Advances in technology and a competitive business environment mean today’s companies often need to upgrade their employees’ skills. On-the-job training has become an essential tool for engaging employees, attracting and retaining top talent, and developing leaders, according to the annual Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report.
Almost 85 percent of the 7,000-plus human resources and business leaders who responded to this year’s Deloitte survey rated learning as important or very important.
To find out how some large high-tech companies are addressing their employees’ professional development needs, The Institute interviewed representatives from Verizon and VMware, which have sponsored IEEE events. We also spoke to a former chair of the IEEE Educational Activities’ Continuing Education Committee about the organization’s efforts to help members with training.
A COMPETITIVE EDGE
Well-trained employees are critical to Verizon’s success, says Marianne Groth, senior manager of technical training with the company’s Learning and Development group. Verizon is one of the largest communications technology companies.
“If we don’t provide the training, our folks just aren’t going to have the skills we need,” she says. “We see technology as very much the enabler to drive the business.
“You have to give employees all sorts of opportunities, because things move so fast in this world that sometimes formal training courses can’t catch up to the technology.”
Historically, the company’s technical training was focused on employees in IT and data-center and user-support services, but these days “everyone in the company needs to understand technology,” she says.
“Our scope is still on the very technical folks,” she says, “but we offer some level of technical training to everyone, because we know it helps the company stay competitive to have a technology-savvy workforce.”
According to the Deloitte report, today’s successful professional development programs help workers figure out how to obtain needed training—and in a format that suits their schedules.
Verizon and VMware, a virtualization software company in Palo Alto, Calif., offer formal and informal training on technical and soft skills. They use a variety of formats including massive open online courses, instructional videos, simulations, and e-books. The training is role based and can be taken on company time.
If Verizon’s employees can’t find the training they need among the company’s offerings, the company gives them access to Skillsoft online courses, videos, and books, and they can purchase individual licenses to Lynda.com. The two online libraries contain thousands of courses.
VMware provides access to Pluralsight, which offers online technical and soft-skill training, as well as Jhana for management skills plus the CEB (Corporate Executive Board) Corporate Leadership Council program.
IEEE members and others should explore the training resources that IEEE offers, says Ken Pigg, past chair of the IEEE Educational Activities’ Continuing Education Committee. The resources are geared toward different stages of a career.
For more specialized needs, Verizon and VMware develop custom courses using internal experts as well as vendors. At VMware, for example, principal engineers, senior staff engineers, and executives deliver boot camps covering products, solutions, architecture, and strategy. They also deliver workshops on such subjects as creating secure code. VMware’s Global People Development team partners with business unit leaders to anticipate emerging technology trends and to develop courses to teach needed skills.
“As a disruptive, innovative company, we are always looking for leading-edge learning opportunities,” says Tamera Scholz, senior director for the company’s R&D engineering training group.
VMware takes training a step further with a three-part program: Take 1 Refresh, Take 2 Reignite, and Take 3 Rejuvenate. “This program reimagines the traditional professional development assistance concept,” Scholz says. “It builds on a successful internal sabbatical program we piloted in 2011 in R&D that is now open to all employees to help them figure out what’s next for them at VMware.”
In Take 1, employees who’ve been with the company for a year can refresh their skills and mind-sets by attending industry and academic conferences, workshops, and training sessions—all of which may be unrelated to their jobs.
Offered to employees who’ve been with the company for three years, Take 2 allows them two weeks away from their jobs to broaden their experiences and enhance their careers. They can explore new areas of the organization, spend time with different teams or with customers, or try to solve a particular problem or work on a new process.
Take 3 lets employees with five or more years of service take three months off to work on a project unrelated to their job, either within the company or with a nonprofit partner.
“Unlike traditional sabbaticals, Take 3 helps employees tap into ongoing projects and new initiatives around the company while encouraging them to explore things they may have never imagined,” Scholz says. Some of the projects have combined learning objectives with community service.
“All three programs reflect our understanding that the types of people who work here—innovators and entrepreneurs driven to find creative solutions for thorny problems—thrive on being challenged to grow on multiple fronts,” she says.
OUTSIDE WORK EXPERIENCE
Both companies support informal training such as participating on boards of other organizations, writing white papers, presenting papers at conferences, getting involved with educational programs for preuniversity students, and volunteering for organizations such as IEEE.
Serving on IEEE committees and holding volunteer positions within the organization are ideal ways for members to pick up new skills, Pigg says.
“IEEE members should take advantage of the investment they make with their dues and take on some volunteer responsibilities,” says Pigg, who has been volunteering for 15 years, holding positions in local sections, with regional organizations, and at the board level.
This article appears in the September 2016 print issue as “Innovative Ways Keep Employees’ Skills Updated.”
This article is part of our September 2016 special issue on The State of Engineering Education.