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Utah-based startup Pluralsight is taking on the classroom-based training model for technology skills with its software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform, and its CEO Aaron Skonnard believes that it can close the digital skills gap in the process.

Skonnard, who spent five years at the start of his career teaching classroom based software development classes, says the Pluralsight platform needed to do three things to take this process digital: “You have content at scale, assessment capabilities and mentoring.

"Those three things together in a learning platform allows us to disrupt the classroom experience in a SaaS model that's more affordable, works across any industry and any technology learning need. So over the next fifty years we are going to continue to eat away at all of that classroom training space."

Pluralsight relies on a broad network of expert authors to contribute content and courses onto the platform across a whole range of technology areas. The best authors are well paid, with the top earner last year making more than $2 million (£1.6 million).

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These authors also make up Pluralsight’s mentoring network, who respond to requests -- essentially a user putting their hand up in class -- via video to work through a problem.

Breaking the enterprise

Pluralsight started life as an online training platform for software developers to hone and learn new skills like JavaScript or Python. It has since expanded into skill areas around modern day IT, like cloud computing, big data and cyber security, as well as digital design skills such as the Adobe suite of software.

As the company goes after the lucrative enterprise sector, Pluralsight has had to adapt and listen to its biggest customers.

Skonnard says that since it launched an enterprise version of Pluralsight a few years ago (£46 per user, per month), it has already acquired 40 percent of the Fortune 500 as customers, and he is listening to their demands.

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Speaking to Computerworld UK at the London Stock Exchange, just before the Technology and Learning Leadership Summit on Wednesday, Skonnard said that enterprise customers have been asking, broadly, for four things: analytics, live mentoring, personalised learning channels and assessment capabilities. Let’s break those down.

In terms of analytics Skonnard says that the enterprise wants to be able to “see what is happening, who is doing what, where the skills are now and where they will be a year from now. So they want progression and KPIs”.

“We can roll that data up to the enterprise level so the CTO or CIO can see what the organisation looks like from a skill perspective, identify the skill gap they have and align their learning strategies with their technology strategy."

For example, Skonnard says that US bank JP Morgan’s head of IT recently told him that the skills gap is the thing keeping him up at night. “Am I going to have the people I need to keep executing on our strategy at JP Morgan?” he asked Skonnard.

The UK is currently facing up to a digital skills gap of 2.3 million tech workers by 2020, according to a 2015 report by telco O2.

Second there is the live mentoring capability. When a user gets stuck with a problem they can send out a broadcast for help. Pluralsight then uses programmatic technology to match the user with the first, relevant mentor to respond via video link -- like an Uber driver responding first to a nearby rider request -- and work through the problem.

Skonnard says that enterprise customers were very keen on a personalised learning journey through Pluralsight. For example three-year UK customer Tesco wanted “something aligned with what the Tesco frontend developer path looks like. So we provide them with a way to construct that across our content library. So it is a customised learning path aligned with their business objective”, Skonnard said.

Lastly there is the assessment capability within the platform. “We can assess skills and quickly provide a score that tells them where they are in the knowledge base relative to the rest of the industry in that technology area,” Skonnard explained.

So a user starting a course will be assigned a proficiency score from 0-300 which will define where they start on the course, whether it is beginner, intermediate or expert.

UK and IPO?

Pluralsight currently has a team of 25 in the UK, but has yet to settle on an EMEA headquarters.

“We really like London for a lot of reasons,” Skonnard said. “Our largest customers and the majority of our revenue is here in London and the rest of the UK, so there is a good chance that our EMEA headquarters will be here in London, but we haven't made that decision yet.”

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Lastly, as a profitable company, has Skonnard considered taking Pluralsight public? Similar to Ryan Smith, CEO at Qualtrics and Dave Elkigton, CEO at InsideSales, he is in no hurry to IPO.

“We don't actually need the capital infusion that would come with that and we have been growing quickly,” Skonnard said. “So where we stand today, and as far as timing around an IPO, we recognise that there will be a lot of value in the brand and name recognition that comes with that, and we will determine when the time is right.”

“We don't have to be forced to do anything that would be unnatural for the company.”

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