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Reskilling Through a Big Bang Approach—Investment or Expense?

Thursday, September 20, 2018
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Technology has disrupted how we work and live. It has also changed the nature of the demands for IT services. New and emerging technologies in the areas of artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, the cloud, big data, blockchain, the Internet of Things, cybersecurity, and Fullstack, among others, require the workforce to develop deep understanding of these skills to respond quickly to the ever-changing technology landscape. This disruption has created a huge demand for an agile, always-learning workforce.

In response to this new dynamic, one IT services organization reskilled its workforce on new emerging skills, in addition to its regular learning initiatives.

The Reskilling Initiative

The organization launched an ambitious program to reskill its workforce across business units. Competency teams in these business units were measured by the number of employees who were reskilled. The organization mandated that each employee should acquire at least one skill, and employees with a certain experience level should learn a minimum of three skills every year. This became a key objective for the annual performance review.

This initiative created a culture that encouraged thousands of employees to reskill themselves. The employees who learned more than one skill, and the business units that reskilled the maximum number of employees, were recognized. The organization was successful in meeting its reskilling numbers; additionally, the initiative created a culture of learning in the organization. The organization expected that the initiative would significantly reduce the numbers of employees not working on projects and accelerate fulfillment of new project positions internally, thus reducing the dependence on external hiring.

Did the Reskilling Initiative Help the Business Acquire New Skills?

The initiative created a large pool of reskilled employees with diverse abilities. However, it initially faced the following issues:

  • The reskilled employees were not accepted “as is” by the business teams due to lack of relevant project experience.
  • Employees had little or no hands-on experience using their new skills.
  • There was a demand-supply gap due to excess capacity on certain skills.
  • A mandatory training program approach hurt employees’ motivation to learn on their own.

These issues created a negative perception of the reskilling initiative at first. Business teams were concerned because they were not getting a good pipeline of relevantly reskilled employees. Hence, the reskilling investments were perceived as expenses. This necessitated a change.

Course Correction and the Way Forward

To get maximum return on investment and build “project-ready employees,” the organizations took the following steps.

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Hands-On Experience
One key business need was to deploy experienced members to projects. So any reskilling program needed to have three elements: content, assessment, and learning assignments and case studies. The organization leveraged a crowdsourcing platform to create a gamified environment for employees to experiment with new technologies. It also created curated learning paths with assignments and case studies across 170+ skills to help employees navigate and learn these technologies. Employees first went through an e-learning course or attended a classroom or webinar session, then took a multiple-choice question assessment to test their understanding, and then gained experience through hands-on project assignments. Finally, they participated in live-project tasks through crowdsourcing and gained practical experience using their new skills. They not only reskilled themselves but also earned extra money by participating in the project tasks. This motivated them to do continuous learning.

To make life easier, the organization created development environments for most of the skills on a cloud-based platform that can be leveraged for doing the assignments. Once employees submitted assignments, they were evaluated by a peer network of mentors on the platform. This peer system enabled employees to learn from one another. The organization realized that by creating skill communities, it would encourage a culture of collaborative learning. For example, many users started leveraging social platforms to ask questions or share best practices with peer communities.

Immersive Programs for Emerging Digital Skills
For certain emerging digital skills, the organization built immersive programs where employees spent 10 hours a week for six to 12 weeks on WebEx sessions, assessments, case study assignments, and a capstone project that was evaluated by a senior panel. Those who completed the program successfully got a certification at the end. This ensured employees internalized their learning and were prepared to be deployed to business projects that required their relevant digital skills.

Fresher Talent (From Campuses)
Millennials are particularly eager to get started with professional projects immediately upon joining a company. The organization used to enroll them in a six-week formal training curriculum, followed by specific programs offered by the respective business units, to prepare them for business projects. But after several months of training, their energy levels often get depleted before they even start their first project. To tap into their energy and get them started on a project as soon as they’re hired, the organization started offering a learning program during the last semester of college that allows students to prepare themselves for the industry. This would fast-track their deployment to projects upon joining the organization.

Business-Aligned Academies
The nature of business and corresponding needs are changing continuously. What is relevant today may not be tomorrow. Because many competency development programs span across several weeks or months, it is important to create specific learning paths that are continuously monitored and changed according to business needs. Consequently, the organization set up business-aligned academies that studied the changing needs and aligned the training programs accordingly.

The organization learned several lessons that ensured the success of its reskilling initiative:

  • Learning programs have to be tightly coupled with business demands. The output should be directly beneficial to the business.
  • There should be clear learning paths based on the assessment of employees’ base skills.
  • Reskilling should ensure sufficient hands-on experience with the new skills as part of training. Measurement should encompass theoretical assessment as well as practical assignments that enable the individual to be project-ready.
  • It is a big challenge to convince employees to enroll themselves in immersive training programs. Various motivational methods should be employed, like social learning, peer mentoring, and crowdsourcing of learning assignments, as well as live project challenges that also help people earn monetary rewards. A mix of stick and reward policies bring the right level of focus. This would also enhance the “pull” factor of the programs.

In summary, reskilling programs should focus on creating value as opposed to volume. Innovation is critical to conceiving programs that can directly serve business interests. Any return on investment generated would compel the organization to keep investing in reskilling programs, because it is the key to its success.

About the Author
Anurag Seth is vice president of the global delivery enablement unit at Wipro. He is a Wipro veteran, and in the past 28 years at the company, he has played various leadership roles in delivery and business units.

He wears three hats for driving three key initiatives across the organization. Under his first hat, he heads the learning and development (L&D) division popularly known as talent transformation and is responsible for driving all programs related to L&D across the organization globally. In today’s digital era and changing technology landscape, he is responsible for driving reskilling the workforce on emerging digital skills. Among many programs, his team drives the training and certification programs for Azure. Under his second hat, he drives crowdsourcing at Wipro through TopGear, a platform to enable hands-on experiences through learning assignments, case studies, and live customer projects. He also has been encouraging the culture of social learning through TopGear and TEAMs. Under his third hat, he is responsible for business continuity management for Wipro to ensure continuity of business and people safety during a crisis, whether natural or man-made.
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