It was 2019, and The Standard, a 113-year-old financial products and services company, found itself on the edge of a digital transformation. It was time to embrace new ways of working, new ways of engaging with customers and, most of all, new technology.
As head of the Informational Technology department at The Standard, I knew we couldn’t just abandon the core systems that the company had relied on for years. Prepping for this digital transformation required keeping the old and embracing the new. The question was, how to do both?
To create that transition, we first tapped into our longstanding relationship with IBM. The Standard shifted support of its core legacy systems to the veteran tech company.
That opened the door for The Standard’s digital transformation, which would require employees with new skill sets. Because of The Standard’s emphasis on investing in its employees, we decided to offer those who previously supported its legacy systems an opportunity to be retrained in the new systems.
Those IT employees would learn where the business was headed and acquire the skills they needed to update and innovate along with the company. To accomplish this, The Standard launched the Skills Academy.
We truly value the business experience and expertise of our IT employees, so the more we could retrain and retain them, the better. We knew this was one of the things we really needed to do in terms of upping the game for our IT professionals.
Launched in late 2020, the Skills Academy is an internal initiative to retrain some of the company’s IT team members to support emerging technology. The idea is to keep the deep expertise of those employees while redirecting them to new fields that would help both The Standard and its employees innovate and grow.
On the Right Track
The Standard’s IT department comprises about 350 employees. Close to 70 were candidates for the Skills Academy. The program offered four tracks that matched employees based on their aptitude, interest and need. The tracks included software engineering and testing, low-code platforms, data and robotics.
Employees were assigned to various Skills Academy groups that began training in late 2020. Much of that training occurred online and at employees’ own pace. Some of the tracks offered additional training, such as a week-long boot camp with application software experts.
Amy Van Etta, who has been with The Standard for 22 years, started in the Employee Benefits division and worked in a few different roles before moving over to IT. She was working as a systems analyst when the opportunity to develop her talent through the Skills Academy came along. Van Etta decided to pursue the low-code/rapid application development track. Now she’s working on a team that’s building apps from the ground up to support The Standard’s businesses and operations.
“I’m just so incredibly happy that we were given this opportunity to retrain,” Van Etta said. “I’ve been able to work in three major divisions and work my way through the company.”
That’s something we have heard from many IT employees since the Skills Academy launched. And not just employees who were retained through the academy, but folks who are new to The Standard as well.
Lisa Sager has worked in IT for The Standard since 2014. When Sager learned that there would be changes in the IT department, she couldn’t help but feel slightly on edge.
“It’s a big deal to learn that your job is changing,” she said.
Through the Skills Academy, in just over three months, Sager was able to learn new skills that not only helped her In her role, but also helped her build relationships. “When everybody has to start fresh, it brings a vulnerability that bonds people,” she said.
A Path to the Future
After receiving positive feedback from learners, The Standard’s leadership team is considering where else the program can be applied, such as in areas like the cloud, business intelligence and user experience.
“We definitely see more opportunities for growth within the company,” said Mary Parrott, senior corporate communications manager for The Standard.
The Skills Academy is a prime example of how training can not only upskill employees with the skills they need to succeed, but also create a positive employee experience rooted in learning and growth.