Summary. To close the gap between where education leaves off and the needs of the 21st century begin, some companies and governments are taking a fresh approach to employee education. For fields in which the supply of talent doesn’t meet the demand, reskilling, or helping current employees make career transitions, is an attractive option. Disney, for example, launched CODE: Rosie, an intensive bootcamp that helps female employees learn software engineering skills. Governments are also beginning to take part in employee education. In Singapore, all citizens over the age of 25 receive a $360 USD “Skills Future Credit” that they can invest in education. And in the UK, theApprenticeship Levy requires employers to set aside funds for hiring apprentices.
To close the gap between where education leaves off and the needs of the 21st century begin, some companies and governments are taking a fresh approach to employee education. For fields in which the supply of talent doesn’t meet the demand, reskilling, or helping current employees make career transitions, is an attractive option. Disney, for example, launched CODE: Rosie, an intensive bootcamp that helps female employees learn software engineering skills. Governments are also beginning to take part in employee education. In Singapore, all citizens over the age of 25 receive a $360 USD “Skills Future Credit” that they can invest in education. And in the UK, theApprenticeship Levy requires employers to set aside funds for hiring apprentices.
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The business world is undergoing an unprecedented rate of change. While core metrics like CEO tenure, shareholding periods, and product inventory levels are stable or slowing, our access to an extensive amount of data — from social media, online browsing, and an increasing number of mobile devices — makes it feel as though things are moving faster. The more information we gain access to, the faster we are able to react, transform, and improve. Companies that do so tend to gain a market advantage, and in turn, the pressure to keep up grows.
This is largely the result of digitization. Today, a company’s systems, processes, and products are underpinned by a layer of technology. McKinsey & Co. recently reported: “Bold, tightly integrated digital strategies will be the biggest differentiator between companies that win and companies that don’t, and the biggest payouts will go to those that initiate digital disruptions.” In short, businesses that make fast and bold investments in digitization will see outsize gains.
So what does it take to successfully digitize? It comes down to talent. Any business can invest in advanced technologies, but creating a workforce that’s ready to use them is much harder. It requires workers who can understand data, serve customers across virtual and physical interaction points, and keep up with fast-changing software languages. Unfortunately, traditional education systems often don’t teach these skills. Most university professors lack real industry experience, and curriculum development cycles can be as long as seven years. This timeline is a problem. A global survey of 4,300 managers and executives shows that 90% of workers feel they need to update their skills annually just to contend.
To close the gap between where education leaves off and the needs of the 21st century begin, some companies and governments are starting to take matters into their own hands. In July 2019, Amazon announced it was investing $700 million to upskill 100,000 employees ($7,000 per person). They’re not alone. My employer, General Assembly, works with over 500 global organizations — including Adobe, L’Oréal, and BNP Paribas — and a variety of international governments that are pursuing fresh approaches to education.
Below are three examples of strategies that are working to create a more educated workforce, and the results companies and governments are seeing as a result of their efforts.
Upskilling is the practice of teaching employees how to use new tools and practices that will help them do their jobs better or faster. With large organizations forecasted to spend as much as $3.8 trillion on IT in 2019 alone, upskilling employees is critical. According to a recent report from Deloitte, “technology implementations fail rarely because the technology did not work but rather because people are not willing, or find it too difficult, to use them.” Some companies hear this loud and clear, and have already begun investing accordingly.
Microsoft is one of them. Under CEO Satya Nadella, the organization has made one of the most successful corporate turnarounds of our time. Azure, the company’s cloud computing platform, is a major driver. But Microsoft admits that while Azure supports companies in sectors like aerospace and manufacturing, many of their customers’ employees don’t know how to take advantage of its capabilities. This is a big reason why, earlier this year, Microsoft signed a partnership with GA to upskill 15,000 workers by 2022, and to establish standards for the skills that power cloud computing. They are betting that a workforce that understands how to use Azure and its underlying technology will be more inclined to leverage its potential, thereby strengthening the company’s market position, and the all-important “power metrics” on which Nadella and his team are measured.
Upskilling can also help ensure that employees’ expertise are being put to the best use as new tools and technologies come to the forefront. Deanna Mulligan, CEO of the Guardian Life Insurance Company, believes upskilling actuaries is crucial to the success of her 160-year-old firm. Like all insurance companies, Guardian’s business depends on its ability to articulate and act on patterns found in vast quantities of data. Historically, the bulk of this work has been done by actuaries — highly trained statisticians who calculate insurance risks and premiums using a number of variables. Today, however, new technologies like Fitbit monitors, car sensors, and others are generating important data about health risks, driving habits, and a plethora of data that can help companies calculate the risk of insuring a person or a business more precisely. These sources churn out an astonishingly higher volume of information than simple actuarial tables and demographic metrics had in the past.
