A strong IT workforce starts with training

As CIOs lead the charge for developing technology acumen across the entire organization, their talent strategy must include training as a priority, in addition to recruiting new talent, writes Accenture’s Diana Bersohn.

itskills training ts
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Today’s environment places new requirements on the workforce to meet the needs of a digitally enabled business. It is notgetting any easier to recruit and retain the right talent with the right skills. According to Accenture research, nearly a third (32 percent) of business leaders say it is getting harder to compete for the best people. And a majority of executives agree that people are one of the most valuable assets to an organization — 87 percent believe that organizations that win the war on talent will have a competitive advantage. But how do you win the war when every day seems to be its own battle?

Many business and technology leaders are rethinking their overall talent strategy and recognizing that they need to use a variety of approaches to find and keep the best talent; this includes both upskilling the current workforce as well as recruiting fresh talent. In fact, 60 percent of companies we surveyed are offering training to upskill employees.

CIOs, especially, require an ever-changing mix of skills among employees in order to keep pace with a constantly evolving industry. As CIOs lead the charge for developing technology acumen across the entire organization, their talent strategy must include training as a priority, in addition to recruiting new talent.

For instance, I recently sat down with Raymond J. Oral, CIO of CNA Financial, to hear his insights on how to best train the IT workforce of the future. Here is what he shared:

CIO.com: How are you managing technology talent for the future?

Raymond J. Oral: As a leader, I try to spend as much time as I can focused on the development of talent. Talent is our means to quickly—and successfully—adapt to disruption in the marketplace and prepare for the future. Spending dedicated time on this has value. It’s hard to ascribe what the value’s going to be, because the payback takes some time. However, clearly the winners out there are investing a large amount of time, maybe even more than they believe that they should be, to develop the talent they need to compete more effectively.                                                                                  

CIO.com: What are some of the new ways you are upskilling your IT workforce?

Oral: We look at upskilling a little differently now. We look at it in terms of the skills and competencies we’re trying to build. When we first came into our current operating model about five years ago, we knew we needed to upskill on business analysis. With that, we focused very heavily on trying to attract new college grads into the BA field, while at the same time, redeveloping our training programs for in-place employees so that they could upskill as well.                                                            

CIO.com: What innovative training do you offer new and existing employees?

Oral: As we started to think about how we needed to reshape our training programs, there was a natural tendency to look at the schools that we worked with, and the interns. We actually used some of our interns and rotational employees to help us understand what we needed to do. In the end, we put some very specific programs in place in terms of the kind of rotations that were done, to the point where some of the employees that had been here for five, 10, 15 or 20 years said, “why can’t we do that, too?”                                              

CIO.com: How did you respond to that level of interest?

Oral: You know, it was one of those aha moments. We really didn’t mean to leave anyone out, we just hadn’t thought about training that way. So in response, many of the programs we’ve put in place for the new employees that are coming in from the outside, we’ve also put in place for our existing workforce.    

CIO.com: How is your thinking on talent management evolving?

Oral: I think about it in the context of what is it that we’re trying to do as a business, what capabilities are we trying to involve or evolve, and whether there is something different that we can do to gain an advantage. Now, I feel there’s much more focus and alignment in our training and development curriculum.

CIO.com: Has the way you include employees in the process changed?

Oral: Now, more than ever, we look internally to our people to give us ideas about how we can better train them. They’ve got the receptors, and they know what they feel comfortable with. We’re constantly updating what’s out there for our people, and a lot of it is based on the feedback that we get from our people. There’s nothing like being able to walk in someone else’s shoes.

Four ways to begin winning the war for talent

CIOs like Ray Oral are already taking steps to ready the IT workforce for the future, but some companies are just getting started. Below are some ideas for bridging the talent gap by training current and future employees.

Get granular. Taking a targeted approach to upskilling provides an opportunity to gain resources with the required skills faster, or have a quick uplift in specific skills for a particular area of the business. There are a number of sources for online training which companies can access, such as Udacity, to jumpstart their upskilling through certifications or even a “nanodegree” in a specific area, such as a data analyst or full-stack web developer.

Consider the softer side. CIOs on the hunt for tech talent should focus heavily on business skills such as communication, collaboration, flexibility and agility. In many ways, the “hard skills” are what will change as technology continually evolves. However, the soft skills are increasingly critical requirements for successfully operating in today’s digital environment, where the lines between business and technology are increasingly blurred. The ability to influence others and work across teams is now essential.

Play to your audience. There are multiple modes of training and multiple channels through which to deliver it. Tailor the way you offer training to employees according to the segment. For instance, millennials may favor online training, whereas longer tenured segments may prefer being trained in a classroom alongside peers.

Blend roles to manage blurring lines. Business and technology increasingly are overlapping. Digital marketing, cloud vendor management, customer experience design and ecosystem sourcing are among the roles one might see on an IT job website today. These new crossover jobs will require a different mix of skills. The key is to identify the right people within your organization, and then train them to close their skills gaps to meet the new roles of the future.

Finding and training the right IT talent will require thinking creatively about how to best upskill existing and future employees. But every step a CIO takes to cultivate top talent is one step closer to winning the war on talent and building a competitive advantage.

This story, "A strong IT workforce starts with training" was originally published by CIO.