Earlier this year, we released the book Perspectives on Technology Skill Development, a collection of articles by leaders who recognize their organization’s success depends on their ability to consistently build tech skills.
Today’s episode brings you the first four sections of the audiobook. Whether you’re listening in your car or relaxing in the backyard, we hope you find this excerpt insightful and thought-provoking.
00:00:06.8 Daniel Blaser
Hello and welcome to All Hands on Tech, where today's leaders talk tomorrow's technology. I'm Daniel Blaser.
Earlier this year we released the book "Perspectives on Technology Skill Development", a collection of articles by leaders who recognize their organization's success depends on their ability to consistently and predictably build tech skills. With many listeners of this podcast taking some time off this summer, today's episode is the first four sections of the audiobook.
Whether you're listening in your car or relaxing in the backyard, we hope you find these first few sections insightful and thought-provoking. If you're interested in listening to the complete audiobook, we're including a link in the show notes to access Perspectives on Technology Skill Development, for free, on a variety of platforms.
Welcome to the audio version of Perspectives on Technology Skill Development; a collection of articles by leaders who recognize their organization's success depends on their ability to consistently and predictably build tech skills. The speed of technological change and pressure to deliver innovations to the market means the old ways of training teams aren't cutting it anymore.
The leaders featured in this book are proactive and intentional about developing the skills they need now and into the future, and they're here to show you how you can too. We've gathered their perspectives on this new category to introduce you to technology skill development, show you the value in it, and set you up to make this change successfully in your organization.
To download a free eBook version of this anthology, please visit pluralsight.com/tsdbook.
Section 1 - Technology Skill Development: A critical strategy for every organization, by Aaron Skonnard, Co-Founder and CEO of Pluralsight.
You can't hire your way out of a skills shortage. Your team can't Google their way to proficiency. If you held in-person training before every new project, you'd never deliver anything. The methods companies have traditionally relied on to build technology skills just don't cut it anymore. They're not sustainable. They're not scalable. They don't keep up with technological change. In fact, they're a first-class ticket to digital extinction. But a new strategy has emerged called Technology Skill Development and it's the difference between thriving, surviving, and falling behind.
Technology Skill Development is the most efficient way to continually upskill technology teams, representing an organization's ability to use technology skills as a competitive advantage and driver of business outcomes. Just as sales leaders rely on CRM, and product leaders on CX, the most strategic CIOs and CTOs are relying on Technology Skill Development, or TSD, to continuously outperform and outpace their competition.
To better understand how organizations approach Technology Skill Development today, Pluralsight recently surveyed more than 900 Tech Leaders, Directors and above. Of these, 70% believed success in the next three years depended on their ability to use technology to drive business outcomes and having the right people with the right skills to quickly deliver innovations to market.
If that seems like a tall order, that's because it is. Unless your organization can make tech skill development a priority, the pace and complexity of new technology will outpace your ability to capitalize on it.
Look at the illustrious Fortune 500. Since 2000, 52% of the companies have fallen off the list. Those that have held strong, like IBM, have continually transformed their businesses and their workforce to keep pace with technology. But it's not just about longevity. Building the right skills is the difference between surviving and thriving. According to IDC, a lack of tech skill development will burden 90% of all organizations with adjusted project plans, delayed product or service releases, incurred costs or lost revenue totalling $390 billion annually, worldwide.
The good news? It's not too late to rethink how your organization makes tech skill development a core competency. I've spent the last sixteen years working with companies of all sizes, across industries, and at varying stages of digital transformation. The organizations seeing the most success are being intentional and proactive about their skill strategy and prioritizing what their employees need to continually grow and deliver.
In our survey, 69% of leaders agreed that providing their technologists with robust upskilling opportunities was essential to survival, but only 36% believed they have the skill development tools and programs in place to succeed today. That means many organizations feel like they're falling behind. After years of research and thousands of discussions with our customers, we noticed patterns around the people, processes, and technologies being used to facilitate tech skill development. Some highly strategic and thoughtful, some reactive and disorganized.
