Just-in-Time Tech Training Can Fill the Talent Gap

By Michael Biltz

With 40 percent of the U.S. workforce projected to be contract or freelance workers by 2020, according to the Intuit 2020 Report, and technology advances accelerating at an unprecedented rate, educational needs for the workforce of tomorrow look vastly different from what they did just five years ago. Add to this new landscape the fact that every job is now a technology job—from doctors to electricians—and you have a world wired for a change in the pace and pattern of educating its present and future workforce.

The rapid pace of technology adoption is causing many organizations to face a skills gap. Their technology investments are outpacing the labor market’s ability to provide the digital skills they now require. What’s more, automation radically alters the in-demand skill sets, as machines have the potential to handle many tasks previously done by people.

The technical skills required of today’s talent are needed on a just-in-time basis to fit today’s ever-evolving job marketplace. Higher education programs are becoming outdated, since they can take years to complete. In an environment where technology is updated daily—sometimes even hourly—specific programming knowledge can be obsolete before the first semester ends.

Vocational-type training on specific technologies will become more prevalent as we skill up and down to meet the waves of technology demand, with a liquid workforce. While universities can teach broad theory and a basis for skills, it is no longer practical—given the pace of change in business and technology—to teach specifics that may not stand the test of time.

For instance, demand for virtual reality technology skills was up 37 percent, year-over-year last year, with 200 employers advertising for candidates with such knowledge. At Facebook alone, demand was up almost 5,000 percent, and at General Dynamics it was up 70 percent. With swings this rapid and dramatic as technology investments and breakthroughs accrue, education and training for the workforce that will meet these demands must become as agile as business itself.

Think enterprise learning platform.

In a marketplace in which a higher percentage of workers are freelancers and contract workers, motivation should be high for workers to keep their skills up and expand their repertoire to meet business needs. But in rapid ramp-ups, such as the learning curve for virtual reality, a strong business case can be made that companies should develop a training platform.

Enterprise learning platforms, such Pathgather, empower employees to curate content for one another and to provide a single point of access to internal and external learning resources. These types of tools fit well in the culture of rapid innovation most companies want to foster because they merge the advantages of a platform with crowdsourced learning.

Expand your definition of “educated.”

An educated employee used to mean one with a degree that took several years to earn. Given that by 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor projects that one million programming jobs will go unfilled, businesses need to redefine “educated.”

President Obama unveiled the TechHire Initiative in March 2015, stressing the impact it would have on middle-class Americans, especially those without four-year degrees. The program aims to expand local tech sectors by building tech-talent pipelines in communities across the country.

Tap into public/private partnerships.

In Colorado, more than 50 engaged employers hired 258 individuals for full-time jobs and nearly 50 for paid internships in its TechHire pilot year. The average starting salary was more than $60,000 per year.

Oakland, Calif., uses initiatives such as #YesWeCode and partnerships with more than 200 companies—including Lyft, Square and Pinterest—as part of its TechHire strategy. In 2015, it placed accelerated tech training graduates in 86 paid internships and 326 full-time jobs. The city also secured a commitment of $5 million from Intel to support engineering and computer science programs at high schools with at least 2,400 students.

Events such as the 24-hour free online hackathon, sponsored by HackerRank (a platform that creates opportunities for programmers based on coding skills) give TechHire student coders the chance to prove their skills and connect with employers. Hackathons are offered in all TechHire communities.

It makes sense that a liquid workforce requires fluid training. The only way forward is by making your organization ready to ramp up and down in specific skill sets and broaden its scope when necessary.

The system of mandatory company training once or twice a year is being replaced with a business model that enables people to develop new skills and learn different, more agile ways of working. Promoting a culture of self-directed training on demand and peer-to-peer learning is now essential. 

Closing the talent gap that awaits your firm will require a new way of thinking. It will also require you to move training further up on the corporate priority list. 

Michael Biltz is managing director at Accenture Technology Labs.