A look under the hood: Here’s how IT companies are upskilling tech savvy employees

Partnering with IT companies on next-gen workforce transformation initiatives has shown us how L&D programs can be overhauled to boost business results.

By Raghav Gupta

The recent earnings season sharply underlined Indian IT’s big opportunity – surging growth from digital business. On the back of this resurgence, with over a third of revenue coming from digital solutions, the IT industry is now going after a much larger share of the digital pie. To make this leap, IT enterprises will have to move faster to bolster their digital transformation capabilities. The ground reality, however, indicates that the industry is grappling with a serious skills shortage. India came in at No. 44 on technology skills, out of 60 countries in Coursera’s 2019 Global Skills Index. We ranked low across top skill areas like computer networking (cloud, IoT, blockchain), databases, HCI, security engineering and software engineering. India also lagged in in-demand fields like data science, placing at No. 51. This is sombre news for IT companies looking to scale the value chain with digital services.

Earlier this year, NASSCOM reiterated the need to re-skill about 50 per cent of India’s IT workforce. It predicts the industry will face a shortage of 230,000 skilled techies for jobs in AI and Big Data by 2021. This talent shortfall could be alarming for leading IT providers which are right now, ramping up AI-based solutions to accelerate digital transformation for their clients. Recent reports suggest that digital skills have become such a crucial differentiator for IT talent, that those with legacy skills who fail to upskill are now vulnerable to losing their jobs. C-suite leaders believe the lack of digital capabilities and skills is one of the top three risks that could hinder the growth of IT services-BPM industry, according to NASSCOM’s CEO survey 2019-20.

As we enter a future where skills are changing at an accelerated pace, Indian IT companies will have to race against time to upskill their workforce at scale, while inculcating learning agility and adaptability in a volatile skills landscape. The good news is, the Indian IT industry has pivoted to learning models like online learning that make large-scale talent transformation viable, delivering in-demand learning without a time lag, to upskill employees.

Partnering with IT companies on next-gen workforce transformation initiatives has shown us how L&D programs can be overhauled to boost business results. Take a look under the hood at what Indian IT enterprises anchoring successful workforce transformations are doing differently, to retrain talent and close the skills gap.

Link learning to actual job and career outcomes
Employees care deeply about content relevance and the ‘applicability’ of what they learn. The most successful IT L&D programs are giving employees a powerful incentive to learn because they link learning to actual job outcomes. This approach works over generic objectives like ‘building a culture of learning.’ Employees will be highly motivated to do a course on machine learning if it is for an upcoming client project. Or, if there is the possibility of moving into a more lucrative career track within the organization. We see significantly higher completion levels and learner engagement in IT companies that consistently link learning to key outcomes and strategic business objectives.

Strike the right balance in content curation
With learning moving from conference room training sessions to virtual classrooms, IT companies have the option to tailor and personalize learning through custom-learning tracks and curated content. But faced with a problem of plenty, how do you narrow down from hundreds of courses to the right five or 10 programs that move the needle for your business? There’s both an art and a science to this. If the content offered is too complex, employees won’t enrol. If it’s too simple, there’s no incentive to take the course. L&D has to find the sweet spot, where learning is relevant, and at the right level to be of value to their employees. We’re seeing that IT companies which get their content curation right, drive better results.

Make learning programs flexible, intuitive
Employees today are used to intuitive, easy to use apps in their daily lives. They book a cab with a couple of clicks, stream a movie just as quickly, and want the same simple learner navigation when they learn. Making it easy for learners to locate and take a course, delivers stronger results. Giving employees a mobile experience, the flexibility to fit learning into their busy schedules, is also working for our IT clients. Learners in IT want anytime, anywhere access – including offline access to beat an unreliable data connection or wifi access while on their commute home. We are also seeing L&D programs in the IT industry transitioning to be highly responsive – making on-demand learning available to learners when they need it is one step towards this.

Market aggressively, starting from the top
Here’s what we know: Employees look for valuable credentials. If they have access to a relevant course from Stanford or Columbia University, they would love to enrol! L&D programs are not just effective when they are deployed at scale, but when they successfully connect employees to learning they perceive as valuable. IT enterprises that succeed at talent transformation surface this value, even as they market learning programs exhaustively – there are clear gains from expanding coverage and targeting a wider audience. With talent transformation now a critical change management effort for Indian IT companies, we are seeing a learning culture percolate from the top. IT CXOs are taking courses, talking about the importance of upskilling at team meetings, and this is now cascading through the organization.

Measure business impact
In 2018, a study by KPMG and National HRD Network highlighted Indian enterprises’ lack of focus on measuring learning impact. Only 18% of organizations measured return on training investment – most limited learning impact measurement to capturing post-program feedback. Within the IT industry, companies that upskill successfully at scale buck the trend on how they measure learning outcomes. The business impact of training is now on L&D’s radar, right alongside learner metrics like the number of hours employees are putting in, utilization rates, user feedback, and course ratings. IT companies are tracking RoI value of skill development besides performance outcomes, by way of job impact and talent benchmarking, to stay ahead of the curve.

Indian IT is overturning the traditional L&D paradigm, with companies delivering business value through upskilling. With the right approach and focus, Indian IT has the tools to transform talent on an unparalleled scale. By effectively upskilling their workforce, companies can create a major enabler, to realize the digital opportunity ahead.

The author is Managing Director of Coursera for India and APAC business.
Views expressed are personal.

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