Upskilling is critical to digital transformation success. But when it comes to technologies like cloud, data analytics, and artificial intelligence, what’s the best way to ensure your staff is learning the right skills to bring value to your organization? And how do you structure your training program to ensure staff will buy into the value it will have for their careers?
As Dan Hushon, CTO at DXC Technology, an IT services company, sees it, corporate training typically takes one of two forms: internal training that offers skills and knowledge that aren’t necessarily of value outside the organization, and external training, education and certification that has higher general value but might not be targeted to the organization’s business needs.
“Your company might offer you opportunities to learn things that are valuable to them but not that much for you, or vice versa,” he says.
To ensure both individuals and organizations benefit mutually from training, DXC is merging the two approaches with its DXC Open Badges Network. The network, which currently offers tracks in AI, industrialized AI and DevOps, is built on the Open Badge Academy (OBA) platform. Open Badge Academy enables organizations to create micro credentials, called badges, tailored to the skills they need.
To achieve the badges, participants sign up and log into the platform, where they can choose from a self-service model or a guided bootcamp model, says Hushon. Anyone can sign up and work toward badging, whether they’re an individual or working with a partnering company. Each badge curriculum is broken down into a series of tasks to complete, and while going solo is an option, Hushon says collaboration is strongly encouraged; participants who band together in six- to eight-person “guilds” have a greater chance of success.
“The curriculum is laid out like a subway map with different tracks, and each badge is a ‘stop’ that takes four or five tasks to get to,” says Jerry Overton, fellow and head of AI at DXC. “The tasks themselves are less of a class and more of a challenge. For instance, one of the tasks toward getting the Running an AI experiment badge involves designing and submitting descriptions of a microservice. That’s easy to say, but it’s very hard to do. For another — Build, Train and Test Your AI — you have to document all of that and submit a notebook showing how you accomplished that.”
Competency is evaluated by members of the OBA community who’ve already achieved the badges. Participants who’ve signed up and completed badges can volunteer to come together and review others’ work on various tracks, or provide assistance and guidance as indivituals or through mentoring guilds, says Overton.
“Once a badge is awarded to you, you become a member of the community around that badge, and then you can help assess others working toward those skills,” says Hushon. “If someone’s done a stellar job at a task or a badge, we use that as an example of ‘Here’s what “good” or “excellent” looks like,’ so students know what they’re aiming for.”
Available badges include skills ranging from innovation and problem solving to mechatronics to Arduino to managing agile transformations. OBA partners, including Siemens, NHS and others, also offer their own digital skills badges on the OBA platform relevant to what’s needed within those organizations, Hushon says.
Open source training
All badge curriculum on the OBA platform is open, collaborative and gamified to improve accessibility, make it easier to track progress and encourage participation, says Hushon. It’s akin to the concepts of open source software, in that there’s a core knowledge base that participants have access to; they can learn, share and improve on the knowledge base in a very collaborative way, he says.
DXC started offering AI training and badges because the technology is significantly impacting its clients’ businesses, and because skills around AI are extremely portable and in-demand, Overton says.
“Digital transformation has changed everything companies do, and with the emergence of AI, we realized that while there’s a lot of vendor-specific training, there isn’t certification for open value exchange and broad knowledge sharing,” Hushon says. “We wanted to grow people with a broader base of digital skills so they can be more valuable to their organizations and to the industry as a whole.”
Moreover, DXC was drawn to the idea of modern tech team, one that includes members who are experts in some areas and generalists in others, Hushon says.
“We wanted our offerings to be able to encompass the skills and knowledge and the team-building elements; instead of putting together linear pathways for learning, we wanted to make it collaborative, non-linear, based on knowledge-sharing,” he says.
With that approach, forming successful teams around these digital skills is a natural outcome, according to Hushon. “We see these ‘matrix’ teams begin to form that are really addressing what successful teams look like and demonstrating how leaders create value by mixing people who are cross-skilled on each other’s domains,” he says.
As head of AI at DXC, Overton directs the curriculum for DXC that can help organizations standardize and benchmark knowledge and skills around these critical technologies and leverage AI to derive greater value from the vast amounts of digital data produced.
“One of the ways we gain credibility with our clients is to show them how we do for ourselves the same as we can do for them,” Overton says, which is why DXC employees went through the OBA badging process to show competency with these skills before they extended the offerings out to clients. “We knew we needed to show clients that we were doing this internally before we showed them the benefits. We’re helping them understand the value that can be derived from all this new digital data and information and how to unlock it, creating a technical basis in our business staff and vice versa. Many organizations want to treat digital as a ‘sidecar’ to their traditional approaches, but we want to drive home that applying this alignment around digital skills is an imperative.”
“We’re focused on what we call ‘double deep skills’ — by that I mean people who understand the skills themselves but also how to apply them within organizations,” Overton says. “For example, we want people who learn the ability to create AI data stories; building data pipelines; devising and conducting AI experiments; AI utility services; keeping AI ethical. We specifically offer this ‘ethics’ badge, because we heard a plethora of horror stories around detecting risks and biases, so we’re also showing you how to identify and avoid these.”
The emphasis on the application of technology also helps facilitate collaboration, given that the problems posed in DXC’s badges are defined enough to have set objectives but vague enough to require teamwork among members of each guild. This approach encourages participants to expand their knowledge base, share learning within the smaller guild and the larger organization, and to develop unique approaches to problem solving using the technology and skills, Overton says.
Moreover, the platform’s emphasis on gamification provides motivation, an easy way for organizations to track progress, and makes the learning process more fun.
“I liken it to open source software. You don’t necessarily sell the value of that software, but you provide transparency and community and then participants come in, explore and create that value proposition themselves. We not only need our employees to see and deliver the value, but to show that to leadership, to our clients, too. It’s about building a community and being responsible for that,” he says.