Salesforce works with higher ed to roll out Trailhead for Students

Salesforce has more than 70 educational partners signed up so far, including University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Year Up, Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) and University of San Francisco.

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UMass Lowell Salesforce Day.

Ed Brennen for UMass Lowell

Salesforce on Tuesday is announcing a new version of Trailhead, its online learning platform, tailored for higher education.

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The cloud company is partnering with universities, community colleges, workforce development programs and educational nonprofits to roll out Trailhead for Students. The platform provides educators with a curriculum that can complement existing coursework or serve as standalone educational content for a classroom or "bootcamp" setting. It promises students an opportunity to build up skills that could potentially help them land a job after graduation, as well as opportunities to connect with other students and mentors.

As companies look for prospective employees with cloud skills, and as schools attempt to keep up their technology-focused curriculum, Salesforce saw a "clear opportunity to make an impact on the digital skills gap," Lisa Tenorio, senior director of Trailhead, said to ZDNet.

The focus on education is a natural expansion of Trailhead, which was launched in 2014 to help Salesforce build out a workforce familiar with its cloud-based tools. The company points to a 2016 report from IDC, which Salesforce sponsored, projecting that the "Salesforce ecosystem" will create 2 million jobs by 2020.

So far, Salesforce is working with more than 70 educational partners to roll out the program, including University of Massachusetts Lowell, Year Up, Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) and University of San Francisco.

With Trailhead for Students, educators can get access to instructor kits, including the new Salesforce Essentials for Business Specialists course -- a course designed for educators and students across business and technology programs. Instructors can also use Trailhead as a tool in the classroom to track student progress and reinforce lectures through hands-on labs.

Students, meanwhile, can earn badges for building new skills, as all Trailhead users can, and they can join new student-led community groups with access to potential mentors from Salesforce.

Like the rest of Trailhead, Trailhead for Students is available to educators and students for free. Some professional training courses are only available for a fee, Tenorio said, but the educator curriculum is available at no cost.

The University of Massachusetts-Lowell, which has been a Salesforce client for three years, joined the program and trained around 60 students and faculty in an online bootcamp over the summer. The campus also recently hosted a "Salesforce day" with hands-on training and lectures for students. It's also incorporating Trailhead for Students into existing courses during the Fall 2017 semester.

Sandy Richtermeyer, dean of the Manning School of Business at UMass Lowell, said accredited institutions are increasingly focused on building partnerships with industry to enhance students' learning experiences. Trailhead for Students is especially well-designed for teaching students "current and relevant" skills, she said, as opposed to textbooks that may only get updated every couple of years.

Saleforce has also effectively demonstrated the impact of its technology across industries and fields like HR, marketing, finance, and operations management, Richtermeyer said.

"It's rare when you're trying to demonstrate technology and how it important it is that it goes across all these areas of business," she said. "Students need to have an enterprise-wide lens to understand how the technology can be implemented."

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