We developed a maturity matrix, based on these findings, to help organizations evaluate where their strategy stands today and recognize the characteristics of a more advanced approach. The best practices we've seen among the most strategic orgs include:
Number one - leadership needs to lead the charge. Technology Skill Development has to evolve from a fringe effort to the forefront of an organization's strategic initiatives, and that happens only when CIOs and CTOs get involved. You have to champion it. You have to embrace continual skill development as a competitive advantage and the key to driving business outcomes.
Number two - hiring a tech skill development leader. Gone are the days of leaving skill development decisions up to a person, or team, who doesn't understand your technology strategy or business needs. A new role is emerging that should be at the top of your hiring list: the Director of Technology Skills. They have a deep understanding of the organization's business and technology strategy, combined with best practices to execute a skill strategy aligned to your goals.
Number three - indexing skills across your teams. First things first, you need to know what you're working with. You can't organize your teams to be efficient without indexing the skills you have, identifying the skills you need, and shining a light on the gaps.
Number four - aligning skill development to your goals. Your technology skills director should work with your tech leaders to map skill development to your business and technology needs. With the help of a technology skills platform each team member can have a custom skill development plan based on their proficiency level, so they can focus on the skills they need and not waste time on what they already know.
Number five - upskilling employees into modern tech roles. With skills mapped to your strategic initiatives, you can begin to upskill your teams into the roles you need. Personalized recommendations based on knowledge gaps help employees streamline their skill development and build skills, efficiently and confidently.
Number six - tracking progress and planning for tomorrow. As expertise grows, business needs change and the market continues to evolve, your tech skills director will continually evolve and improve your skills strategy. They'll leverage skills insights to measure progress and deliver quantified impact on the business. It's their job to ensure employees are always prepared for what's coming next and building the capabilities to capitalize on it.
In this anthology, you'll hear from leaders on the strategic end of the matrix practicing these tactics to create a company-wide shift toward continual Technology Skill Development. To succeed at your organization, you can't afford to ignore their advice. Read through their stories, learn from their successes and failures, and get tactical tips on how to build a strategy that helps you keep up, move faster, and achieve more.
Technology teams are only as successful as their skills are relevant. This book will expose you to the perspectives and ideas you need to make Technology Skill Development your competitive advantage and a source of reliable, predictable success.
Section 2 - Innovation velocity: Build new skills that translate into Wall Street metrics, by Tony Saldanha.
If your company is going to survive the fourth Industrial Revolution, you'll need to upskill your people. If that sounds like an absolute statement, it's because my research and experience as a Fortune 25 Executive over three decades has taught me that without company-wide continual commitment to Technology Skill Development, chances are that your organization won't survive.
Today, it's essential that everyone in your organization has a basic level of digital competency. Everyone. CEOs that fully rely on CIOs and Digital Officers for technical knowledge risk developing blindsides on new business models and strategies that are technology-enabled. Your board of directors should also know enough about technology to lead for the future. According to a McKinsey study only around 20% of boards are equipped with the know-how they need, and only around 5% of boards have a Digital Director.
Your engineering team, however, can't get away with just current technology competency. Their skills will depreciate if you don't have a strategy for Technology Skill Development. Simple training solutions don't cut it. You have to know where disruption could come from and be in a position to lead your team through that disruption by empowering them with the right skill, at the right time.
A formal Technology Skill Development strategy fuels innovation velocity - how quickly you can build new skills that translate into Wall Street metrics. Fortune 500 companies have a lot of assets that, if properly taken advantage of, can yield incredible results. These include a network of suppliers and customers, plus venture capitalists that can help them along the way. I enjoyed making the most of resources like this during my time at Procter & Gamble, and we did incredible things with this toolkit.
We were considered best-in-class in our industry, but we faced a very ironic problem. About four years ago, we realized being the best in our class was insufficient because our competition was no longer other large companies. It was startups. They had a 50% cost advantage and a 10x agility advantage. We needed to figure out how to compete with them.
In general, larger companies are less nimble and slower to enact change. At Procter & Gamble, we had to figure it out, and fast. To stay competitive, we focused on continuous improvement and innovation, which required a willingness to experiment with new approaches.
