Traditionally, a computer science degree confirmed that a candidate had the skills and competencies needed to succeed in an entry-level tech role. However, with the rapid pace of technological advancement impacting businesses worldwide, this is no longer the case. As a Scientific American article explains, “College computer science programs were not designed to teach software engineering. Most were created to teach the theory behind computer science and are taught by academics decades removed from the industry — which means that the gap between engineering education and practice widens every year.” Training can help close this gap and set entry-level employees up for lasting success in the tech industry — and broaden the tech talent pool in the process.

Many industries are ripe for change in the future of work, but in software engineering and other areas of technology, change is already constant. For example, in information technology (IT), new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and cloud computing are transforming the industry — and creating a skills gap. The entire tech industry is “evolving at a phenomenal rate,” and, as a result, the demand for specialized skills exceeds the existing talent pool, says Joanna Parke, chief talent officer at ThoughtWorks, a global software consulting firm.

On-the-job training (OJT) can bring recent graduates up to speed on industry advancements and equip them with the foundational knowledge and skills they need to succeed. With this goal in mind, ThoughtWorks created ThoughtWorks University (TWU), a five-week program designed to introduce its new hires to the “principles, practices and skills” required to build software. “We see entry-level consultants as the future leaders of our organization, and so it’s imperative these training programs equip and empower them at this early stage in their technology career,” explains Parke.

IT Skills for Success

When training entry-level talent for IT roles, learning leaders should focus on both technical, or “hard” skills, and soft skills. A white paper by Harvard Business Review and Red Hat, “IT Talent Strategy: New Tactics For a New Era,” listed the following as critical IT skills for “2020 and beyond”:

Hard/Technical Skills

  • Data science
  • Data analytics
  • Data visualization
  • Cloud
  • Software engineering
  • AI/machine learning
  • Internet of things (IoT)
  • Security

Soft/Core Skills

  • Communication (i.e., written, verbal, pitching and storytelling)
  • Collaboration
  • Consulting
  • Coaching
  • Influence
  • Empathy
  • Networking
  • Problem-solving

Similarly, Dan Roberts, author of “Unleashing the Power of IT” and chief executive officer of IT consulting firm Ouellette & Associates, says that soft skills like influence, business acumen and agility have become the “core skills” IT professionals need to succeed on the job.

This is true across the tech industry, which is something Jeffrey Frey, director of learning at Talent Path, a tech talent development firm, learned firsthand: After working for a while in the tech industry, he realized it was the “people aspect” that caused tech companies to “rise and fall.” So, he went back to school and earned a doctorate in emotional intelligence (EI) — which is one of three core areas Talent Path trains on, along with technology and business acumen.

Bridging the Gap With L&D

Industry-focused training can help college graduates gain the skills they need to hit the ground running after landing their first tech role. It can also help bridge the growing technical skills gap, which exists in part because universities are struggling to adapt to the changing demands of today’s workforce. After all, “by the time they adapt and go through administrative regulations, the industry has changed yet again,” Frey explains.

To keep their tech talent sharp both now and in the future, organizations should adopt a culture of continuous learning. For ThoughtWorks, this culture means supplementing the TWU curriculum with programs designed to “upskill and accelerate” learners as industry trends emerge, says Parke. For example, after ThoughtWorks identified data engineering as a “top global opportunity” in the field, the company decided to develop a pilot course on the topic, which will launch this quarter.

Continuous learning is an investment worth making, as skills gaps widen when leaders fail to invest the time and money into developing and future-proofing their people. To set up learners for success in the future of work, organizations must determine which skills and competencies they need in order to accomplish their business goals and then develop and deliver learning initiatives accordingly. By keeping the curriculum industry-focused, companies can shape learners into “exactly what [they] are looking for,” Frey says.

Although the digital revolution is unlikely to slow down any time soon, training can help organizations not only keep pace with industry advancements but create new ones, positioning themselves as leaders in the market and in the future of work.