Google’s announcement in August that it was granting $2.5 million to the United Service Organizations (USO) to offer IT support training to military veterans demonstrates the industry-wide need for skilled IT professionals. Training and retaining skilled IT employees can be challenging in today’s competitive job market. Companies must prioritize learning and development (L&D) initiatives for their IT workforce or risk losing their top talent.
However, there is a disconnect between IT employees and the L&D programs their companies offer. In New Horizons’ 2018 “State of IT Training” survey, just 11 percent of respondents believed that their job requirements and the training available are “very aligned.” Additionally, only 12 percent believed that their current IT training strategy is “very effective.” CGS surveys show that IT stakeholders are actively involved in fewer than one-third of decisions made about IT training programs.
What’s the first step in creating an effective IT L&D strategy? Consider the following focus areas to start building a strategy to retain employees, meet departmental goals and, ultimately, drive the business forward.
1. Align IT Program Goals to Business Strategy.
Enterprise leaders understand that learning and professional development are the keys to retaining a highly productive workforce. However, these programs must support the bottom line to remain in place. Achieving this alignment entails outlining the goals of the program and how they will support the larger business strategy.
For example, Netflix makes thousands of small and large updates to its application weekly to ensure that it is available on all devices. The IT department at Netflix isn’t updating features just to meet a departmental goal; it is continuously scaling an agile infrastructure to ensure that the company remains the number-one choice for streaming services for consumers. As a top priority for its business, Netflix L&D may develop IT coursework to support this goal.
2. Tailor Programs to a Multigenerational Workforce.
When it comes to training, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. L&D professionals need to determine the types of programs that would benefit IT employees, ensuring the content and approach are customized for the greatest ROI. For example, in my experience, seasoned IT learners favor first-hand experience rather than classroom training. They want easy access to information that gives them the ability to solve actual problems instead of discussing theoretical situations. On the other hand, millennials and Generation Z professionals want face time with experts. They are the YouTube generations, who prefer to learn from a video followed by hands-on execution of a task.
3. Know Your IT Experts.
L&D professionals may not have a pulse on the specific trends and learning tools that are most interesting to IT employees, so they often work with IT subject matter experts (SMEs). SMEs have experience with and training on particular topics and can help motivate and mentor IT employees.
Identifying SMEs is an important process. They should be employees with unique experiences and insights to help create informative courses for their peers. An SME may be the fresh face that just finished a stint at a competitor or a longtime employee. SMEs can bridge the two departments, passing vital information from IT to L&D to determine the best way to train their colleagues. SMEs can also be the go-to people for vital feedback as L&D develops courses.
4. Don’t Forget Soft Skills.
As technology changes rapidly, the half life of learned technical skills decreases. However, in a recent LinkedIn survey of 900 executives, 57 percent said soft skills were equally or more important than technical skills. It’s important to make soft skills training engaging. For example, MIT uses action learning labs to weave soft skills training into projects designed to address organizational challenges. In these labs, students work in diverse teams to practice collaboration. IBM created a course for project managers called “Client-Facing Fundamentals,” which used brief humorous, relatable scenarios to teach project managers how to communicate effectively with customers.
IT and L&D: A Match Made in Heaven
Fast-paced technological changes require L&D professionals to quickly deliver skills training that ensures their businesses remain competitive. Creating and managing successful employee development programs involves understanding learning trends and tools in workforce, culture and technology. Emerging trends and technologies create more than training challenges, however. They are also exciting opportunities to engage employees while fostering a productive workforce to meet business objectives.