Technology Skill Development was critical to making innovation velocity our competitive advantage. To innovate quickly, it's imperative you get clear on your goals and understand exactly which stage you're at as you work toward them. Many companies don't do this well, and they also don't communicate these details well to their teams. These companies are challenged with how to change the behaviors, and the motivations, of their team so they can act with the agility and urgency of a startup. That's a hard transition, and that's really what the boards and CEOs of the Fortune 100s that I consult with fear the most. They wonder: "How do I revamp my team's agility and digital skills to compete with startups?".
At Procter & Gamble, it started with clarity. Once it became clear we had to create an edge organization to disrupt our global business services, we set a goal. We would take on a project only if we found a way to do it with a 10x return. I was not interested in a 20% or 30% improvement. We aligned completely to our goal of 10x by being direct about vision with everyone involved, from partners to employees.
From there, we organized and operated very much like Alphabet's X, formerly Google X, pushing boundaries of what was possible, and we could do it because systemic Technology Skill Development was at our core. If you want a chance at survival, you need to have a technology skill strategy that's continually being activated and refined.
Amazon recently announced that its investing $700 million in skill development for its employees. I almost fell off my chair when I heard that, because Amazon is one of the most tech savvy companies in the world. They realize that this is not a static goal but a constant reinvestment. It's the difference between a company that's just starting to think strategically about technology skills and one that's a disciplined market leader, having reached the peak stage of digital transformation, which I refer to as Stage 5 in my book: "Why Digital Transformations Fail".
Digital transformation has become a common phrase among leaders across every level of a company and while it's said often, many organizations don't yet grasp that digital transformation is a long game. It's an ongoing journey and the only way to get on the right path is by changing the technology DNA, or skills, of your team. You have to change continually. It's not enough to wait to be disrupted by an outside threat. You need to cannibalize your own business models and reinvent them, and this should continually inform your technology skills strategy.
In the top one or two percent of companies in the world, this practice is second nature. Netflix has reinvented its business model four times now, from mail-in to streaming to original content to international. It's paid off multiple times over in metrics investors care about. It won't matter if you have the best ideas to cannibalize your business, or disrupt someone else's, if you don't have the right skills to propel them.
Establishing a solid strategy for Technology Skill Development will allow you to stay ahead of evolving trends and avoid a situation where your engineers become less useful, the longer they work for you. Technology is changing the way companies compete, and which ones compete. You can no longer be only aware of the traditional players in your space. You also need to be on the lookout for emerging competition from completely different industries. The competitive advantage today doesn't belong to the company that's learning the fastest. It belongs to the company that's aligning and applying new skills in a strategic way.
Bottom line: a skill development strategy is non-negotiable in 2020, if you want to make it out of the fourth Industrial Revolution alive, that is.
Section 3 - The often overlooked impact of a strategic skill development, by Amanda Richardson.
It's funny, to me, that businesses need to build a case for investing in tech skill development. In the reality of our industry, why wouldn't we want to learn new things? Why wouldn't we want to learn how to do things better? How to keep our teams engaged? How to keep people growing and evolving? If the human reasons aren't enough, there's a practical business reason for developing new tech skills: old skills become obsolete. Technologies sunset and best practices evolve.
I recently talked with a customer who runs a .NET shop and they're having a really hard time recruiting. Technologies don't even have to be obsolete. If they're just less exciting to use the newer tech, it becomes that much harder to hire talent. Not evolving an organization's platform, knowledge base, and employee base is a business risk. Complacency will cost you. Your platforms will become obsolete. You will be unable to hire talent. Being proactive, and being smart about it, is bound to benefit your company, both in the bottom line and in ways that are less tangible. Complacency kills businesses and careers.
Let's take a look at a non-tech analogy. Imagine we are writers. We learned to write longhand, so we never bought a typewriter because it was faster to use our pens. Particularly because we hadn't learned how to type yet. Then, we never bought a word processor for the same reason. Our writing competitors bought computers and we're still using ink. Maybe it works great for us and brilliant words flow from our pens, but we can't get anybody to read our work, and we can't take advantage of technology like our competitors can. We can't change paragraphs and spacing, and we can't send copies to thousands of readers in an instant.
