The technology sector was once considered a safe bet for job seekers, but a swathe of high-profile layoffs and hiring freezes have burst that bubble, sending shockwaves through the industry. It has gotten so bad that a new tech layoff tracker has emerged, seeking to quantify the number of tech professionals who’ve been handed their notice. From Meta’s mass layoffs to Amazon and Apple halting recruitment, big players and startups alike are responding to harsh economic conditions and uncertainty by shrinking the workforce. While the U.K. has been hit less harshly than other regions, it has not been immune.

Conversely, these layoffs and freezes come at a time when many business and political leaders are decrying the lack of technology skills in the workforce. The U.K.’s digital skills crisis is worsening and, according to recent research by O’Reilly, demand for digitally skilled workers within the UK’s technology sector is outgrowing the level of digital skills available. Korn Ferry predicts this will be a decades-long issue.

Within the technology sector, O’Reilly’s research found that nearly one-quarter of human resources (HR) leaders said cybersecurity talent is most in demand, followed by software architecture, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

On one hand, the technology sector is crying out for skilled talent in crucial areas. On the other, they are being forced to make very tough decisions about how many employees they can afford to support. But this is not an either/or situation. If companies cannot hire the talent they need, then they need to invest in the learning and development (L&D) of existing staff to close the skills gap in their organizations.

One might assume that the tech industry would be leading the way in technological upskilling. In fact, O’Reilly’s study found that over one-fifth of tech HR leaders say that a lack of leadership support is a barrier to upskilling current employees. They also report that insufficient resources, a lack of internal personnel and a lack of internal buy-in are halting efforts to upskill in key areas.

The tech sector appears to be in a vicious circle, unable to find the skills they need, forced to let go of valuable talent but blinkered to opportunities to upskill the staff they have maintained. This must change.

Overturning Upskilling Misconceptions

Misconceptions around what L&D looks like might be halting its penetration in the tech industry. L&D (and the investment made in it) is too often framed within rigid ideas of what learning is and how it happens. For example, traditional methods of learning, such as reading a textbook or going to a seminar or conference, may be widely accepted. However, these models of learning are both time-consuming and expensive, and don’t always result in knowledge retention.

Instead, tech leaders should consider how learning in the flow of work can be more easily integrated into the tech workers’ day-to-day roles. Ultimately, learning in the flow of work becomes a productivity tool, allowing employees to find answers in their moment of need. It involves giving employees tools that enable them to find contextually relevant answers to their questions. Rather than being stuck and not progressing with a project or issue, learning something new on the fly will empower employees to quickly apply new knowledge and return to their work.

For example, if an engineer is stuck on a certain line of code, a 250-page e-book or a two-hour recorded conference session might not be helpful. Equally, it might be overkill to hire a specialist in that area for the sake of questions that might be easily answered by employing the right learning tools — while also denying a valued engineer an opportunity to learn and further their own development.

As global consultants EY state, “L&D needs to think about how learning can be integrated into the flow of work so that the workforce and business can grow as much as possible given shorter, faster and integrated learning.” Employees need to have the flexibility to learn at times that are most convenient to them; for example, when commuting to work or walking the dog. Having this flexibility will enable employees to grow their skills.

Putting Tech to the Task of In-flow Upskilling

With technologies like AI and ML now central to innovation across the tech sector, they are also being integrated to support tools in the moment of need. For example, AI-enabled L&D tools with advanced natural language processing allow users to quickly access the right resources in the flow of work. Quick, contextually relevant solutions to challenging technical questions are delivered in the moment, quickly turning learning into doing.

With these learning platforms transforming data into user behavior, L&D teams can monitor trends in learning and align further initiatives with corporate strategy.

With the tech industry going through a period of difficult flux and readjustment, the need to nurture and develop skilled talent has only become more critical. From mission-critical skills in cybersecurity to drivers of innovation such as ML and software engineering, the tech industry cannot afford to ignore the need for flexible learning. The sector must embrace new ways of delivering L&D and harness innovation to deliver daily upskilling opportunities to its most precious resource — its people.

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