How to build an environment that nurtures tech talent

Be they technical wizzes or not, employees will need to acquire digital competencies to thrive in their work. How can leaders support the upskilling of their staff?

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According to the World Economic Forum, 44% of workers’ skills will be disrupted in the next five years. Innovations such as generative AI and cloud computing will require digital skills across all levels of organisations.

Employers won’t just be able to hire these skills. Instead, they will need to reskill and upskill their existing workforce to keep up with customer demands. Fundamental to this is a “culture of continuous learning”, says Maureen Lonergan, vice president of Amazon Web Services Training and Certification (AWS T&C).

Building a culture of continuous learning

“We define a culture of continuous learning as one where people have permission – and are actively encouraged – to learn and experiment without fear of failure,” says Lonergan. “Instilling this belief allows workforce development to serve as a pillar of your business approach instead of competing for your staff’s time.”

Lonergan suggests several policies that can help achieve that aim. Nominating a senior leader to become an executive sponsor for the programme signals a top-down commitment to learning that encourages participation throughout the business. 

“The sponsor and other leaders ensure training goals are aligned to broader business goals across your organisation, so the strategy is integrated and aligned at all levels. They need to communicate a clear direction and expectations with the rest of the organisation,” Lonergan says. 

She adds: “Some of our most successful large-scale training engagements began with the CEO or another senior leader attending training classes and getting AWS certified. Leaders who set the tone and stay visible throughout the journey set the pace for the organisation.”

Similarly, champions within the wider workforce can help their peers see the opportunities provided by learning opportunities. “Build your champions from across the organisation in diverse roles – not just managers or senior individuals – from IT and non-IT, and invite their input and give them permission to lead,” Lonergan says. “You’ll create an employee-led movement that aids in greater staff retention and satisfaction.”

Absa, formerly Barclays Africa Group Limited, launched its AWS Skills Guild programme in March 2021 to accelerate cloud skills development. One of the key drivers of success was doubling the number of skills champions within that first year; the organisation went from 50 to 95 within three months.

“We’ve made great progress these last couple of years, we want to go faster. And we want all our teams to have the opportunity to be part of that journey – and that all starts with learning,” says Ebrahim Samodien, CIO for enterprise functions at Absa.

Assessing skills requirements

Crucially, leaders must be able to tie company goals with their reskilling initiatives. That should allow them to make more space for learning, as staff can see how their new competencies will drive the company forward. Baking in learning opportunities within existing workflows will be crucial to supporting workers as they balance current responsibilities with learning skills to future-proof the business.

“When trying to balance priorities and learning opportunities, leaders should ask themselves: ‘What are we not doing today that we should be doing? How much of that hinges on reskilling talent?’” Lonergan explains.

She adds that organisations should then consider the skills that teams will need to achieve objectives over the next couple of years, and formulate an upskilling plan that leans into these specific development areas.

For example, the German telecom giant, and AWS T&C client, Deutsche Telekom IT aligned its training schedule to each team’s cloud adoption timeline. Lonergan says this helped scale training through the organisation, and drove greater excitement for the company’s migration to the cloud.

Employers will also have to carefully consider the digital skills they need their non-technical staff to acquire. “They are the folks that are going to be using the technology itself,” says Jake Shannon, director of HR at AWS. “You have to differentiate the training, because it’s very different if you’re developing a programme versus figuring out how to use it for a business case.” 

For these workers, improving skills such as data literacy, cloud competency and prompt engineering for generative AI programmes will become increasingly important. Luckily, workers of all ages are open to learning these new skills according to Access Partnership. Some 65% of employees aged 65 to 74 reported interest in generative AI skills, with those aged between 35 and 44 the most keen to learn.

Attracting and retaining talent

Harnessing a desire to learn should help employers hold onto their staff. According to a study, more than half of IT professionals cite a lack of learning and development as a primary reason for switching jobs.

Where to start?

Top three considerations for a learning culture

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By delivering training programmes, and helping their staff acquire industry-recognised certifications in key digital skills, employers can signal their status as a destination for the next generation of talent. Research compiled by LinkedIn showed that 76% of Gen Z employees wanted the opportunity to learn or acquire new skills in their job. 

Ultimately, with skills constantly evolving and the requirements of the job changing, the companies that build continuous learning into their cultures will be best prepared to adapt and thrive. 

“Creating this environment isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen overnight,” says Lonergan. “But when leaders take steps to foster a culture of continuous learning where failure isn’t fatal but rather fundamental, employees can deliver creative ideas and solutions to grow their careers, advance the business, and delight customers.”

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