If we're hiring talent to suit our handwritten ways, we end up with an adverse selection problem. We find people who don't like change, who don't like challenges, who don't want to try new things. I would be shocked to read those words in any job description but when companies sit on their legacy systems, they create that kind of environment, and that's a best-case scenario. People talk about middle-case scenarios all the time. Your company can get left behind by not providing new services to the market. Worst case though, you've got a billion-dollar problem that puts your issues in the headlines.
Think of those credit card breaches that make the news. Many of the people who get bounced from these companies are Tech Leaders who didn't make the case for upgrading systems, or didn't lie down in the road for them. Skill evolution is a necessity for every function in an organization. We need to get off the defensive. Skill development is imperative for business survival, and our job as Tech Leaders is to look ahead and set up our companies for success. That means looking beyond short-term ease to long-term benefits. Continuing what we're doing just because it has worked so far can end up running us off a cliff. We need to grow and adapt constantly if we want to continue to matter.
Tech skill development is more of a strategy than an investment. Investing in tech skill development essentially drives business growth and innovation. It improves the company's ability to attract new people. It aids retention and reduces turnover. These realizations are nothing new, and neither are the hard financial benefits associated with them, but tech skill development is more than a financial investment. It's a strategy for the long-term health of products and organizations and, like all strategies, it has risks and trade-offs. Trying new technologies and moving forward with the ones that work best costs time and money, which are the same thing, some might say. But what are the costs of maintaining old systems? What are the security risks of staying stagnant? These outweigh any possible costs of ongoing skill development, especially when Tech Leaders embrace it as a continuous conversation.
Target skill development where both the organization and team members reap the greatest rewards. You are not writing teams a blank check to go develop whatever skills they want. I give teams options for the skills they can develop and give them the resources to develop those skills in a hands-on way through conferences, online platforms, and internal and external development opportunities. It's our job as leaders to determine which skills will best develop the organization's longer term viability and also inspire and excite our teams. We must be thinking beyond product metrics to things like employee retention, risk mitigation, and infrastructure security and this is an ongoing strategy.
No to a budget one year doesn't have to mean no forever. Regularly assessing how teams can develop their skills means that new ideas are always surfacing, and skills that don't make sense now can come back around when they will make more significant impacts. Optimizing the business takes it where you want to go, even if you can't find it in an earnings report. At the end of the day, CEOs, and other high-level leaders, do care about how decisions around skill development will impact the business. We do not care which data warehouse technology we use. We care what teams are optimizing the organization for and what problems we're solving for the business. Are we aiming for speed? Reliability? Accessibility? Our ability to hire candidates quickly? Pricing? Probably a bit of all of those. We want to know which targets we're combining and what factors go into those choices. We want to know the choice matrix that leads to our prioritization.
Have those conversations within the organization to make sure you all really understand what the problems are, and that you're aligned before figuring out which tools you need and which skills your team members need to develop. Figure out which metrics you can drive to. Demonstrate how you're going to see improvements in reliability, retention, productivity, or whatever you're prioritizing. Then, trust the employees you've hired to excel in making those improvements. Of course, it's a good discipline to tie your initiatives back to metrics and to tie those metrics back to the key company metrics. Generally, the ones aligned with what Wall Street cares about. But that is a complete over simplification and it's also total bullshit.
Often, initiatives are more about the spirit than the bottom line. I don't believe you can tie the hours and dollars of skill development to a specific number in an earnings report. Reporting your returns down to the dollar sounds nice, but it can't be done. What you can do is tie skill development to employee retention metrics. Better yet, you can tie an initiative to a critical business metric, like reliability, and let skill development be one of the tactics used to ensure the goal is achieved. It's a discipline in and of itself to be able to tie a training program or new technology strategy to outcomes, like site reliability or app speed, which may not drive specific revenue streams, but may still demonstrably take the business where you want it to go.
Skill development ultimately builds relationships, which builds teams. Beyond improving business outcomes, skill development improves relationships, just like date nights can improve a marriage. My husband and I have a date night every week. A date night is not a requirement for our marriage. We spend an extra chunk of change every week on dinner plus hiring a babysitter. We don't need the extra calories in that bottle of wine. Yet, get a shared experience. It gives us time alone. It gives us time to chat. I don't think any marriage counselor would say we need fewer date nights.
