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Experts share how to optimize your organization’s tech upskilling program

April 14, 2023

Our 2023 State of Upskilling report found that 97% of HR/L&D directors prioritize internal talent over hiring for open positions. But how many organizations are actually able to upskill their internal talent? And how are they doing that effectively? 

In our webinar, Mads Howard, Sage People Centric Security Lead; Nick Russo, Cisco Technical Leader; and Chris Palmer, Pluralsight Principal Consultant for Workforce Transformation, share their real-world experiences and strategies on upskilling to help you optimize your organization’s tech skill investment.

Get actionable takeaways to optimize your tech upskilling program.

What is a tech upskilling program?

A tech upskilling program equips employees with the technical skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their current role and progress their career. Tech upskilling programs can reduce hiring costs, accelerate delivery timelines, and improve productivity, innovation, and satisfaction across your organization.

How do you decide what tech skills your upskilling program needs?

To make the most of your organization’s tech upskilling program, start by determining the tech skills your teams actually need. 

Some organizations are reactive. They constantly try to keep up with the latest technology, but their technologists often experience a lag between when they develop skills and when they’re able to apply them. On the other hand, some organizations are proactive. They make educated guesses about the tech skills they’ll need, but their investments might not always fall on the right target.

Organizations with a dynamic approach to skills blend both approaches. When you work with teams and talent across your organization, you can see where individual needs align with organizational goals. “Working together will help you see what is beneficial, but also what is probably coming up in the future,” said Chris.

As you look to determine the tech skills your teams need, consider these elements:

Demand forecast

Listen to your customers. You may receive requests for a topic you haven’t considered or an area your teams haven’t worked with. Those requests can signal a need for tech skill development.

  • What products or services are your customers buying?

  • What are they requesting? 

  • What will they pay you to deliver?

Industry trends

If your competitors can do something faster or better than your organization, your teams need to develop the skills to catch up and overtake them. If other organizations can leverage a new technology in a way that gives them a competitive edge, you probably want to build those skills into your tech upskilling program as well.

Organizational goals and individual needs

Organizational goals and individual learning needs can also drive tech upskilling program decisions. “I really feel that you get the most out of your colleagues, and their upskilling lands the best, when there is a genuine connection as to why those colleagues want to learn that topic,” said Mads.

She shared an example: “We don't just want our developers to be more proficient in developing in whatever language they're working in. We also want them to actually develop code that is more secure. So we’re looking at how we can incentivize those teams to want to learn and upskill something that we need as a business. Understanding what our colleagues want to learn so that we can meet their needs is really important.”

Information from multiple sources

In many cases, organizations use insight from multiple sources to determine the tech skills they need. “As an example within Cisco, we've had a very large push to do more software development, more automation work, [and] network and infrastructure automation projects,” said Nick. 

“We know we need to start marching in this direction to deliver on this kind of specific work, and then the individual tools and processes we decide to deploy are going to be based more on the demand forecast. 

“By combining a mix of observational and subjective measurements about what the industry is doing with the more specific objective measurements within our business, we usually end up with a pretty good result of the certain skills we need.”

Which upskilling resources should you invest in?

59% of technologists say that using hands-on labs and sandboxes alone or in combination with video content is the most effective at preparing them to apply new learning on the job, but only 32% of tech managers say that their organizations provide hands-on opportunities. These tips can help you identify the most effective learning resources to invest in for your tech upskilling program:

Consider different learning resources

From on-demand videos to labs and sandboxes, a variety of content supports different learning styles. “[Learners need] input from a lot of different sources,” said Nick. “And by sources, I don't mean different vendors. I mean video input, hands-on lab input, reading books, [and] listening to audio…The combination of all that input tends to really help information gel in your brain better. So when we talk about resources to train, it can't be just one thing.”

Find a partner for your tech upskilling program

It’s also important to look beyond the content itself and find a partner who will help you achieve upskilling program outcomes and business goals. “Having that partnership where [the vendors] are able to help you get the most out of the platform, look at the different options, whether it's labs, video content, or sandboxes, and then point [you] in the right direction, is really valuable,” shared Mads.

Make sure employees use licenses

“There is nothing worse than having licenses that aren't being utilized because you don't know how to get the most out of the platform,” said Mads. Whether it’s an on-demand session or instructor-led training, create learning pathways that encourage technologists to actually use the content at their fingertips.

“After you've lobbied hard to get money to train people, and then people are not able to attend the training, or they don't use their licenses…that’s a difficult thing to explain to management,” Nick added. “So one of the best things we can do is…create time and space for people to do that learning.”

How can you future-proof your organization’s tech skills?

If technologists had time to learn during the work week, only 26% said they’d prioritize AI/ML. But the rise of ChatGPT may prompt this number to grow for both individual technologists and organizations. 

“We're probably going to see an accelerated shift of organizations wanting to build [AI/ML] talent internally because of ChatGPT,” said Mads. More organizations are looking to use AI/ML to drive their products and services forward.

Because of this, AI/ML may become a topic that’s essential to future-proofing your tech teams and keeping up with changing technology. “I think people would do very well to start learning the basics and upskilling themselves in AI/ML, a bit like [they would for] cybersecurity,” said Mads.

Focus on timeless technologies

While it’s important to keep up with emerging technologies, it’s just as important to strengthen existing knowledge to further future-proof tech skills. Organizations need a balance of both to create a strong foundation and keep up with competitors.

“I think a lot of this comes down to identifying the difference between contemporary and timeless technologies,” said Nick. “So, for example, I'm a network guy by my technical history, and a lot of the core concepts about network design don’t really change.

“But what does change is some of the new overlay technologies, like the new products that leverage those technologies, the new ways in which we can distribute routing information and policies across the network, and the manner in which we interface with those products.”

He advised focusing on the timeless technologies that underlie these new products. When your teams understand the core technologies and concepts, they can then focus on building their existing knowledge rather than having to learn new technologies over and over again.

Create a continuous learning culture to optimize your upskilling program

When you invest in a tech upskilling program, invest in your organization’s culture, too. “Build the enablement for people to be able to use those tools and resources. Communicate the why and the how of what you paid for,” said Chris.

Tune in to the on-demand webinar for more tips on how to optimize your upskilling program.