5 Tips for Reskilling an Incumbent Technical Workforce

IT and other technologies are evolving faster than most companies can keep up, even through talent acquisition. In a 2017 survey by the Career Advisory Board, half of organizations reported a tech skills deficit in their current employee base, and 60 percent said that job applicants commonly lack needed technology skills.

These ever-widening skills gaps and the shortage of new candidates to fill them are putting even greater pressure on companies and corporate training professionals to reskill their incumbent workforce. Here are five tactics that can help your reskilling program achieve maximum impact and cost effectiveness.

1. Focus on Emerging Technologies.

For maximum longevity from employee training, it’s important to align learning plans with your company’s long-term goals. In addition to early- and growth-stage technologies, L&D efforts should target skills and processes that are essential for digital transformation and for remaining competitive in an increasingly automated and distributed world.

The Career Advisory Board survey revealed that an overwhelming majority of organizations suffer from a lack of hard technology skills, including cybersecurity (80 percent), cloud computing (76 percent) and artificial intelligence (63 percent). Forrester’s list of the top emerging technologies to watch in 2018 includes machine learning/deep learning, blockchain/distributed ledger, cloud/edge computing, and the internet of things (IoT). Other technologies that rank high on corporate learning goals include big data, data science and DevOps. These skills are not only becoming increasingly necessary for day-to-day operations but also enabling organizations to adapt, survive and innovate.

2. Incentivize Training With Certifications.

One of the benefits of training in technology skills is certifications. Certification by an independent, authoritative organization or even the technology provider is a great motivation for employees to complete a training program. It’s a quantifiable and tangible reward that offers genuine career value.

Certifying employees through training also benefits the company. Working toward a certification exam improves retention of new knowledge and skills, ensuring that employees apply what they’ve learned to the job. You can also use certifications to validate your company’s expertise to customers or justify higher billing rates for professional services.

3. Use a Blended Learning Methodology.

Simply watching training videos is not enough to affect real change in applicable skills. By using multiple modalities, blended learning improves retention by combining the convenience of self-paced online training with the personal attention of live instructor-led virtual (or physical) classroom instruction and guidance. Blended delivery allows you to deliver each aspect of a course using the most appropriate medium (visual, aural and even experiential) for each topic at its specific stage in the training. Blended learning is especially helpful for training an incumbent workforce that may include four generations, as it provides an adaptive approach that can address differences in how people prefer to learn.

4. Incorporate Practical Projects or Labs.

We learn well by doing. Learners need real experience in working on actual projects, especially for programming and other technical skills areas like data science and machine learning. You can enable hands-on practice through secure online labs that use or simulate the tools that learners will use on the job. Projects should not only develop hands-on skills but are also immediately applicable to company initiatives. For example, a machine learning course could involve developing small proof-of-concept algorithms to demonstrate how the technology could deliver on particular use cases for the organization.

5. Apply for Government Incentives for Training.

One final advantage of reskilling employees is that the government may help offset the cost. There are numerous federal, state and local programs that provide grants, partial reimbursements, tax breaks or other financial incentives to companies that provide incumbent workforce training.

In the United States, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) includes provisions for incumbent worker training (IWT) funding programs. Each state and many counties offer their own programs, as well.

A Learning Plan for Success

Providing training in key technologies helps future-proof your organization and your employees. A 2017 survey by CareerBuilder reported that one in five employees believes his or her technical skills are not up to date, and more than half said they want to learn new skills. An environment of continuous learning, focused on certifications in emerging technology skills, administered through hands-on blended learning and supported through financial incentives, is a surefire way to achieve training, employee and corporate goals simultaneously.

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