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:
After the US Congress cut the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent in December, the airplane manufacturer Boeing announced that it would spend $300 million of its tax savings on corporate giving and employee programs, including a $100 million investment in learning and development over the next several years. The company is deciding how to structure that investment based partly on an internal survey, which found that 39 percent of Boeing employees wanted better technical development and 29 percent wanted new skills for jobs affected by new technology.
Now, we’re starting to see how Boeing is spending that money. The company announced several new education initiatives this week, focused on digital skills development and diversifying the company’s talent pipeline, GeekWire’s Alan Boyle reports:
The initiatives include a partnership with Degreed.com to give employees access to online lessons, certification courses and degree programs. Another initiative will put $6 million into a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and several historically black colleges and universities. That investment will support scholarships, internships and boot-camp programs to help students experience what it’s like to work at Boeing, the company said.
There’ll also be several new programs to help Boeing employees enhance their technical skills and keep up with industry trends. The focus of the first program will be digital literacy, Boeing said.
LinkedIn is developing a major new training program to teach its employees about artificial intelligence, which it predicts will be a part of everything they do in the near future, GeekWire’s Nat Levy reported last week:
The AI Academy program will start with classes for engineers, product managers and executives, but the company hopes to expand it so every employee can gain some degree of AI expertise. The first cohort from LinkedIn engineering just started going through the program, but the company is already looking at making the AI Academy part of its onboarding process for all new employees. There are four levels of classes, each one a deeper dive than the last. When participants are done, LinkedIn wants them to have an understanding one of the most important issues in the field: which problems AI can solve and which ones it can’t.
LinkedIn’s Head of Science and Engineering Craig Martell writes in a blog post about the program that AI is “like oxygen—it’s present in every product that we build and in every experience on our platform.” There it has common ground with parent company Microsoft. Like LinkedIn, Microsoft has infused AI into many of its major initiatives, and it offers an online training program for developers.
Microsoft has made huge bets on AI and sought to position itself as a leader in the field, hiring thousands of scarce and expensive AI experts and building AI functionality into its suite of enterprise products—with which LinkedIn is also becoming increasingly integrated. In that context, it’s no surprise to see LinkedIn make AI knowledge a priority for its own workforce: They’re going to need it.
In the wake of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by the US Congress in December, which slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, some large employers announced that they were raising pay, expanding benefits, or (most commonly) issuing one-time bonuses for their employees with the billions of dollars in savings they would gain from the tax reform package. Critics of these tax cut bonuses say they are a cynical attempt to curry favor with the Trump administration and mask the fact that investors are reaping the lion’s share of the rewards. Most of the windfall is being passed on to shareholders through dividends and stock buybacks, as the Wall Street Journal noted in a recent article noting the impact of the tax cuts on corporate earnings in the first quarter.
Some companies are investing their tax cuts in in employees in a different way. The aerospace manufacturer Boeing, for example, announced in December that it was investing $300 million of its tax savings in employee programs, one third of which would go toward learning and development (its total savings from the tax cuts are expected to be around $400 million a year, the Seattle Times reported in January).
In fact, many organizations are putting part of their tax savings toward learning: Our pulse survey on tax reform at CEB, now Gartner, found that among organizations allotting part of their tax savings to HR, 39 percent were investing in employee training, development, and education—the second most common target for these allotments after pay and benefits. (CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can see the full results of that survey here.)
Apple announced late last week that it was bringing its “Everyone Can Code” program to 70 more colleges and universities throughout Europe, Sarah Perez reported at TechCrunch:
The program, which Apple designed to help students learn how to build apps, launched in May 2017 but was initially limited to the U.S. before expanding to other markets, including Australia, and select institutions in Europe last November. The expansion brings the full-year curriculum to institutions in the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Luxembourg, Poland and Portugal. …
The course is designed to teach students how to build apps using Swift, Apple’s programming language for writing iOS and OS X apps, launched back in 2014 as the replacement for Objective-C. Since Swift’s arrival, Apple has been heavily pushing various “learn to code” educational initiatives, including an entry-level app for teaching kids to code, called Swift Playgrounds.
Facebook, too, is growing its digital skill-building initiatives in Europe, Reuters reported on Sunday, opening three “community skills hubs” in Spain, Poland and Italy and investing 10 million euros in France through its AI research facility:
Using its vast trove of user data, LinkedIn compared the US talent landscape in 2012 and 2017 to see what roles had grown the most in demand in that time. At the top of the professional networking site’s list of the top 20 fastest-growing jobs is “machine learning engineer,” the ranks of which have expanded nearly tenfold in the past five years, followed by “data scientist,” “sales development representative,” “customer success manager,” “big data developer,” and “full stack engineer.”
The proliferation of digital roles such as data scientist is unsurprising, given that these jobs are no longer limited to “tech companies” but are now needed in all sorts of organizations. However, Maria Ignatova notes at LinkedIn’s Talent Blog, there are two other key takeaways from the list that employers can learn from:
Hiring for outstanding soft skills is a high priority: Many of the roles on the list are customer-facing and underscore the importance of being able to screen candidates for soft skills. Traditionally, that has been one of the most challenging parts of the hiring process, with standard interviews just not cutting it. Many companies now are starting to use soft skills assessments or job auditions to see candidates in a more authentic light.
Some roles are so new, that the current talent pool is minimal: A few of the jobs on this list didn’t even exist five years ago, or if they did, they were niche with very few professionals in these roles. This means that you have to get creative when it comes to sourcing talent and be willing to approach people from different fields and consider non-standard skillsets. Reskilling the workforce due to shortage of talent is one of the top trends that will impact you if you are hiring for these roles.
LinkedIn’s findings also point to something we’ve found in our research at CEB, now Gartner: The convergence of demand around a smaller number of critical roles. Among S&P 100 companies, we found, 39 percent of job postings last year were for just 29 roles.
Now that every company needs a digitally adept workforce, the race to attract, hire, and retain top talent in this field is as competitive as ever. Demand for tech talent was already outpacing supply, but the problem is getting worse as companies’ talent needs are converging. In our research at CEB, now Gartner, we found that 40 percent of all job postings by S&P 100 companies were for just 21 different roles, including many technical, digital, and data jobs. (CEB Recruiting Leadership Council members can read our full study on competing for critical talent with a market-driven sourcing strategy).
LinkedIn and Capgemini recently completed a study quantifying the severity of the digital talent gap and looking at where companies are missing the mark. They found that 70 percent of US companies say the digital talent gap is widening, while 29 percent of employees believe their skill set is currently redundant or will be soon and another 38 percent believe this will be the case for them in four to five years. These findings also highlight how much more companies need to be doing to train existing employees on the digital skills needed for success in the workplace of the future. Almost half of the employees surveyed were not satisfied with their organization’s current learning and development offerings, and 43 percent said they were willing to move to another company if they felt their digital skills were stagnating.
The data suggests that companies’ development priorities are misaligned with their own future talent needs. Our learning and development research has shown that companies are often too focused on short-term skills gaps when creating development programs. In this case, digital skills may be the long-term blind spot.