for $2,500 a pop. We don’t have to spend $50-60,000 or $70,000 a year to do that, and if you think about duplicating that model in a bunch of different categories, we can do this. This is not about the classic cost structure,” Makhijani said.
Known as “The Biggest Little City in the World,” Reno has been staging an economic turnaround of outsized proportions, slashing its 14 percent unemployment rate of five years ago to 3.9 percent as of this April. Last month, the city and the online learning company launched Udacity Connect: Reno-Tahoe, which offers a three month, part-time full stack web developer Nanodegree or certificate. The program involves online classes, as well as in-person collaboration for projects and mentoring, and is specifically designed…