Tech employers and policymakers have spent the better part of a decade talking about the accelerating pace of technological change. But the past few months have taken that acceleration to a new level.
The rise of ChatGPT and the increasing prominence of AI have opened up an entirely new frontier — and sped up the pace of change to the point where keeping up might be nearly impossible. That’s especially challenging for learning and talent development leaders seeking to prepare their workforce for not just the demands of today and tomorrow.
The good news is that a host of new approaches to helping workers develop tech skills have emerged in recent years to match the pace of technological change. The bad news is that though these models have as many similarities as differences, it’s often difficult to keep track of which is which. And choosing the wrong approach can have consequences for a business’s talent strategy that take years to recover.
Talent leaders are now awash in buzzwords from organizations promising to help them navigate the new world of skill development. Which one is the right fit for new talent? For incumbent workers? And, most importantly, how can businesses choose the one that will be best suited to developing the skills their workforce needs?
Here’s a glance at the some of today’s most prevalent skill development models:
Apprenticeships, which date back to the Middle Ages, have changed little over the centuries. Even today, apprentices learn by working under the guidance of an experienced professional, starting out with simple tasks that get more complex over time.
Of course, not every apprenticeship is the same: in the U.S. and UK alike, there’s a distinction between registered apprenticeships (which enable businesses to access some government funding and support) and models that fit the apprenticeship description but aren’t registered. But what all apprenticeships have in common is that by definition, some percentage of time on-the-job is dedicated to training.
The benefits for apprentices and their employers are mutual and clear. Apprentices continue to learn and grow while earning a paycheck and entering a community of practice that often leads to high-paying careers. Employers develop the workers with the right skills they need to grow their businesses. Just as importantly, apprenticeships help with retention; the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 90 percent of apprentices stay on after they complete their program. For businesses looking to build a more welcoming environment for diverse talent, the apprenticeship model can be particularly powerful, since it enables employers and workers to start building a relationship early and give it plenty of time to evolve and deepen. The result is that apprenticeship programs can help build communities that drive significant increases in retention.
In the United States, apprenticeships have traditionally been concentrated in the construction and building trades. In recent years, however, they have spread to numerous other industries, including health care, manufacturing and information technology, where apprenticeships grew by more than 40 percent in one year. Overall, registered apprenticeships have surged in popularity in recent years as employers seek a new avenue for finding talent in an era of low unemployment — and look for workers who can navigate an increasingly fast-changing technological landscape.
In “The State of Tech Talent Acquisition 2023” report, more than 90 percent of tech hiring managers said they are at least somewhat concerned that their current recruitment practices are insufficient to fill open positions in analytics, data science, software engineering and other in-demand roles.
Even if companies are able to fill those positions — a time-consuming and expensive process that can take on average 7 weeks and $30,000 per job — roughly 60 percent of all tech employees say they’re looking for new opportunities within six months.
An emerging talent development strategy, often called hire-train-deploy, addresses this problem by:
- Employing targeted searches for candidates with diverse backgrounds, high aptitudes and specific skill sets found outside the traditional — and often limited — pool of university graduates.
- Ensuring that candidates have the skills employers require for the positions they’re looking to fill.
- Often operating in partnership with an outside organization, which can deploy and manage talent for a set period and provide additional coaching and training so new hires can succeed.
It’s similar to the apprenticeship model — job candidates earn and learn while they prepare for high-paying, fast-growing roles — but doesn’t necessarily include training on-the-job (i.e., after the “deploy” stage has begun). Through this model, employers are exposed to less hiring risk, achieve greater workforce diversity and can take advantage of a scalable talent pool that can grow and evolve to meet their business needs.
In many ways, apprenticeships and hire-train-deploy approaches resemble a “try-before-you-buy” model, giving both companies and aspiring workers a chance to assess whether each is a fit for the other.
But for some companies, it makes more sense to hire workers directly — to create a direct talent pipeline that provides training at first, and then leads straight into a job.
That’s especially relevant for companies that are looking for early-career talent who can be trained to their specific tech stack, and start full-time as soon as their training is done.
Consider the case of M&T Bank, which built an in-house Tech Academy specifically designed to help members of its community in upstate New York upskill in cloud, cyber and data technologies. The program has operated like an onramp for aspiring tech workers across the region, and while those workers aren’t employed during the training process (as an apprentice would be), they’re learning in-demand skills at no cost that can translate immediately and directly to a job.
Businesses looking to keep up with the pace of technological change often turn to the hiring market first — which drives up costs as hiring leaders poach skilled workers from the same talent pool. But as HR analyst Josh Bersin has written, savvy employers in search of talent start by looking inward, and building instead of buying the skilled workforce they need. That’s where the third model, employer academies, comes in.
New hires right out of college or other training programs, junior employees who need an upskilling boost and tenured employees with legacy skills often need to refresh their existing skill sets or develop new skills. Organizations that provide internal training — live and/or online sessions led by instructors — can help companies retain scarce talent and build a talent pool that is both broad and deep. Today’s workers expect more from their employers, so companies must continually invest in talent development — or risk having early-career and mid-level talent become legacy talent in the blink of an eye.
Employer academies can take multiple forms. Some focus on upskilling, in which incumbent workers are trained on a targeted set of new skills to enhance their current role (e.g., training an entire marketing team in digital marketing skills). Others prioritize reskilling, which equips workers with an entirely new set of skills to meet shifting demand (e.g., training warehouse workers to become app developers). But what both have in common is that they recognize that for many talent needs, the best place to start is with the workforce you already have.
It should be abundantly clear by now that the traditional four-year college degree is not the sole path for tech talent — particularly in a world that’s increasingly dominated by artificial intelligence. One of the things that makes these new models effective is that they’re better able to keep up with the pace of technological change.
At General Assembly, for instance, we’re incorporating AI modules into every course to ensure what students learn is aligned with what businesses need. To find top talent today, talent leaders must become fluent in the language of this ever-expanding menu of skill development models so they are armed with the information they need to keep pace with this changing world of work.