Reskilling bootcamps offer opportunity to build vital technology skills says Thomas O’Reilly.
After 12 months of lockdown, it feels refreshing to finally be thinking about what’s next. Instead of a horizon confined to the next Government announcement, it is now possible to focus on the future with increasing certainty.
The exacerbated digital skills gap is, however, one Covid legacy that it is impossible to look beyond.
In a recent McKinsey survey, more than 60% of UK firms reported that Covid accelerated the digitisation of customer channels, and 80% said that digital employee interaction and collaboration had been accelerated. A perennial challenge for L&D functions before the pandemic, digital skills are now even more highly sought after.
This crisis comes at a time when existing automation and ecommerce trends were already driving significant workforce disruption. McKinsey predicts that by 2030, 8.1m people will need to transition into new positions because of the combination of these trends and Covid-19.
Now is the time for every organisation to take stock of the tech talent they have, scope out the digital skills required and design a more creative talent strategy to address the growing gap.
New sources of tech talent
Given the universal nature of the digital skills crisis, relying exclusively on hiring new people is clearly not the solution. This merely moves experienced talent from one organisation to the next, increasing premiums at every step.
Alongside the pressing need for more developers or cloud engineers, every role now requires digital skills at some level
So, what is the answer?
Any HR professional responsible for sourcing tech talent knows that the skills crisis is more than just an increased demand for specialist tech skills.
Alongside the pressing need for more developers or cloud engineers, every role now requires digital skills at some level. Yes, UX designers and front-end developers are critical to building digital customer channels, but a wider workforce that is digitally savvy is also essential.
The good news is that Covid has demonstrated that the majority of workforces are capable of learning new digital skills and adapting quickly. Many L&D providers have direct experience of this with both trainers and learners pivoting to virtual learning practically overnight.
Increased productivity, innovation and collaboration have all been proven benefits of the digital skills learnt during lockdown. With this experience front of mind, the argument for building the tech talent strategy from within becomes more compelling.
While hiring new talent is always going to be necessary, many vacancies could be filled more quickly and affordably by reskilling existing employees instead. Loyal employees, with years of corporate knowledge are retained, recruitment costs are reduced, and the organisation has access to ways to create the bespoke talent it requires.
Nationwide Building Society has built a reskilling programme that delivers tech skills such as DevOps and Agile. This intensive, 12-week digital bootcamp takes individuals with zero or limited tech experience and equips them with the skills for tech careers, benefiting both the individual and the society.
The programme aims to give people the skills they need to make an impact both immediately after the course, and over a 3- to 5-year period as the organisation’s digital capabilities evolve.
How to approach a reskilling programme
The first step is an internal awareness programme that not only extolls the benefits of a career in tech, but builds a broad base of understanding in key tech topics across the organisation, and supports individuals to make informed decisions about potential new career paths.
Before opening up the reskilling programme to applicants, it is important to think beyond criteria such as STEM degrees or technical qualifications. For example, replacing traditional CV-based recruitment processes with simple digital tests or games (sometimes supported by limited pre-reading), allows programme leaders to identify individuals with the potential and attitude to succeed.
This approach results in a talent pool that is both broader and more diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity and neuro-diversity.
Finally, when it comes to designing the programme itself, it is vital to focus on the skills required in both the short and medium-term.
Working alongside the business and tech leaders, L&D professionals will be able to identify requirements and, together with subject matter experts, design content to fit the need – whether that’s foundational level skills in cloud, DevOps or software development, or advanced data analytics skills.
Reskilling programmes could consist of five colleagues attending a series of external training sessions, or a bespoke training programme for 100 people delivered over a number of months. Every organisation is different.
Graduates from any bespoke digital bootcamp will, of course, be starting a new phase of their career, but they will combine the very latest in tech learning with hands-on experience of the organisation, its customers, culture and competitive landscape.
Highly-valued soft skills such as stakeholder management and communications are already baked in. The end result is a team ready to go back into the business and make a difference from day one.
Of course, learning shouldn’t stop after the bootcamp. Learning pathways that build on the knowledge gained during the initial reskilling programme are essential. A blend of digital and classroom teaching will provide flexibility around existing work and life commitments but also allow individuals new to tech to more quickly grasp complex concepts during instructor-led sessions.
Pivoting to a digital career also has many benefits for the employee. With significant shifts in the UK workforce predicted, individuals are equipping themselves with the skills for a sustainable career, in a growth sector.
For every organisation, there will be serious consequences for failing to put in place a digital talent strategy that works. While challenging, it is also an exciting time to be an L&D professional. Issues that were important before are now critical to the future success of each organisation.
L&D professionals are in pole position to help their employers to deliver. Now with classrooms opening again, there is no better time to invest in your digital skills strategy.
About the author
Thomas O’Reilly is head of group strategy at QA Ltd