Digital transformation: 5 ways to build technical talent

Attracting and retaining IT talent will set your organization up for success. Consider this expert advice
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Many organizations are determining how to strengthen their teams amid economic uncertainty and skills shortages. Building technical talent is key to helping teams withstand the challenges of undergoing digital transformation.

Your approach can differentiate your organization and set it up for success. Whether you’re focusing inward or hiring, what matters is a well-defined strategy to help make informed decisions with a positive long-term impact.

Melanie Kalmar, CIO at Dow, recently wrote about why you should be focused on building digital acumen; "Building digital acumen is essential across our organization if we’re going to realize the true potential of what we’re trying to do with digitalization – from the CIO and information systems teams to sales, supply chain, communications, manufacturing, R&D, and more."

Here are five ways to build technical talent in your organization.

Adopt a coaching approach

Hywel Carver, CEO and co-founder of Skiller Whale – “Digital transformation starts with humans. If you intend to modernize and bring all the benefits of technology into its processes, that will mean a sharp learning curve for your people. That learning curve is not just in terms of the way they work but also the hard technical skills they have.

"But you don’t just need buy-in to make digital transformation happen. Generally, there are 3 things you need to get right:

  1. Culture change. Your organization needs to embrace the new way and be ready to adjust a range of things around it - there will be a far-reaching ripple effect.

  2. The right tech. Digital transformation lives and dies on whether you’ve selected the right technology to adopt. The ‘right one’ will vary by organization, but there are some criteria to look for - it should be solving an existing pain that is felt across the organization, and it should be easy to see its value (i.e., a small-scale adoption demonstrates its potential), thereby helping culture change.

  3. Hard tech skills. Enabling the team to use those technologies through technical skills development. This may be simple (how to be an end user of this tech), or it could go deep (re-platforming using a new technology that the software development team needs to learn).

"For anyone looking to build technical talent, I’d recommend adopting a coaching approach that is diagnostic, expert-led, experiential, and problem-based. It’s more impactful to introduce hard tech skills piecemeal as people use them rather than to frontload them and teach in theory. By using focused coaching, people learn, then apply, then come back to learn the next piece at roughly 1 hour every 1-2 weeks.”

Build a learning culture with AI

Consider this example of using AI to build digital skills that Jim Swanson, CIO at Johnson & Johnson, recently shared:

"To support building our IT organization’s digital acumen, we implemented a program that uses artificial intelligence to assess our skills. Not only has this given us tremendous transparency into the strengths and gaps in our organization, but it’s also enabled us to keep our team members marketable and empowered. When you have an empowered team, they are more likely to be motivated to bring their best to their work."

Swanson explains how J&J used AI to assess skills, and then created opportunities for applying those skills, and how other CIOs can make this work in their organizations in this article.  


Sara Harris Eaton, Managing Director at Slalom – “Anytime a team, division, or whole company decides that they are going to venture into a digital transformation, a key part of that journey is identification of the skills you will need in the future and gaps that exist with the current team. One of the best things a team can do is acknowledge that you are moving towards a new way of working – that will mean growth and change for everyone. As you move into that time of skill growth, it helps to set up a central training approach, so everyone has access to learn and grow.

"It also helps to implement a 'See/Do/Teach' model to allow people to have access to new technology and ways of working. People can try out these skills with hands-on activities. Team members will be ready to use their new skills when they have mastered them to the point that they can turn and teach others. This will help to gain momentum and excitement about the new ways of working.”

Look internally for innovative solutions

Alexandre Chabot-Leclerc, Vice President of Digital Transformation Solutions at Enthought – “Rather than building experts, focus on building strong digital skills within the right people. Your teams will become innovative when identifying problems in existing workflows by empowering them to write scripts and make prototypes for solutions. When the digital skills are close to the people who work with and recognize a problem, they are more likely to create innovative solutions than if they have to bring in someone else, educate that person about the problem (and perhaps also the field of interest), and then manage the creation of a solution.

Everyone needs technical talent, and they need it fast. While building technical talent requires time, it doesn’t need to take years. The problem is that universities and colleges have the wrong timelines for the industry. Instead, define your needs in-house and find a trusted partner to help define a roadmap for getting there on the right timescale.”

Offer training for tools that enable progress

Monica Caldas, Deputy CIO at Liberty Mutual Insurance, thinks about how to provide training that enables teams to grow. She recently shared an example of a 32-week full stack engineer program – and how offering this directly impacts how people feel about their jobs (contributing to outcomes in a meaningful way) and burnout.

"As we roll out new tools to improve the employee experience, we also recognize that employees have different levels of comfort with new technology. To address this, we focus heavily on training. We’re methodical about making sure our training will help employees develop new skills as their jobs become even more tech-enabled. Training is not just about checking boxes; we continuously strive to create the time, space, and mechanisms for our teams to learn new skills."

However you approach the need for increased technical skills, your IT team should feel supported on their journey. As great technical talent becomes increasingly difficult to find, you can stay ahead of the curve by considering these five options.

Katie Sanders
Katie Sanders is the Content and Community Manager for The Enterprisers Project, seeking contributors who have expertise that can be shared with an audience of CIOs and IT leaders. She has always been interested in building relationships and connecting people.