This is where the skills gap begins. For insurance companies to make better calculations and stay competitive, actuaries need new tools to make sense of all the data at their disposal. Purchasing these tools is one thing, but training employees to use them is another.
Led by CIO Dean Del Vecchio and Head of Strategy Bob Thompson, Guardian Life developed a talent strategy to close this gap. They made a strategic investment in GA to upskill and reskill actuaries, and other workers, through short workshops and intensive bootcamps. The goal of such courses is not to change employees’ skills entirely, but rather, to build upon their core expertise. In the words of one student, “[The course] opened my mind to thinking more about data. I see a task that may be redundant or repetitive or monotonous, and I explore ideas where I could use Python or automation to free up my time to work on other activities.”
Reskilling is a form of education focused on helping employees make career transformations. Those who invest in reskilling learn new tools and practices in an effort to gain abilities that will allow them to change their jobs entirely. For fields in which the supply of talent doesn’t meet the demand, reskilling is an attractive option. If deployed well, this strategy can be a significant cost savings, when compared with the price of severance, recruiting, and onboarding new employees.
Capital One began developing a “Tech College” to reskill its employees and candidates around two years ago. “The winners in this industry are the ones who are really going to figure out how to leverage technology and harness it in ways that the best technology companies do,” Chief Information Officer Rob Alexander said. Tech College is a multi-million dollar investment. It offers over 250 courses in topics ranging from artificial intelligence to cloud computing. The courses are free and open to all Capital One employees, and are offered both in person and online.
One of their most effective programs, Capital One Developer Academy, puts recent college graduates without computer science (CS) backgrounds through an intensive six-month experience to develop their software engineering skills. The program, which includes both classroom training and on-the-job learning, grants Capital One access to an entirely new pipeline of talent. Instead of competing over the relatively small number of CS graduates, they are teaching liberal arts majors how to succeed in the roles they need filled. “When you create a viable path for on-the-job training, you can unlock (or leverage) the passion and potential of ‘non-traditional’ candidates,” said Devin Lipawsky, VP Technology.
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The Walt Disney Company has taken a similar approach to reskilling. In a bid to increase diversity in its technology sector, Disney launched CODE: Rosie, an intensive bootcamp that trains female employees in software engineering. The 15-month program is open to women across divisions, and includes a three-month formal training and two six-month internal apprenticeships, after which graduates transition into technical roles at the company. Spearheaded initially by Disney VP of Technology, Nikki Katz, the program has a powerful mission. “We’re going to take a lot of candidates, teach them a lot of software engineering skill sets, and then hopefully let these candidates explore a new career path,” she said.
The initiative started small, but has already seen success. Of 169 employees who completed a grueling application process, 112 completed it. Disney selected just 20 of those employees to fill the first cohort. Now, three years after CODE: Rosie’s initial launch, the program is a core part of Disney’s talent strategy, and is seen as an impactful and cost-effective way to both increase diversity and fill critical talent gaps.
While the corporate world has an important role to play in building the workforce of the future, it can’t succeed alone. We need a multifaceted infrastructure for lifelong learning and education, where employees, employers, government, and education providers all have a role to play.
Some governments are already stepping up to take the lead. In Singapore, all citizens over the age of 25 receive a $360 “Skills Future Credit” that they can invest in education. People can use this opportunity to improve their technical skills, like cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing, as well as core skills, such as leadership and accounting. The program has been highly successful. Eight in every 10 participants report that the training has had a positive impact on their work. The program itself is a powerful accelerator of economic progress, with almost 10% of the country’s entire population participating.
But Singapore is just one example. France incentivizes investments in worker training by providing entrepreneurs with a tax credit equal to the number of training hours multiplied by the minimum wage. And in the UK, the Apprenticeship Levy requires employers to set aside funds for hiring apprentices.
These investments go far beyond standard learning and development spending. Collectively, they represent a shift in the world of business. Companies and countries are realizing that education is an effective tool to correct what is essentially a labor market inefficiency. At General Assembly, we’ve always believed that to keep pace with the needs of employers, education cannot be something that only happens before you begin work. Education has to be something that takes place multiple times throughout your career. The examples and stories I’ve highlighted, as well as recent news from the business community, show that the world’s largest employers are in agreement.