Salesforce, the San Francisco cloud computing company known for its widely adopted customer relationship management software, is going public with its internal online learning platform. Conceived in 2014 and launched internally in 2016, the Trailhead program has allowed numerous employees at Salesforce to develop tangible digital skills and make stark career shifts. In a recent profile by Elizabeth Woyke at the MIT Technology Review, one employee shared how he moved from recruiting to engineering after getting certified in two programming languages through the self-guided, interactive platform:
[Greg] Wasowski’s chances of making such a transition seemed unlikely—until he began spending several hours a week (in the office and on nights and weekends) on Salesforce’s online learning platform, Trailhead. Within a year, he learned two programming languages, earned certification as a Salesforce application developer, and got a job configuring Salesforce software for customers.
The occasion for this profile was Salesforce’s announcement that it will soon release a version of the platform called myTrailhead, which will allow clients to customize it to train their own employees in the specific skills they need. Trailhead, which uses micro-learning, gamification, and a system of points and virtual badges to make its short, consumable training programs engaging and effective, already contains a range of tutorials geared toward Salesforce users, including on how to master, administer, and program for the Salesforce software itself.
In addition to allowing the tech giant’s own 26,000 employees to upskill for career shifts, the platform has also allowed them to get up to speed on technology changes after coming back from leave, thus mitigating the career risks of having a child or taking other extended career breaks due to family obligations or illness. Woyke also interviews a mother at Salesforce who used the system that way:
Martina Gambretti used Trailhead to catch up on technology changes that occurred during her yearlong maternity leave. Once she felt confident about her skills, she applied for—and got—a product-marketing job within Salesforce that fit her interests better than her previous role training salespeople.
A recent study found that 70 percent of US companies believe the digital talent gap is widening and that almost half of employees are not satisfied with their company’s learning and development offerings. It also found that 43 percent of employees would be willing to move to another company if they felt their digital skills were stagnating. In an era where companies are struggling to fill tech roles and employees are increasingly uncertain about their future job prospects, Trailhead and other business-led efforts like it can be a big part of the solution. Companies are much better off training their existing employees to fill job openings for digital roles than looking to the hyper-competitive market for tech talent.
CEB, now Gartner, research has also looked at the unique challenges of learning and development in the digital era. Our study on the digital learner (available to CEB Learning and Development Leadership Council members here) found that contrary to what many believe, the opportunity to add digital capabilities is a matter of will rather than age, as baby boomers and millennials have nearly identical learning preferences. We also found that the efficacy of digital learning depends on it being accessible, consumable, and easy for employees to apply to their own careers.
Trailhead’s open-ended platform, which allows employees to decide which skills or certifications to pursue, appears to have some of the key qualities of an effective digital training tool; if successful, it has the potential to drive major wins for its users in closing the digital talent gap, driving employee retention, and even facilitating high-potential development.