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Reskilling programs: Preparing non-tech employees for tech roles

May 09, 2022

You’re contemplating something radical: creating reskilling programs to enable non-tech employees to move into software, IT and data positions. But where do you begin? How do you prepare a cashier, customer service representative or claim processor to contribute on a software development team?

Don Jones, Head of Developer Skills at Pluralsight, and DevelopIntelligence VP Jessica Schneider unpacked this topic at a recent event. Reskilling non-tech employees can “seem a little daunting,” said Schneider. These individuals do not have computer science degrees or foundational knowledge in coding. They are changing careers completely, embarking on a brave new journey.

The planning effort for a reskilling endeavor like this “involves multiple stakeholders across many departments and is packed with moving pieces,” she noted. As a starting point, Schneider recommended this three-step foundation:

First, begin with the end in mind

Think ahead to the end of the reskilling program—when graduates step into their new tech roles. What specific tasks will they need to be able to accomplish on their own? What will their team and manager expect them to know and do? What project will they be working on? Will they be fixing bugs? Building feature enhancements?

Getting precise, detailed answers to these questions is similar to the requirements phase of a software development project. Before you build software, you carefully articulate what the software needs to do.

Once you’ve defined the end goal for your reskilling endeavor, it’s easier to determine what technologies to cover in your program and at what depth. From there, you can begin making decisions about program length, structure and content.

Next, decide how you will select participants for your reskilling programs

Finding candidates who are both interested in a coding career and well-suited for it can be the most challenging part of a reskilling endeavor. You’ll need a recruitment strategy before you can establish a timeline for your training program.

Start with the graduate in mind. The teams who will receive these reskilling graduates can help you define the attributes and skills needed for success.

Before you can start recruiting, you need to know where the graduates will land. Applicants will want a clear picture of what they’ll be doing afterwards if they take part in the reskilling program. They need to be able to weigh the pros and cons. The more specifics you can provide about what happens after the program, the more comfortable employees will feel when deciding whether to apply.

Where are you going to find these employees? If they are coming from an internal department, what’s your strategy for getting buy-in from managers who may be reluctant to let a star performer transfer into your reskilling program? What’s your plan for filling positions left vacant by these participants?

How are you going to evaluate reskilling applicants? Which candidates are likely to thrive—or at least persevere—as they climb the steep learning curve of a reskilling program?

Third, identify and engage champions

“The step that might be overlooked the most is to recruit champions within the business to support you in this initiative,” said Schneider. The ideal champion is passionate about the reskilling vision. Champions help with brainstorming, decision making and removing barriers as you move through the planning and implementation journey.

“Get support early and keep your champions engaged. They can help with internal communication, recruit mentors to support students through the program and collaborate on curriculum.”

Closing thought: Reskilling programs for non-tech employees are multi-layered

With these three elements in place—program requirements, recruiting strategy and champions—organizations can proceed with designing the actual reskilling program.

Schneider called these “multi-layer programs,” because they involve more than just technical training. In addition to building technical know-how specific to the jobs they’re destined for, participants must learn how to think like programmers.

“If you’re a cashier or work in a call center, your day-to-day interactions and the way you work is different from the way developers work on a development team,” explained Schneider. Effective reskilling programs model how to approach and solve problems, research issues, collaborate on a software team and more.

For organizations interested in reskilling non-tech employees, it’s important to have realistic expectations. “You’re not trying to create experts by the end of the program,” said Schneider. “You are preparing entry-level developers. So, you want to give them the skills they need to get started, and then the confidence they need to be successful and to continue to grow those skills as they move into their jobs.”

If you’re looking for creative solutions to staff upcoming projects and diversify your tech workforce, ask about Pluralsight One’s Opportunity Academies.