Internet of Things. Big Data. User-generated content. It’s a different world today for technology professionals, and it seems that new technologies and opportunities appear daily that these workers must quickly master in order for businesses to stay competitive. But how?
Competency frameworks have been used for some time to categorize, organize, and manage the breadth of skills necessary to perform some jobs. But when it comes to positions like those in information technology, the in-demand skills can change rather quickly. In reality, the world of IT is a blend of both fast-moving skills and a mix of standards and certifications.
The question remains–how do we keep pace with this rapid change? The first step is to make sure you understand the specific skills that are necessary to get the job done. Next, the business needs to identify the certifications that back up its most critical needs. Finally, it’s important to get clear on how to train workers for these new skills in a time where eLearning courses simply can’t get the job done.
Managing and Tracking Certifications
While they may not be flashy, certifications matter because they demonstrate a basic competency level for your technology workers. Put it this way, would you rather have someone working on your server that has an industry-recognized certification, or someone that tinkers with servers in their basement with any spare time?
Most of us get the value proposition for certifications, but the struggle comes in managing them on a day-to-day basis. Several years back one of my clients was facing this challenge, attempting to manually track more than 300 worker certifications on an ongoing basis. I helped them move to a learning management system that helped to automate much of the tracking and notifications, helping to keep the employer in compliance with state laws.
One of the additional values of managing certifications with a bird’s eye view is that employers can see what, if any, gaps might exist in the population. For instance, if just 20% of the workers currently have a specific, in-demand skill, it might be worth investing in additional resources to get more workers trained in that area. Deloitte takes a similar approach, enabling workers to see what training is available to support core areas of learning identified by the company’s leaders. By understanding customer demands and what skills deliver the most value, organizational leaders are able to connect available skills with customer needs. This kind of customer-focused effort enables better long-term planning for both development and workforce planning purposes. No technology leader wants to be caught by surprise when they don’t have the right skills in place to get the job done, and by taking the initiative you can head off any unforeseen issues and limit gaps in critical skills.
A conversation with one of the key leaders in IBM’s research team backs this up. In a discussion of new trends and opportunities in the market, I asked how he and his team knew which technology trends were most important to focus on and which were just hype. He explained that the priority for his team was in the skills that supported customer efforts–customer demand was a sort of feedback loop, enabling him to understand not just what was important today, but what areas were rising in importance as trends and in-demand skills fluctuated over time.
How to Invest in Technical Skills Training
In recent years, the coding bootcamp has become a legitimate option for learning to code in a short amount of time. There are a few reasons for this: speed/agility and performance. When it comes down to it, going to school to get a four-year degree in software engineering or development is going to ensure that a good portion of what you learn will be obsolete by the time you graduate. This is due in part to the long lead time required for curriculum changes, which is why higher education is almost always behind the corporate world.
In addition, the core element of coding is being able to do it reasonably well, which is linked to performance. It’s pretty apparent in testing and the peer review process if your performance and code are not up to par, so these bootcamps focus on getting graduates to a reasonable level of proficiency in a relatively short time, and this real-world application is often not a part of the college education experience.
The insight for the business world is that we need to be doing similar training internally. Instead of focusing on broad education or generic training that doesn’t really fit the needs of any of our workers, we need to be highly targeted on the specific skills and competencies necessary for optimal performance. It also needs to be revisited regularly to ensure that everything is on track. Continuous learning is key.
For example, one SkillNet client uses a “hackathon” approach to learning in order to provide training and application in a single session. After taking some time to teach technical staff about the latest and greatest technology tools, they are given an opportunity in a hackathon format to use those resources to solve an existing business problem. Shortening the gap from learning to application is one of the key areas for improving training efforts, according to the research we’ve performed at Lighthouse.
This harkens back to the earlier discussion about IBM: it’s about looking at customer demand to determine which skills matter most. It’s also important to break out skills into discrete parts so we can understand with some level of granularity what is most important. For example, wireless networking is pretty broad. Are we talking about hardware setup and maintenance? Software setup? Troubleshooting? We need to be specific if we’re going to set our workers up for success with their individual development plans.
While it’s true that in-demand technology competencies can shift quickly, it’s also true that we should have some awareness of those if we are intentional about assessing customer demand (whether internal or external customers) and identifying the skills that align with those needs. If you want to be successful at managing, tracking, and developing the right skill sets for your technology staff, then it’s critical to have a plan in place for identifying the competencies that matter and growing them in the rest of your team.
By: Ben Eubanks, Principal Analyst, Lighthouse Research