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How can technology leaders upskill a remote workforce?

How can technology leaders successfully upskill a remote workforce?
(Image credit: Pixabay)

There is no set blueprint for an effective upskilling program, as it is largely dependent upon motivation and need, but there is one critical component that leaders need to get right - and that’s employee engagement.

About the author

Sean Farrington is SVP EMEA at Pluralsight.

Fundamentally, if employees aren’t invested in a learning program, thus not understanding the objectives, then they simply won’t participate in the way that is needed to guarantee success. To drive employee engagement, technology leaders need to adopt and embrace a culture of learning. And this must begin at the very top. If employees witness senior leadership investing in the program, they will automatically have a better understanding of how their own learning and development feeds directly into the strategy of the business and its overall objectives. The c-suite should actively demonstrate their own involvement in upskilling, discussing its importance in all-hands or town hall meetings. After all, if they are not prepared to get involved, why should they expect their employees to?

At a granular, team level, building this culture of learning does not need to be complicated. Gamifying learning, by rewarding those in the team who are making progress or hitting milestones, encourages friendly competition and makes upskilling fun and enjoyable. Similarly, it’s critical that employees feel empowered to learn during the working day; upskilling should not have to fall outside of the nine-to-five, when people will have other responsibilities. Encouraging and empowering workers to take a break from their projects and tasks during the day to upskill not only reinforces the importance of their learning and development but offers them ownership of when they do so.

Has the pandemic increased the importance of upskilling programs?

The motivation and fundamental need for businesses to upskill their workforce has not changed since the pandemic. However, the coronavirus has accelerated the timeline of these programs and demonstrated that if teams are not equipped with the latest digital skills, businesses will lose their market share. Take Topshop, for instance, which went into administration last year after failing to embrace the e-commerce trend.

That being said, the pandemic has changed the nature of upskilling programs. With learning and development now conducted remotely, it’s become more important than ever for team leaders and directors to continue to communicate its importance and ensure they are working with their employees to make it a success. Pluralsight’s own research showed that, during the first lockdown, there was a disconnect between the level of upskilling support businesses offered and how much their teams wanted.

Given the increased need for digital projects to be completed faster and more efficiently, it’s now imperative that leaders listen to their employees and understand how they can best support them. At a macro level, this could be by providing the right L&D tools that enable them to be flexible in how they upskill, developing their knowledge in bite-sized chunks. Meanwhile, at a micro level, this could be regular, informal check-ins, understanding what they’re finding useful or interesting, and how the team can be brought together under one common objective.

How can businesses measure ROI with remote upskilling?

Individual companies will all have unique skill requirements based on ongoing projects and specific goals, so ultimately the measurement will be whether the strategic technology needs of the company have been met. For example, Nomura Bank had plans to build and migrate to Nomura Private Cloud, so needed to focus on developing cloud skills at pace. By assessing which skills already existed in the organization and offering tailored training courses to equip employees with the skills needed to deliver the project, a critical business objective was met effectively.

At Pluralsight, we fully appreciate that ROI is of paramount importance to employers working to instill a culture of learning & development in their organization, which is why we offer complete transparency via Skill IQ, which measures an individual’s proficiency in any given technology skill. Tracking the skills progression of the team as a whole is a worthwhile tool to measure ROI along the way. Specifically, how many employees are moving from novice to proficient to expert and how quickly?

Should employees look to build a personal skill development plan?

Building a personal skill development plan empowers employees to take a proactive approach to upskilling, allowing them to steer their career and progress more deliberately, regardless of external factors or changes to their role. The plan provides workers with a set framework to follow and measure their progress against.

An effective plan doesn’t just look at what technologists want to achieve with their learning, and which new skills they’d like to adopt, but how they can improve and develop their existing knowledge of tools and frameworks. Technology leaders should work closely with their employees to take stock, evaluate their goals and objectives, identify gaps in their skills repertoire and examine how this relates to wider business and market trends.

Once these skills and objectives have been decided upon, an effective skill development plan rests on three factors:

Setting a regular cadence: Keeping the plan timely, whether that’s in days, weeks or months, will help keep employees on track, motivated and competitive against their colleagues and their learning habits.

Making time in the calendar: Employees should feel comfortable setting aside time in their day to work on their development plan - so having that time blocked out provides them with the option to use it to focus on their own development. It’s neither compulsory nor forced, it just means that employees can be flexible with their learning and prioritize it over meetings or other tasks that may come up during the day.

Sharing is caring: Once employees begin to make progress through their plan, it can be a useful exercise to ask them to relay their learnings to their colleagues. This could be in an informal meeting, a blog, tutorial or an internal forum. It demonstrates that the plan has been effective and successfully upskilled the employee in question.