It’s no secret: robust technology skill development strategies level up an entire company. World-class technologists empower an organization with an invaluable competitive advantage. They understand the tools needed to create quality products, and their creative powers carry innovations to market.
Companies that invest effectively in continuous upskilling improve their standing in a competitive industry. Yet even leaders who want to provide tech skills development—and those who think they already are—encounter three primary barriers to implementing a successful strategy.
Our industry research into the state of upskilling revealed three main barriers:
Leaders are still relying on one-size-fits-all training methods.
Organizational roadblocks prevent employees from upskilling.
Leaders are trying to hire their way out of skills gaps.
These barriers thwart leaders from realizing the returns on their skill development investments. Here, we dig deeper into solutions and resources for upending these three barriers and achieving greater impact from a tech skill development program.
Barrier #1: Leaders still rely on one-size-fits-all training methods
Organizations naturally tend to utilize the tech skill development programs that aim for broader audiences, because they are generally easy to implement. About half of industry leaders report that their companies provide such offerings for their technologists, including conferences or bootcamps, in-person or online courses and learning management systems.
Yet these approaches force learners to adapt to the program: often on the program’s schedule, at the instructor’s pace, with a broader curriculum that requires more time to get to what technologists really want (and need) to learn.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that learners prefer a tailored learning experience—which only 23% of leaders report offering. An overwhelming majority of teams are keeping their technologists from learning effectively.
Solution: Make personalized upskilling programs available to each technologist.
The average technologist would like to learn 2-3 skills in the next year. Yet those skills vary wildly between technologists based on their roles, their experience, their interests and the organization’s needs. Leaders cannot satisfactorily address each technologist’s growth with a blanket approach.
Personalization is critical. Customized learning approaches help match each employee’s skill sets, motivations and learning styles with what their team needs.
Pluralsight Skill IQ helps tech leaders index the skills on their teams, and technologists to spot the gaps in their own proficiencies—and the fastest way to close those gaps with customized learning paths.
Tellingly, our research shows that no single learning method appeals to a majority of all learners. A rich tech skill development program requires a full range of options, from self-paced online courses to written content like books and blogs. Even those one-size-fits-all approaches have a place in a diverse upskilling portfolio. With every option at hand, leaders and technologists can customize skill development programs that work for them.
Solution: Meet people where they are.
Contemporary best practices in education increasingly understand that teachers can no longer satisfy the most learners by “teaching to the middle.” Professional tech skill development must adopt the realization that each learner will learn best by starting exactly where they are. One-size-fits-all training programs frequently start with the least experienced learners in mind—disengaging more advanced technologists right from the start.
Focused online programs, such as the thousands of courses authored by industry experts in Pluralsight’s library, enable leaders and technologists to select relevant courses that align with gaps in the team as well as each learner’s needs, previous experiences and individual learning style persona.
Examples of learning style personas include:
Skilling-up learners aim to grow their careers by expanding their tech skillset.
Project-specific learners undertake training to complete a project.
Certification learners absorb information to prepare for an exam or certification.
Micro-learners undertake short bursts of learning for an immediate need.
Conversational learners learn just enough to speak knowledgeably about a topic.
Understanding what motivates each technologist (and what the business needs of them) will help leaders tailor skill development strategies that best suit their learning styles while also addressing the team’s needs.
Solution: Keep pace with the advancement of tech skills.
Broad-appeal training has to lay a foundation to bring everyone to the same starting point. It also tends to incorporate bulky chunks of information—information that becomes easily outdated or irrelevant, even by the time it’s rolled out.
Customized skill development works much more nimbly. Technologists can latch onto smaller, more relevant material—anything from micro-courses online to blogs and other up-to-date written content. They can skip the skills they already know and leap into what they want to learn. Technology workers relish challenges, so taking on bursts of difficult learning will often engage them more than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Pluralsight Role IQ empowers leaders to modernize the various roles on their tech teams. It identifies the skills needed for various functions—and provides each individual with a customized path for growing into that role. Then with projects, designed to mimic real-world scenarios, learners can test their newly-acquired skills in a local environment to validate for accuracy before applying those skills at work.
For such cutting-edge upskilling to work at its sharpest, technologists require support from their leadership. They need a tangible commitment from the organization that it understands and values their career advancement, and a willingness to constantly refresh and implement new offerings in alignment with the organization’s roadmap.
Barrier #2: Organizational roadblocks prevent upskilling
Technologists who want to advance their skills—and even leaders who want to help them—too often get stunted by organizational roadblocks.
A majority of technology leaders are taking action to help their employees develop, but the effort is getting lost in translation: technologists report that the realities of employment are thwarting their attempts to learn new skills.
Block: Technologists are too busy with other demands.
We all have only so many hours in a week. Technologists may have the encouragement of their leaders to undertake tech skill development, but they also have a full slate of responsibilities that take precedence.
Solution: Clear the space for development.
When technologists are overburdened with responsibilities, leadership needs to step in and adjust expectations—extending timelines, reassigning work or hiring additional technologists. Each relieves the constraints on team members, freeing more time for tech skill development. Leaders then need to set the expectation that learners dedicate the time freed up to investing in ongoing upskilling and reskilling.
Solution: Shift big-scale training to microbursts.
The median length of online learning program usage is 3 hours, and the mean is 6 hours. Very few technologists have such large blocks of uninterrupted time to dedicate on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. Leaders can ease the challenge of finding time for upskilling by offering programs that work in short, frequent bursts. It’s easier to find 30 minutes every day than it is 3 hours every week.
Block: Budget constraints limit available skill development programs.
