2020 taught learning leaders to embrace ambiguity and adaptability in areas where they previously relied on careful, heavily regulated and meticulously structured planning. For many learning and development (L&D) professionals, particularly those professionals responsible for training and developing their organization’s information technology (IT) teams, the coronavirus pandemic required quick pivots in how learners interface with and access technology and continuous skills development.

As a large portion of the workforce migrated to work from their homes, learning and IT departments began the difficult and unprecedented work of extending networks and safeguarding confidential business data for their dispersed workforce. “For many organizations,” says Kelby Zorgdrager, chief executive officer of DevelopIntelligence, “supporting remote workers has required new IT business processes and infrastructure.”

In 2021, learning leaders will need to continue answering the call to educate their entire workforce on safely and securely using technology from their home offices. However, in addition to securing networks and prepping less tech-savvy employees, learning leaders are also tasked with upskilling IT professionals to remain competitive in a volatile and data-driven business landscape.

“Coronavirus essentially accelerated a lot of trends that were [already] in place,” shares Robin Greer, vice president of communications at Global Knowledge. So, what skills will IT professionals (and the rest of your workforce) need to keep your organization safe and prepared for the future of work? Let’s assess how organizations can equip their workforce with the technological know-how they’ll need to not only survive but innovate and thrive in 2021.

Big Data

Big data is here to stay. LinkedIn’s 2020 Emerging Jobs Report found that, for the third consecutive year, the demand for data scientists in industries such as IT, education and finance continues to grow. “Big data implementations are utilizing new technologies and tools, requiring upskilling and increased specialization of IT professionals. The demand for data engineers, data scientists and data analysts is growing rapidly,” says Zorgdrager.

However, many organizations are ill-prepared for the emergence of big data. A 2020 McKinsey survey revealed that 43% of business leaders who responded are reckoning with closing data analytics skills gaps within their organizations. Learning professionals seeking to prepare their organizations for the advent of data analytics would be wise to invest in the development of skills such as machine learning, Python and data visualization.

Cybersecurity Clearance

Cybersecurity is no longer a concern exclusive to IT departments. In the largely remote workplace, all employees must know how to recognize and report cybersecurity threats from their home. As the coronavirus pandemic emerged, “IT teams needed to revisit their security strategies, as well as details such as inventory tracking. What might have been tracked previously on in-house equipment is now sitting on employees’ computers and peripherals at home,” says Zorgdrager.

In order to safeguard your business and its people from cyber threats, it’s important to work with your IT department to build empowered and cyber-aware teams that can better protect themselves and their organization.

Subscribe to Thrive

Taking a page from streaming companies such as Netflix and Disney, some learning solution providers have begun offering IT skills development in the form of subscription models. These subscriptions give learners access to centralized platforms with the training content and skills development they need — when and how it is most convenient to them.

For example, Global Knowledge, a provider of IT skills and workforce development programs, launched GK Polaris, its three-tier subscription offering, in response to rapid digital transformation and shifts in learner preferences. “[Subscriptions are] really aligned to how students learn [and] how they want to be connected,” says Greer. “They may need some deep immersive skills in a virtual instructor-led class one day, but then, as they’re running the project the following week, they might just need a quick refresher on something … [and] they’ve got to find something on demand as they need it.”

In addition to connecting employees with the learning they need when they need it most, subscription models for skills development enable learners to take greater ownership of and accountability for their learning journey. “From an employee standpoint, a subscription model in accessing courses to develop IT skills provides a sense of ownership to manage their own progress towards their goals” shares C.J. Reed, CPTM, manager of IT training programs at McCarthy Holdings, Inc. Subscription models “enable a connected student learning journey [more than] a point-in-time class,” echoes Greer.

If there’s anything learning leaders should carry into 2021, it’s the knowledge that their people are what will continue to propel their organization forward. And, in order to innovate and excel in an ever-uncertain business landscape, they’ll need the skills and continuous development to do so. Moreover, “a business can become an ‘employer of choice’ when offering opportunities to grow [employees] skills” and retain the highly skilled talent they’ll desperately need in the future of work, says Reed.