Investing in team skills is the same deal. If we go through a boot camp together and we all learn the same skills, we develop a shared language. We build community. Shared experiences strengthen the team and that's on top of learning skills that improve our process and make us better at what we do. Think of skill development as team building. Without the trust falls, and maybe with a few more notes taken, the impact of skill development comes down to team health. It's not about improving next quarter's numbers or next year's sales. It's about building an organization with long-lasting relevance. The continuous experience of learning and growing shows employees that you care about them and want to invest in them.
It's so easy for people to quit a job and become excited about doing something new and different somewhere else. So, you have to figure out how to keep it new and different where you are. You have to grow together with your teammates and, even though this may sound like the beginning of an HR violation, skill development works like a regular date night for your team, strengthening their relationships and helping them adapt to whatever new directions you choose to take together.
Section 4 - A radical rethink to replenishing the talent pool, by Gary Beach.
All is not well in the global talent arena. The digital skills gap that emerged last decade is widening into a chasm. According to the International Data Corp's FutureScape 2019 report, two million jobs in artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things, cybersecurity, and blockchain will remain unfilled by 2023 due to a lack of human talent.
Some experts claim the only solution is a structural reset focused on how individuals learn. Most agree that the transition won't be easy. That's because the skills gap has deepened. It started in 1964 when the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement fielded the First International Math Study (FIMS) which ranked student math proficiency of students in 13 developed countries. The US, which finished last, was already experiencing a skills imbalance. The first signs emerged in 1942 when the US War Department's Army General Classification Test indicated that 40% of Americans age 17 to 24 had the cognitive ability of an eight-year-old.
By 1983, officials in the Reagan administration were so concerned that they commissioned a report entitled A Nation at Risk, whose ominous conclusion warned: "Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war".
Alarmed by this finding, education administrators and politicians used the report to usher in the era of standardized testing, seeking accountability for the nation's investment in public education. But times have changed. Rick Miller, President of Olin College of Engineering, proclaimed back in November 2014 that: "We live in an age of just-in-time learning facilitated by powerful online search engines and, in the workplace of the future, what one knows will be less important than what one can do with what one knows". Who will fill the gap?
And yet, in a recent study by Cognizant's Center for the Future of Work (CFoW), only 27% of business executives claim their employees have the skills to work or interact with top emerging technologies, such as AI, big data/analytics, IoT, mobile technology, open APIs, and cyber security. That is a huge skills gap and corporations aren't necessarily looking to higher education institutions for help. In the CFoW study, 67% of business leaders said they're concerned about the effectiveness of higher education institutions to prepare the workforce of the future.
AI skills are needed right now in the workplace, but it could be 2025 before many college students will find an AI course in their school syllabus. Higher education institutions, after all, refresh their curriculum only every two to six years, according to the CFoW study. No wonder, then, that according to the study roughly, six in ten companies are beginning to bear the burden of learning for their employees, whether by overhauling their corporate learning and training development programs (65%) increasing their investment in reskilling (62%), or offering specialized training on emerging technology (60%).
That's encouraging, but many Chief Information Officers (CIOs) with whom I speak are reluctant to fully embrace these kinds of programs. They remain convinced that once they reskill employees in an emerging technology area, they'll add this skill to their resume and head off to a different employer. I disagree with this contention. Thankfully, so do many forward-looking business executives.
According the CFoW study, these executives are prioritizing skill enhancement programs for workers in robotics/AI (82%), human-centric skills like communication, collaboration, and problem solving (80%), tech skills or web design or UI design (73%), project planning (67%), and discrete tech skills in STEM disciplines (63%).
Overcoming a last century re-skilling mindset. But here's the rub. These approaches to upskilling are often grounded in 20th century learning methods, such as instructor-led classes, rather than on -the-job training, e-learning, and video learning. If there's a looming shortage of two million workers for jobs in emerging technology areas, where are company's going to find the competent instructors to teach them?
I was also surprised to see learning approaches based on AI (28%) and augmented reality (19%) far down the list. That's another skills gap to reckon with. A study by global recruitment firm Harvey Nash offers further insight into how CIOs are strategically dealing with the skills gap. Respondents were first asked about which tech areas are most impacted by a skills gap. Responses included big data (46%), enterprise architecture (36%), and security (35%).
