IT pros and business users frequently report that they want more opportunities to develop new skills to keep their careers from stagnating, and employers find that ongoing training can help retain experienced talent.
A recent survey by LinkedIn found that nearly 70 percent of employees prefer to learn new skills at work, nearly 60 percent at their own pace — and almost half at the point of need.
“Talent developers are depending more on online learning solutions to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse, multi-generational workforce — and there’s no turning back,” the report says. It advises employers to “meet them on platforms they’re already using with messages that align to their on-the-job needs and professional aspirations.”
Read on to see how to make your training efforts more efficient, as we identify which training trends are rising and which are falling off.
Hot: Training on the spot
Businesses are increasingly incorporating just-in-time training, which offers a handful of benefits, including the ability to reuse elements and gauge the effectiveness of the process.
“If a user has a problem, support could send a tailored video clip of the solution rather than walking through the solution over a phone call and save the video to a content database accessible by all users,” says Seelin Naidoo, CEO of Intelliteach, which outsources IT help desk support for law firms. “Support can evaluate the most frequent questions, determine that other users are likely experiencing similar issues and proactively push out helpful training modules based on data and user experience.”
Gail Norris, U.S. lead for industry learning services operations at Siemens USA, says the company looks to create reusable knowledge that can be delivered where and when it’s needed.
“Access can be mobile, and it allows the incorporation of AI into the learning environment,” Norris says. “As the tools learn from the questions asked, they can begin to compile further data points and learning bites. We’re seeing a falloff in web-based training [WBT] — the length of WBT is often considered onerous and the content doesn’t engage the learner.”
Cold: Traditional testing
To narrow the skills gap, the success of training must be measured. But outdated testing is actually part of the problem, says Jim O’Gorman, president of Offensive Security. He thinks multiple-choice testing has seen its day and doesn’t accurately measure competency.
“Practical, hands-on examinations that force an individual to actually complete the tasks are the only sure way to measure,” O’Gorman says. “The industry has come to the conclusion that 70 percent or better results for multiple-choice exams just don’t work. So I expect to see more and more practical tests coming to market.”
Hot: Customized instruction
Training can be personalized in ways that make it more targeted, less repetitive, and more efficient, according to Naidoo.
“We’re seeing increased migration to directed training programs, in which a personalized curriculum is created for every person based on their individual competency level,” Naidoo says. “Using competency testing as a basis to measure a person’s specific capabilities and the skill level required for their role, an effective training program can be built to address where gaps exist and avoid training on areas that aren’t necessary. This gap analysis training is more helpful and time-effective.”
Cold: Linear tech training
Evolving hiring practices are changing some assumptions about what sorts of skills tech workers should have — and what training will be necessary, says John Mullen, head of North American markets at tech consulting firm Capgemini.
“When assessing talent, we don’t focus exclusively on those that have majored in IT-related subjects,” Mullen says. “We hire across all subjects and look for those with leadership qualities, academic success, extracurricular activities and a strong desire to continue to learn. We put them on teams with experienced subject matter experts and they quickly learn skills in artificial intelligence, cloud, industry 4.0, cybersecurity and others.”
Hot: Reinforcing fundamentals
Narrowing the skills gap is more about developing good practices than focusing on developing fluency in the latest technology trend, says O’Gorman.
“Most of the time it’s not new technologies that are important; it’s reinforcing the concepts everyone knows,” he says. “The fundamentals of having a defined process, validating requests, and creating a trackable log of work done applies across almost every new technology that comes by. It’s important to avoid being distracted by something new and flashy and have that take away resources from the important fundamentals that deliver a higher return.”
Luke Friang, CIO of Zulily, agrees that legacy approaches are still used for a reason — they work.
“Though it’s tempting to criticize older languages and methodologies, I think that investing in foundational skills is important,” Friang says. “When a solid understanding of foundational software and computer science skills is coupled with an open mind and an appetite for learning, staffers who may have in-depth experience with legacy technology will always be valuable contributors.”
Cold: Focus on tech skills alone
Soft skills never go out of style. According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, every group in the survey “from executives to managers to talent developers — identified ‘training for soft skills’ as the No. 1 priority for talent development in 2018.”
Ojas Rege, chief strategy officer at MobileIron, argues the most important skill for IT staff is the ability to communicate well with non-technical employees.
“Employees are typically so overwhelmed by security mandates from IT that they suffer from what we call security fatigue, and disregard the protocols altogether,” Rege says. “In 2019, companies should focus on the basics: Help your employees by giving them simple actions in language they can understand.”
CIOs and CTOs are increasingly seeing curiosity and collaboration as teachable skills, says Zulily’s Friang.