Every organization must consider monetary limitations. But when the roadblock to skill development is a lack of dollars, organizations are shooting themselves in the foot by not investing in their workforce.
Solution: Redistribute training dollars to a more strategic approach.
Budget that goes toward one-size-fits-all training programs is often underutilized—each technologist derives less bang for the buck than they would under a tailored program. Plus, many customizable programs are smaller and leaner, and therefore cost less than their enterprise counterparts.
Solution: Switch from off-site training.
Travel costs associated with conferences and bootcamps take a bite out of the budget for more meaningful skill development strategies. Assess which out-of-office opportunities are less critical or can be supplanted by online, customized alternatives. (As a bonus, even the time that would have been used traveling can now be used for skill development.)
Solution: Improve access to low-cost training options.
Instructor-led courses are valuable resources, but organizations that over-rely on them also spend more money. Teams that diversify their training programs for all learning personas will naturally invest more in low-cost options, such as written resources and peer-to-peer training. Plus, offerings like Pluralsight’s interactive courses enable learners to undertake hands-on coding challenges with guided feedback much more cost-efficiently than live instructor-led options.
Block: Distracting work environments reduce the effectiveness of skill development.
Intense learning requires an ability to focus intensely, especially when it comes to technology skills. But a distracting work environment forces technologists to divert their attention, spend less time learning and keeping up with technology and generally reduces the motivation to keep trying.
Solution: Protect skill development time.
Creating distinct boundaries for technology skill development signifies to technologists and their peers that advancing their skills is a priority on par with any other work, and thus warranting the same focus and respect.
Creative professionals, such as technologists, require uninterrupted blocks of time to produce their best work. The same goes for perfecting their craft. Give technologists the freedom to truly focus during this sacred time—including ignoring emails and Slack notifications.
Block: Not enough offerings fit the schedule.
This roadblock holds particularly true for live courses, whether held online or in person. Offerings might be held after work hours, or during the weekly standup, or on the same day as a team’s deadlines—any time that is inconvenient or impossible to fit in.
Solution: Make plenty of self-paced upskilling options available.
Skill development programs that work on a technologist’s schedule and at their pace are inherently flexible—they can happen on Monday mornings as easily as Thursday afternoons, and technologists are not bound to keeping their skills sharp around someone else’s convenience. The thousands of courses authored by experts in Pluralsight’s library are prime examples of content that works on the learner’s timeframe.
Solution: Technology skill development must happen during work hours.
Continuous skill Improvement is part of every technologist’s job, so their skill development should be nurtured during working hours. We find some disconnect between leaders and learners here: 45% of U.S. companies encourage training during work hours, yet 60% of their technologists report that their learning takes place on the weekends and before/after work.
This block is perhaps the culmination of all the others previously mentioned in this section. It isn’t enough for leaders to permit or encourage skill development during the work day; they must close that disconnect by offering development opportunities that work in timeframe, place, pace and format that serves each individual the best.
Barrier #3: Leaders try to hire their way out of skills gaps
Leaders understand the need for their teams to continuously level up their tech skills—and many leaders report that they meet this need by recruiting and hiring for expert-level skills.
That strategy certainly can close a skills gap. Yet it ignores their organizations’ strongest assets: the technologists already in-house who are hungry to learn and grow with the company.
Solution: Upskill the dedicated talent already on the team.
Unblocking and enabling the talent that already resides in-house takes time, and leaders often want technologists with the right skills to slot into projects. So yes, this solution requires time—though often not much more time than it takes to recruit, hire and onboard new technologists. Identifying the skills gaps on a team, and modernizing those skills, goes even more efficiently with the customized learning paths provided by Pluralsight Skill IQ and Role IQ.
Plus, upskilling technologists is more affordable than hiring new ones. Estimates suggest that hiring a software developer can easily cost $50,000—and it’s more expensive to replace a departing technologist with institutional knowledge. Teams can pay for a lot of upskilling for $50,000.
Upskilling technologists on the team also:
Motivates those employees to innovate and create beyond their current abilities. Organizations that tie compensation to expertise and responsibilities will naturally end up paying their highly trained technologists better, thus motivating in-house employees to up their game and continue developing their skills. Plus, better trained technologists are better equipped to solve complex problems with meaningful, creative solutions.
Incentivizes the best talent to stick with the organization. Leaders commonly fear that well-trained technologists will leave for other companies. Technologists, however, report that this is not their desire: 73% are extremely or very satisfied with their current job, and only 20% are actively looking for a new one. However, 67% remain open to new opportunities, even if they are not actively seeking them.
When those technologists are provided with robust skills development opportunities, they feel more progressive and motivated (reported by 55% of technologists), rewarded (42%), and collaborative (40%)—each of which contributes to boosting retention.
Lessens negative feelings within the team. Technologists also report that continual and relevant tech skill development minimizes their negative experiences with micromanagement, frustration, disengagement and being siloed.
The responsibility for upskilling a competitive technology organization ultimately rests with tech leaders. Technologists can—and often do—take charge of closing their own skills gaps, yet it’s up to leadership to maximize that ongoing development by aligning it to business goals to maintain a competitive advantage.
Powerful tech skill development programs require mature and diverse strategies that align technologists’ desire to learn with leaders’ understanding of organizational needs. Such strategies also dismantle the primary barriers to effective skill development by providing a customized experience for each individual, removing organizational hindrances to learning and prioritizing upskilling in-house employees over hiring outside ones.
With these barriers removed, tech orgs can more freely deploy their advanced technology skills to remain highly competitive in a cutthroat marketplace.
Check out the State of Upskilling 2020 report, as well as Pluralsight’s library of thousands of courses authored by industry experts.
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