By 2020, 57 percent of organizations plan to use some form of IT automation, according to a recent survey. As the workforce and technology evolve, so does the role of IT employees. With the advent of cloud, big data, everything-as-a-service, plug-and-play technology and distributed teams, IT roles must adapt.

To do so, companies must employ increasingly tech-savvy employees. Hiring, however, can be costly. Chuck Groom, an entrepreneur and software engineer, estimates that it costs $50,000 to hire a new software developer. Instead of spending money – and time – on this hiring process, it’s wise to optimize learning for the changing needs of this role.

“As the pace of change accelerates and technology continues to evolve, a skilled and nimble workforce is key to staying ahead of the curve and the competition. The need to skill up your workforce pairs nicely with employees’ desire to advance in their career and have impact in their work,” according to a Pluralsight blog post. Here are a few ways to optimize learning for changing IT roles in your company.

Focus on Teaching Soft Skills

The focus in IT training is often on technical skills. While that training is critical for the IT team, the evolving workplace needs tech employees who can step into a variety of shoes. These employees approach their work with a business mindset, thinking about how to work effectively, connect with co-workers and produce results that drive revenue.

Whereas traditional IT roles often provided more of the day-to-day support of the website, security and technical product needs, the evolving role needs to be less process-centric and more strategic. The soft skills that modern IT professionals need, according to CIO, include sales, verbal and written communication and the ability to translate “tech jargon,” collaboration, empathy and emotional intelligence, customer service, “the ability to ask the right questions,” problem-solving, adaptability, and “comfort with uncertainty.”

Make In-office Learning Collaborative

While learning can take many shapes and forms, making it available during work hours in the office is a convenient and inexpensive option. Plus, 68 percent of employees prefer to learn at work, according to a recent LinkedIn report.

Schedule lunch-and-learns with manager- or third-party-led training sessions. Topics can range on everything from career development to emerging tech or training on new techniques and tools. To make these trainings most effective, you need one critical element: collaboration.

Elena Carstoiu, chief operating officer of communication platform Hubgets, suggests that collaboration lends itself to a powerful learning tool: peer-to-peer learning. She explains, “Such a collaborative learning process includes all four necessary steps: gain the knowledge, practice what you’ve learned, get feedback and let the information you received sink in.”

Peer-to-peer learning can also foster a more effective learning environment: “Collaborating with fellow teammates creates a safe environment for employees to learn and ultimately develop professionally. And it also fosters leadership skills,” says Carstoiu.

Encourage Attendance at Industry Conferences

Industry conferences allow IT professionals to stay current on developing trends and the latest technology and innovations. They also provide access to industry leaders who speak on industry shifts, like compliance in the face of security issues. For example, 2018 saw complete security overhauls due to GDPR in the European Union and the CLOUD Act in the United States. Events like the GDPR Summit Series prepared thousands of IT professionals on how to manage regulatory changes. Whether they’re national or local, conferences allow for direct hands-on learning as well as networking opportunities.

Focus on Data

According to Deloitte’s 2019 “Technology Industry Trends” report, “As we enter 2019, data silos continue to prevent many companies from gleaning critical insights regarding their customers and business.” For organizations to address this issue, Deloitte suggests turning to internal talent and says that a chief data officer (CDO) position will become increasingly important and prevalent, with 90 percent of organizations having a CDO by the end of the year.

Train your IT employees in the evolving needs of data management within the business, looking for top talent who could be considered for the CDO position. Another option is to start with bringing in a CDO, who can then train your team. With data at the front and center of your training, you’ll be one step ahead of your competition and the laws and regulations that are sure to come.

Optimize Learning as IT Evolves

As the workforce becomes increasingly dynamic, IT roles must also become more agile than ever before. Use continued education and learning opportunities to foster growth within your current team. This approach allows you to curb the costs of hiring new employees and, instead, foster the skills of employees who already know the company. With good training, these employees can use their new knowledge to step into leadership positions as your IT needs grow.