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:
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:
Recently writing at Personnel Today, Ben Batts made the provocative argument that in the age of digital learning, corporate learning and development functions should stop creating content and start aggregating it instead:
Basing your learning strategy, digital or otherwise, on the creation and delivery of content, makes it tremendously difficult to serve your workforce in a timely, relevant and personalised manner. Creation is slow. It’s expensive. It requires an increasing level of expertise to make online learning content that looks and feels credible in a world of premium resources. …
The world is full of content. It is full of learning content. So, wouldn’t it be more efficient to procure and curate existing content, than to create it from scratch? … As learning professionals we’ve taken it upon ourselves to be the curators of this content; to take a range of sources and craft the perfect piece of learning content for our audience. I think we’re going too far and having all the fun.
The core of my thesis is this: be the aggregator of suitable resources and let your learners work out for themselves which content is appropriate, necessary and useful for their context. You can’t possibly hope to personalise things enough to make this right for every person. But people can make it right for themselves.
Designing learning content has always been at the core of L&D’s work. As Batts mentions, things are changing: Learning is moving online, it’s no longer limited to the classroom, and the amount of content available is ever-increasing. So, how does all this change L&D’s role? Batts’s answer is to turn L&D into a content aggregator, allowing employees to chart their own courses by choosing the content that is right for them.
The proliferation of online learning vendors and free products certainly creates an opportunity for corporate L&D functions to benefit from content they did not have to create themselves. The notion that L&D should stop designing learning altogether, however, misjudges how employees learn best and undervalues L&D’s expertise.
Nobody has time to learn. So goes the mantra (complaint?) of most learning and development professionals. In a new CEB study, heads of L&D cite “employee time to learn” as the biggest challenge to delivering learning to their employees. To deal with this challenge, most L&D functions have moved beyond the classroom to deliver learning through new channels. In fact, two-thirds of L&D functions have increased the number of learning channels they offer in the last three years alone.
Unfortunately, simply increasing the number of channels is not enough. Despite the increase in new channels of learning, only 43 percent of employees say learning is easy to access when and where they need it. Simply making learning available does not make it accessible. Employees today are overwhelmed by the amount of learning choices available. They cannot find the learning they need at their moment of need.
The best organizations are placing learning solutions when and where employees can access them most easily. Leanne Drennan, a senior consultant for learning strategy and design at IBM’s Center for Advanced Learning, explains in TD Magazine how they have changed the way they deliver learning to ensure that employees can access what they need, when and where they need it:
The coding community site Stack Overflow’s annual developer survey contains answers from a total of 56,000 programmers to 45 questions about their jobs, professional interests, educational backgrounds, and lifestyles. Though not a scientifically rigorous study, the survey’s massive sample size offers some interesting insights into this coveted cohort of tech talent. Michael J. Coren at Quartz parses the survey:
Most of the developers who responded to the survey don’t work for software or internet companies anymore: 62% are in finance, consulting, health care, retail, manufacturing, and other industries. …
Self-taught developers dominate technology: 69% of the developers who responded to the survey are at least partly self-taught, and fewer than half hold a formal degree in computer science. In a trend spreading to other fields, many are choosing ways to learn that offer everything but a degree: online courses, bootcamps, on-the job training, and collaborating with peers.
What’s the financial value of those five extra years in school for a computer science PhD? Less than you might think, according to Stack Overflow’s survey. Those who “learned on their own” report earning about $104,000, compared to PhDs who take home about $122,000.
Many developers don’t find jobs by searching listings. “A huge percentage of the greatest talent is not looking,” says Jay Hanlon who leads community growth at Stack Overflow. “These people never hit what you would consider the job market.”