For me, the key question in the study is this: "Which method do you use to find the right skills?". Rather than innovative reskilling, responses ranged from "using contractors/consultants to fill the gap" (85%), "using outsourcing/offshoring to supplement internal teams" (71%), and "using automation to remove the need for headcount" (67%).
If corporations aren't interested in reskilling workers for emerging technologies and higher education institutions are reluctant to change their insular business models, what options remain for workers looking to learn emerging technology skills? Look in the mirror. A digital badge of courage.
A new approach to learning has emerged in the past five years called "Digital Badges". They work like this: imagine a 25 year old is interested in learning more about digital engineering or AI. With the digital badge model, this person signs up for a course and completes the curriculum, mostly online. Rather than be awarded a certificate suitable for framing in the office, the person is given a hyperlink to a digital badge administered by the organization offering the course.
The digital badge holder can embed the link in their profile on social media sites like LinkedIn, or when responding to open roles on job sites like Indeed. Prospective employers can simply click on the digital badge link to verify the applicant skills and course accomplishments. Verification of skills and competency is the hallmark feature of digital badges. This separates them from traditional e-learning initiatives.
Scott Biddle, Director of Communications at Burning Glass Technologies, says: "Digital Badges address two skilling challenges. Employers need a more precise way of determining whether potential hires have the required skills, and workers need to earn these credentials in short training sessions, that are both quicker and cheaper than a traditional degree".
Kathleen deLaski, founder of Education Design Lab, says: "Digital Badges have gained a lot of traction quickly, but we need corporate hiring managers to give clearer signals to validate these as credentials". A recent study from iCIMS of a thousand technology hiring executives offers three findings that suggest these clearer signals are emerging.
Number one: 80% of respondents said they would offer tech job candidates the same salary regardless of whether they had a relevant tech degree.
Number two: 61% said a four-year college degree alone does not prepare job seekers to be successful in today's workforce.
Number three: 45% said they believe that in the next two years a coding bootcamp certificate will be as meaningful a qualification for a skilled technology position as a college degree.
Digital Badges have shortcomings. Most notable is the lack of industry standards for course quality or the amount of personal commitment required to earn one. But from what Roger Shank, founder of Experiential Teaching Online and former Chief Education Officer at Carnegie Mellon University, tells me: "In the end, credentials mean what we think they mean. 'I'm a high school graduate' used to mean something. Now, if you bragged about that, you would be laughed at. The real issue is what one has actually done and being supported by any credential that means something to corporations. The future belongs to digital credentials".
A different kind of bridge to the future. What's clear is that companies and higher education institutions are not doing enough to bridge the widening technology talent gap. Frank Gens, Senior Vice President and Chief Analyst at IDC, offers this ominous prediction: By 2023 the global economy will create 500 million new native applications, the same number created in the past 40 years. To compete in that environment, Gens says, C-Suite Executives must consider everyone a developer.
Francois Voltaire, a 17th century French philosopher, wrote: "One day everything will be well, that is our hope. Everything is fine today, that is our illusion". With a shortage of 900,000 emerging technology workers looming in a global digital economy seeking to roll out 500 million native apps, all is not well. This is especially so in an ecosystem in which talentism is the new capitalism, as Klaus Schwab, co-founder of the World Economic Forum, says.
Business and technology leaders know this firsthand. It's foolish to continue believing that higher education institutions and corporate training programs grounded in traditional 20th century approaches will offer meaningful solutions to this talent gap. In the fourth Industrial Revolution, individuals can no longer primarily rely on higher education institutions or corporations to learn new skills. While it's incumbent on these entities to restructure how they train and teach, that isn't happening quickly enough. In the interim, it will be up to workers themselves to relearn how to learn, or rely on organizations that offer more agile and less costly approaches to upskilling.
As the landscape of work continues to shift in the digital era, all participants (higher education institutions, corporations and workers themselves) have a role to play in making the future of work and the future of learning a reality.
This article first appeared in the Cognizanti Journal.
00:37:33.8 Daniel Blaser
Thank you for listening to All Hands on Tech. As I mentioned in the intro, there's a link in the show notes to access the book "Perspectives on Technology Skill Development" for free on a variety of platforms. Thanks again and have a great week.
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