Training is a perk in some companies, and that works for them. But for savvy technical talent, training is more like blood. Developers and engineers need it to survive. It’s the key to having a long and viable career, and it’s key to most businesses survival in terms of innovation.
Samantha Bureau-Johnson, vice president for business process solutions and the Project Management Office at Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina, said if learning leaders want to effectively package training as a career development tool – and let it do triple duty as a retention aid and innovation driver – it has to be part of the initial employment offer. Essentially, in addition to salary and benefits, technical talent should know they will get an annual investment in continued development.
“Technology is advancing and evolving at such a rapid rate, you can’t learn, say, Java and then be relevant with just Java two years down the road,” she explained. “It’s more how do you build a career ladder around a particular topic of technology? For example, if you have a development team doing mobile applications, what are the technologies in mobile? How are you helping your talent get time and capacity to learn them, and innovate, and have formal training to learn new types of technologies?”
Training Is Good for Talent and for the Business
Bureau-Johnson painted a compelling picture of what can happen when an organization doesn’t prioritize training, and it’s expensive.
“Think about how costly it is to bring in a new hire, train them on your business, and build depth and breadth of experience,” she explained. “Every time you turn over, it’s exponentially more costly than to keep your staff. If you’re training and developing your talent, helping them uncover their potential, uplifting their skills and capabilities as well as giving them a path to more and more challenging work, that builds employee satisfaction and loyalty.”
Providing technical talent with continuous learning opportunities will not only help serve your customers via the new products and services they will create, it will save the organization money by keeping attrition low. For instance, Bureau-Johnson said a company in a growth mindset doesn’t want to constantly deal with the churn of attrition because employees don’t feel they’re learning, growing, able to add value, be creative, and work with colleagues who are learning new tools and technologies and using them to solve organizational issues.
But training ROI isn’t just about saving recruiting and retention dollars. There are benefits in engagement, innovation and branding as well. Bureau-Johnson said employees will not only stay, they will tell their colleagues to join them in an organization that makes a real investment in its technical talent.
“Years ago when .net was a new, emerging technology for us, our IT leadership worked with our learning arm and brought in a Java bootcamp,” she said. “They had COBOL programmers who wanted to learn the new technology and put them through the bootcamp. Many of those folks are still with us doing meaningful and important technical work. It says: ‘You’re interested in developing me and helping me learn these new technical skills. Therefore, I can remain relevant and continue to provide value for the organization.’”
Bureau-Johnson has started programs in robotics, digital process automation, and is currently collaborating with IT on an AI pilot. That type of training activity is good for the business, taps into talent interests, and promotes that sense of loyalty that leads to low attrition numbers and high performance levels – if leaders weave it into the organizational culture. “If you do that they know, ‘I’m not going to be stuck in a declining technology. I might be working on that, but my organization is also looking ahead, and I’m able to voice that I want to work in a new technology.’”
Training Begins and Ends with a Strategic Workforce and Business Plan
To implement technical training strategies that build long and satisfying careers, promote innovation and performance, and advance an organization’s employment brand, Bureau-Johnson said leaders should have a strategic workforce plan that understands intimately the enterprise strategy. Where does the organization want to go over time? What is the gap between the current and future state?
Maybe there isn’t a gap. Maybe the focus is ensuring that technical talent are fully aligned to future business plans and working effectively with the HR and learning functions to identify the necessary abilities, skills, talent, and emerging technologies. Then the learning leader has to have meaningful performance conversations that are focused on employees’ career goals and interests, and have a roadmap ready to address talent development and talent management concerns.
“For my team, we look at our talent quarterly,” she said. “We look at our talent profile both in the near- and long-term. We work on the macro training that we need, then we look at each individuals’ micro training. You have to look at multiple facets, and spend time doing it. Then you have a framework and a cadence so it’s not a one-off thing. It becomes a tapestry, the fabric, your DNA, something leaders just do and your employees start expecting – in a positive way.”
It’s not about training, Bureau-Johnson said, it’s more. Positioning training as a multi-faceted career development and talent management tool is about building a culture of continuous learning. “It’s how you help your employees stay relevant, and create an environment where they seek out how they can be relevant. To do that there has to be interest and motivation at the leadership and the employee level.”
Companies should think about training their talent strategically, as an investment they need to build and grow not unlike they would a financial portfolio. “This is the key to executing my strategy and to my team’s growth so we can activate the corporate strategy,” she explained. “This is how I’m going to achieve whatever outcomes the business wants.”
It requires a significant front-end investment, but Bureau-Johnson said the rewards are definitely there on the backend.