4 ways to encourage upskilling without burning people out

IT teams have had to take on new responsibilities and skills to rise to the challenges of the pandemic. Here's how to encourage continuous learning without exhausting your team
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In the past 100+ days, IT leaders across the world have worked at lightning speed to scale infrastructures to meet the needs of remote workforce environments. CIOs were tasked with swiftly completing digital transformation projects that were previously projected to take years – relying on IT teams to take on new responsibilities and skills without formal training.

The rapid upskilling and reskilling of tech employees during this time has come with clear benefits, such as organizations’ ability to rise to the challenges of the pandemic – as well as development and career advancement for professionals. Done right, upskilling and reskilling can lead to improved motivation and morale, increased productivity, and overall cost savings. But trying to sustain the pace at which individuals have had to change can quickly lead to burnout.

To get the balance right, CIOs must focus on enabling their current workforce to consistently become better at their jobs while taking on new responsibilities.

[ For more insights on how to encourage a culture of learning, read Remote work: 4 ways leaders can foster continuous learning. ]

Here are four key considerations to get upskilling and reskilling right and fill talent gaps within your tech workforce:

1. Identify current and projected gaps

CIOs know where their company stands today but are focused on the technology that will drive innovation and progress tomorrow. This visionary approach to planning also applies to reskilling the workforce. A reskilling program should start with a skills gap analysis that considers job descriptions, business objectives, and goals, and the soft skills that IT employees will ultimately need to succeed.

Leadership should also review operational deployment plans, client inquiries, and ticket resolution times, and collect team feedback via employee reflection surveys. This data can be used to create a plan that identifies how many workers need to be reskilled, what new talents they’ll need, the timeline for their development, and the resources required. CIOs should also consider the aptitude of individual team members and think about how to apply their current skills and natural capabilities to new work.

2. Map resources against employee goals

Every employee who will be reskilled or upskilled requires a personal development plan – this kind of detailed structure keeps teams motivated in working to achieve new goals. Employee plans should include goals and objectives, training schedules, milestones, and a target date for completion. Training programs should include both formal and informal components – for example, employees might participate in a coding boot camp and shadow a senior team member who can serve as a mentor.

It’s important to remember that nothing happens immediately; it takes time and patience, and the delivery plays a vital role in employee interest and retention. CIOs should consider the best ways for employees to learn – whether in a traditional classroom setting, online training modules, gamification, hackathons, or one-on-one meetings – and tap into third-party resources.

Nothing happens immediately; it takes time and patience, and the delivery plays a vital role in employee interest and retention.

Finally, tech teams thrive in collaborative environments – solving problems together to build and create. Employees should be encouraged to train and learn from each other – using each individual’s unique skillsets and passions to help each other thrive. This approach also supports cross-communication and collaboration for disparate, remote, or siloed teams – and can ultimately strengthen corporate culture.

3. Manage change to mitigate burnout

Although the past few months have challenged tech teams to reskill in real-time – this is not an ideal model to support work-life balance and reduce overall stress. For companies to make their reskilling and upskilling program successful, they must be willing to invest time – and they cannot expect employees to gain new skills and have a tangible impact overnight.

Here are three ways CIOs can ensure that employees view reskilling as a benefit versus a burden or distraction from their daily work:

CIOs should ensure that reskilling initiatives are tied to real business goals and outcomes so that teams can quickly see the direct impact of their efforts.
  • Be realistic – Timelines for reskilling should be developed collaboratively between managers and employees and should take current and projected workload into account. This allows employees to retain a sense of control and ownership of the process and drives ongoing interest and motivation.
  • Identify ways to apply new skills – Employees must see that their new skills and efforts can be applied to their daily work in a tangible, meaningful way. CIOs should ensure that reskilling initiatives are tied to real business goals and outcomes so that teams can quickly see the direct impact of their efforts.
  • Forgive failure – For some employees, learning a new skill can feel like a risk and can be accompanied by a fear of failure. The truth is, employees might try new tasks and fail – CIOs who understand, communicate, and embrace this will build resilient teams that aren’t afraid of change.

4. Prioritize continuous learning

For a reskilling program to be successful, IT teams must understand the value of continuous learning, and CIOs must build and support a work environment that prioritizes attaining new skills, natural curiosity, and ongoing improvement.

At the manager level, continuous learning should be expected and should be incentivized and rewarded. IT teams must understand that their development has a direct impact on the company’s ability to innovate. One way to demonstrate a commitment to learning is to give employees a fixed budget for professional development that can be used for conferences, classes, and learning materials.

CIOs should also focus on breaking down the barriers that prevent collaboration and learning so that teams are comfortable stretching beyond the boundaries of their job description and raising their hand when they have the aptitude to take on a new project.

By creating a culture of learning, CIOs can help employees become resilient and agile, supporting personal and professional growth.

Investing time in your employees drives long-term benefits to your team. If the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that we need to evolve alongside technology. We can no longer operate without a plan. We must revisit our resources, invest in our talent, and be prepared for what’s next.

[ What are the key trends in IT talent? Read the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report: IT Talent Strategy: New Tactics for a New Era. ]

Ashwin Bharath is the Co-Founder and CEO of Revature, the largest employer of entry-level technology talent in the United States. Ashwin co-founded Revature to quickly and cost-effectively help college graduates develop and hone the skills required to build successful careers and drive progress within companies across the world.