Building cutting-edge technological capabilities within their existing workforce is among the most pressing business challenges organizations face today. The accountancy firm PwC is taking a notably aggressive approach to this upskilling project, giving employees as much as 18-24 months to devote to immersive learning of new skills, with half their time spent training in these skills and the other half working with clients to put them to use. Ron Miller recently profiled the PwC’s Digital Accelerator program at TechCrunch:
[Sarah McEneaney, digital talent leader at PwC] estimates if a majority of the company’s employees eventually opt in to this retraining regimen, it could cost some serious cash, around $100 million. That’s not an insignificant sum, even for a large company like PwC, but McEneaney believes it should pay for itself fairly quickly. As she put it, customers will respect the fact that the company is modernizing and looking at more efficient ways to do the work they are doing today. …
Members of the program are given a 3-day orientation. After that they follow a self-directed course work. They are encouraged to work together with other people in the program, and this is especially important since people will bring a range of skills to the subject matter from absolute beginners to those with more advanced understanding. People can meet in an office if they are in the same area or a coffee shop or in an online meeting as they prefer. Each member of the program participates in a Udacity nano-degree program, learning a new set of skills related to whatever technology speciality they have chosen.
The program focuses on a critical set of digital skills that are increasingly in-demand and where expertise is in short supply: data and analytics, automation and robotics, and AI and machine learning. McEneany and PwC’s Chief People Officer Mike Fenlon expanded on their philosophy in a recent piece at the Harvard Business Review, detailing the process through which the program was designed and touting its success at fostering innovation and a growth mindset throughout the organization:
Our Accelerators are already using intelligent and robotic process/desktop automation to improve processes that had, until now, been manually intensive. This can take tasks down from, in some cases, 1,000+ hours to just minutes or seconds, creating capacity for staff and their clients to focus impact on higher-value matters. As Accelerators demonstrate progressive mastery of knowledge and skills through application, they also earn recognition through our Digital Badging program.
Another key is building community among Accelerators and empowering them to self-organize in ways that amplify their successes. Staying connected, working together, and sharing learnings that can elevate the entire organization is essential. That sense of connection is tech-enabled, of course. But it’s the human element that makes it remarkable. The social element of the program encourages accelerated learning through sharing among peers. And it means the benefits of digitization efforts can quickly come “out of the lab” and scale. Now, automations of traditionally manual tasks are available for use by thousands of people across PwC, many of whom have never met before, and most of whom are not in the formal Digital Accelerator program.
PwC’s program is one of several innovative approaches organizations are taking to build these skills internally. Rather than compete for a scarce supply of candidates with expertise in data or AI, companies are building in-person and online learning programs that transform employees with basic digital skills into the experts they need. Airbnb’s “data university,” for example, offers employees a three-level course of study in data science, arming them with the tools they need to use data in their day-to-day jobs or to step up into higher-level roles once they have mastered more advanced skills.