by Anna Frazzetto

Who’s in charge of upskilling tech talent? You are. Here are 5 ways to get started

Nov 12, 2019
CareersIT LeadershipIT Skills

Can’t find talent fast enough? Train them! It’s no secret that hiring external talent is no longer sufficient to fulfill today’s tech employment demands. That’s why many companies are investing more resources in upskilling.

Selecting the right people.
Credit: Warchi / Getty Images

For many businesses, the art of grooming skilled employees for long-term careers in-house has been lost. This is an especially acute deficiency when it comes to technology skills and roles. Professor Peter Cappelli, who is the Director of the Wharton School’s Center for Human Resources, explained in a recent Harvard Business Review article that one-third or less of employers today fill their vacancies by promoting or laterally moving internal staff into new openings. Compare that to the “roughly 90%” of employers who filled their vacancies internally after World War II to the end of the 1970s.

Perhaps the expansion of the so-called gig workforce as a source for skilled professional roles has habituated businesses to having easy access to skilled contract talent? Perhaps the relentless and rapid advancement of technology has accustomed businesses to quickly hire new tech staff as their platforms and products advance? Whatever the reason may be for not upskilling existing talent, the alternatives (hiring external talent as needed and tapping into contract talent) are not sufficient to fulfill today’s tech employment demands.

If you can’t find them, you have to train them

Historic unemployment numbers in the tech sector mean jobs are going unfilled¾nearly one million of them in the last three months according to CompTIA. And there are dire predictions for skills gaps ahead, such as Cybersecurity Ventures’ forecast of 3.5 million cyber security positions going unfilled by 2021.

If you can’t find them, you have to train them. Just ask Amazon or Google¾highly sought-after employers where tech professionals want to work. Each of these tech giants is building employee development programs to tackle the tech skills gap. Amazon, for example, announced a $700 million dollar plan this year to retrain 100,000 of its employees over the next six years for jobs within the company. Meanwhile Google has made a $1 billion dollar pledge to close the education gap, prepare people for the changing nature of work and ensure no one is excluded from opportunity.

Clearly, tech’s biggest forces have the resources to make training and skills development a core talent strategy. But for the “rest of us” who have relied on external recruitment, the shift to training, mentoring and upskilling can be daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are five tips for incubating tech talent who will drive your business forward.

1. Mind the gap

An important first step in successfully developing and training technical talent in house is a skills gap analysis. It begins by assessing the overall business strategy to understand needs today and tomorrow. What is the business strategy over the near-term and the long-term? What technology platforms, systems and people will the business need to leverage in order to achieve those goals? These probes must extend beyond the IT department. Every division in a business today relies on people with technical skills, from finance and marketing to operations, support and sales. Technology will shape and support all kinds of work and it’s important to factor in technical skills that are lacking on all teams.

With that business strategy in hand and a clear mapping of how technology will support it, the organization (HR and hiring managers) can conduct a careful skills gap analysis of the entire business. The goal is simple and essential: identify the technical skills and people you have and those you need both today and tomorrow.

2. Find skill-hungry employees

After the skills gap analysis is complete, businesses have the data needed to identify employees for upskilling opportunities. Most anyone working today understands that skill development is not only an opportunity, but also a need. For employees, the opportunity to learn new skills and expand their capabilities will be seen as a valuable perk. Treat it as such and look to identify committed, hard workers who will make the most of the opportunity. In some cases, this could simply mean offering up “New Tech Boot Camp” classes to find out who in the organization is willing to learn new tech skills. And remember not to get caught up in titles or backgrounds. With the tech shortage, it’s important to give non-IT folks the opportunity to grow into IT roles.

Some of the best candidates for training and upskilling are those whose roles are most impacted by automation and AI. Amazon, for example, has targeted workers in their warehouses for upskilling who will see robots and automation tools take over their roles. Even if the impacts of automation or other changes will not be felt for years, now is a great time to start planning for transitioning workers and teams in at-risk jobs into new “new-collar” work.

3. Bolster in-house training capabilities

Some businesses already have a strong training and development organization in place. Consider partnering these resources with in-house tech experts to build and test training models. In this do-it-yourself model, many businesses also rely on external training consultants to ensure the effectiveness and comprehensiveness of the training. Technical training can be complex and an external expert can help an organization see areas of learning and development that they may be overlooking.

4. Leverage a professional training partner

For many businesses, successful talent upskilling will mean finding an outside training partner to develop tech training classes and programs. Luckily there are many eager partners across the marketplace, from professional education and training companies to colleges and universities. A good place to start may be to look at local community colleges, technical training centers and universities. These organizations and businesses are equally committed to creating a qualified workforce and sometimes partnerships between businesses and education can result in some of the most effective training models. Some may already run boot camp-style, immersive training programs for upskilling tech workers and can help adapt existing learning solutions to a business’ unique needs.

When looking for the right partner to outsource some or all technical training, find a visionary. Look for learning providers who have an eye on the future rather than short-term skill gaps. Explore their understanding of the changing technical landscape and how their approach prepares workers to adapt with technology. An adaptive learning partner is key to building adaptive learners and tech teams.

5. Establish apprenticeship models for sophisticated skill development

One highly effective external talent development model that can be modified for internal tech training is apprenticeships. Apprenticeships were once remnants of a different age of career development. Now they are roaring back into use because they are a way of immersing someone into a job for an intensive period of training, assisting and job shadowing while giving them direct, intensive interaction with professional mentors who help shape their skills and competence.

Because apprenticeships require lots of resources and time, they cannot be used for every tech reskilling need. However, identifying high-potential IT talent and offering them apprenticeship roles in areas of emerging tech (robotics, machine learning, AI, etc.) is a way to grow internal capabilities and invest in retaining top talent.

As businesses look to the future, they know technology will play a key role in whatever path they take. Now they must play a key role in developing tech talent from inside their own ranks¾employees who can make that tech-centric future a success.