The tech talent shortage has CIOs scrambling to ensure that employees brush up on the latest skills and technologies that facilitate business agility. But the COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the need to have adaptable, flexible staff willing to learn new skills in critical domains such as cloud software, machine learning and cybersecurity.
Indeed, 72% of 3,670 senior corporate executives identified “the ability of their people to adapt, reskill, and assume new roles” as the No. 1 item to navigate future disruptions, according to Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report. Yet only 17% of those executives describe their workers as ready to adapt, reskill, and assume new roles, underscoring a big disconnect between leaders’ priorities and the reality of how their organizations support workforce development.
The acceleration of digital business imperatives means CIOs must do something different to get a different result. The following is a look at how several IT leaders are approaching this issue to create more productive, agile IT workforces.
Instilling a cloud-ready culture
TransUnion has hired hundreds of “cloud-native” engineers fluent in software from the likes of Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. But to cultivate the skills required to build out and manage a hybrid cloud, the credit reporting software maker hired a third-party training provider to help employees earn cloud certifications, which will enable them to better modernize applications for cloud platforms and build fully automated CI/CD pipelines as part of the company’s DevSecOps push, according to Abhi Dhar, TransUnion’s chief information and technology officer.
“Our mission is to transform, not have interim staff and use consultants and disintermediate the entire workplace by starting from scratch,” Dhar says. “Our competitive advantage comes from highly talented people who are committed and enthusiastic.”
To date, more than 900 of his 3,500-member tech team have completed cloud certification, earning cash rewards in the process. Dhar says the reskilling effort is crucial for building an engineering culture focused on big ideas for building credit-focused applications rather than updating, maintaining, and patching servers. “Good engineering culture thrives on creativity,” Dhar says.
In addition to reskilling for cloud and DevSecOps, Dhar is looking to hire people who think in terms of five- to seven-year horizons for the next big trends in technology — whatever they may be. But reskilling remains the primary goal, Dhar says, adding, “You can’t buy culture; I wish it was that easy.”
Leadership advice. Eliminate perverse incentives that reward colleagues for targets such as migrating X amount of applications in Y amount of time. Dhar says he’d rather have his engineers working to cultivate new predictive analytics solutions that anticipate and align to market trends. In short, it’s about innovating through a product-oriented lens. “You have to be strategic about liberating creativity,” Dhar says. “We want our best minds and best engineers to be fulfilled and committed.”
Unleashing high-velocity training
Like TransUnion, financial services firm TIAA was on a modernization kick prior to the pandemic. But the outbreak crystallized the importance of augmenting skillsets around cloud software and DevOps processes, says TIAA Chief Digital Officer Scott Blandford.
Rather than hire third-party consultants unfamiliar with TIAA’s business to train his teams, Blandford launched the High-Velocity Engineering (HVE) program, which taps deeply technical colleagues to teach more than 4,000 IT staffers how to shuttle applications around with containers, construct CI/CD pipelines, and automate the building, testing, and running of business applications.
HVE has been a resounding success, Blandford says: “We’ve been able to do more training faster and better to reach more people during the pandemic.” For instance, HVE has helped reduce the time it takes to test applications from weeks to a hours, helping TIAA get the software in front of customers faster.
“What we see with cloud is the automation of enterprise IT,” Blandford says, adding that more than 50% of his staff have attended multiple sessions. In all, the HVE program has grown to more than 60 topics, with staff completing more than 25,000 courses.
Leadership advice. Having domain experts create curriculum helps democratize institutional knowledge, as the video tutorials they create on the process of building and deploying cloud software, for example, will serve the organization for years to come. Even TIAA’s executive leadership are getting in on the action, taking courses in Python and Java and learning how to create containers, Blandford says.
Teaching cybersecurity folks to code
With the average cybersecurity organization leveraging 70 or more applications, juggling tools is a daily grind. To address this, Code42 CIO and CISO Jadee Hanson has instructed her cybersecurity staff to learn basic scripting to help build lightweight integrations between apps, automate certain processes, and even avoid purchasing new software.
For example, a staffer wrote a script that fires off an alert to security teams when HR software logs a resignation notice. Such links create greater efficiencies for Code42, which builds forensic security software that aims to safeguard corporations against insider threats, Hanson says.
“Every security organization is overloaded with things to look at and places to dig into and manage,” she says. “If you can learn how to do development and scripting yourself, it makes it easier and more efficient to get things done.”
Leadership advice. Learning how software is built, tested, and run instills cybersecurity professionals with greater empathy for their software engineer peers — a sort of digital bridging across the divide between two teams that sometimes begrudge each other. “It’s easy for security teams to identify security gaps in the product and turn around and hand them to developers and wonder why it’s not done,” Hanson says. “But it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Tips for fruitful reskilling
Thanks to digital trends that have accelerated during the pandemic, the total number of skills needed in the average job is increasing by 10%, year over year, and over half of the total required skills are new skills that are displacing old ones, according to Gartner research on agile learning released in May.
Gartner recommends the following steps to address this challenge:
- Ensure employees learn foundational skills that can evolve with the enterprise as it evolves.
- Reﬁne role-speciﬁc skills and focus on workﬂows by providing learning and development.
- Upskill employees with emerging and new skills aligned with the enterprise strategic workforce plan.
Author: Clint Boulton