“What’s most exciting to me is that more CIOs and CTOs are now encouraging their staffers to learn more aspects of the business,” Friang says. “By challenging engineers to truly understand and learn from all parts of retail technology, whether it’s logistics, merchandising or marketing — they can create software that helps drive our business and helps them learn and grow professionally while seeing how their work can create impact.”
Hot: Hybrid training
Jordan Owens, vice president of architecture at Pexip, a video collaboration platform, argues for the efficiency of mixing remote and in-person training.
“Remote attendance enables a more convenient option, while in-person attendance supports the interactivity that’s crucial to a strong learning culture,” Owens says. “These types of experiences maintain a higher long-term attendance rate and support improved student satisfaction while supporting strong learning performance.”
Offensive Security’s O’Gorman also advises a mix of approaches. “They serve different audiences,” O’Gorman says. “Some people learn best with in-person attention and direction. They require the structure of in-person to stay on track. Others do much better virtual, with the freedom to explore. It’s important not to try to force a student into a form that they just don’t fit in, but instead provide both as options to allow everyone a chance to flourish.”
Cold: Classroom instruction
Siemen’s Norris expects live, instructor-based training will continue to have its place for learning based around equipment, but she believes that simulated training environments are the future. “Virtual training will grow dramatically in next few years, as technology is more robust and affordable,” she says. “Less effective will be teacher-based lecturing, while interactivity and hands-on learning will become more impactful.”
Hot: Continuous training
The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report found that the majority of businesses plan to deal with a constantly shifting technology landscape by ongoing upskilling rather than hiring more tech staff.
“Because the pace of change has forever altered course, resilience and agility are important traits to cultivate in a workforce, along with promoting an environment of continuous learning,” says Capgemini’s Mullen. “Our plans hold that a certain percentage of our development and training effort will be spent on concepts and technologies that may never reach full scale in the market. Pushing this envelope allows for the continuous push in our culture, and it provides a context for people to connect to the idea that the ability to meet the rising rate of change is in fact as important a skill as any.”
Cold: Brushing up annually
Morphing cybersecurity threats in particular necessitate the skills that are developed as new threats emerge, says Adrien Gendre, CEO of Vade Secure North America, which focuses on email security.
“Attending training once or twice a year simply isn’t enough,” Gendre says. “Users inevitably get distracted or let their guard down. Best practices need to be continually reinforced, especially immediately following incidents where users have put themselves and the organization at risk.”
Hot: Developing homegrown talent
The dangers of failing to provide opportunities to upskill include attrition of top talent in an already competitive market for recruiting IT staff, says Mullen.
“Nearly 60 percent of digital talent is investing their own time and money in skill building,” he says, based on Capgemini’s own research. “If employees are that motivated, it’s the company’s responsibility to provide it. Some pacesetters in this area are augmenting their HR and recruiting teams with digital talent, as that employment brand and face to the market is acutely critical in the development of your workforce. It’s particularly important now as 53 percent of Gen Y and Gen Z say they are willing to move jobs regardless of their functional area, if the company isn’t providing proper digital training.”
Cold: An inflexible approach
Training programs should both introduce new concepts and let staffers have a chance to put them into practice, or it’s a recipe for inefficiency, says O’Gorman, who advises a balanced approach of education and practice.
“Too many training programs produce students that can follow a process but are missing the fundamental concept of ‘Why are we are doing that process?’” he says. “What happens when the process changes or breaks? If all someone knows is the what. They’re not in a position to change the approach and re-tool. Having enough education covering the why is critically important to have long-term benefit from the training.”
Hot: Training in machine learning and AI
Machine learning and artificial intelligence are two areas that need attention, as they become part of organizations’ everyday approach to business via chatbots and cloud-based cognitive computing, says Woody Driggs, Americas advisory digital transformation wavespace leader at EY, formerly Ernst & Young.
“IT organizations must take advantage of these capabilities now to improve customer and employee experiences while driving greater efficiency in their existing processes,” Driggs says. “While AI applications will replace many existing jobs as we know them today, many believe that even more jobs will be created in the future.”
Experts rave about the possibilities of augmented reality and virtual reality, in particular in manufacturing roles. But in terms of routine tech training, IT pros point out the lack of proficiency with current technology like HD video conferencing. In other words, we’re not quite there yet.
“AR and VR will be most interesting, as digitalization continues in the manufacturing environment,” says Siemen’s Norris. “The discussion of IT vs. [operational technology] will begin the merging of realities, as the manufacturing technology overtakes what IT has traditionally focused on. Digital twins — their creation and enhancement and maintenance — will become a required skill for any IT/OT focused staff.”