Talent development: 4 upskilling success stories

In the war for talent, sometimes the solution is right in front of you. For businesses struggling to compete for tech talent, investing in your current talent through upskilling and training initiatives can provide invaluable returns, as many IT leaders are finding.

A study from Korn Ferry estimates that by 2030 more than 85 million jobs will go unfilled due to a lack of available talent, a talent shortage that could result in the loss of $8.5 trillion annual revenue globally. While automation may be able to fill some gaps, the study also posits that human capital will be just as important as automation in the future, leaving organizations without robust training programs subject to the whims of a talent market in short supply.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, companies have steadily dropped the ball on workforce training and upskilling since the 1970s. Oftentimes, workers are pushed to meet skills gaps without the necessary training, setting the employee and business up for potential failure. But shifts in workforce strategies in recent years have seen more companies developing strong internal training programs to reskill, upskill, and promote employees within the organization.

In addition to helping fill skills gaps, investing in the career growth of your employees can also foster a greater sense of trust, leading to a more resilient and productive workforce that is less likely to quit, according to data from Gallup. The return on investment in internal workforce training and upskilling programs can’t be overlooked, as the successes of the following four companies can attest.

Capital Group invests in careers for the long run

For financial services company Capital Group, the secret to competing in a tight IT talent market is to stay focused on a long-term employee investment strategy. Capital Group leadership believes employee satisfaction is just as important as customer satisfaction, and a key part of that is ensuring that employees have ample opportunity to grow their careers within the company. This includes internal bootcamps, courses for developing subject matter expertise, and an internal talent marketplace that gives employees more mobility within the organization.

Employees can also explore various career paths within Capital Group through its Technology Rotational Experience (TREx) program, a 25-month career development program that places participants across three different IT teams. Through TREx, employees can gain experience in other departments, work with new technologies, and identify whether there’s something new that they might be interested in working on moving forward.

“We focus on the long term,” says Global CIO Marta Zarraga. “Every single decision we make is based on the healthiness of the organization long term.”

And that includes ensuring employees can stay and grow with Capital Group, rather than leaving the organization to move their careers forward. TREx and other internal training programs, which include bootcamps, “learning journeys” for developing subject matter expertise, and mentorships, make employees feel valued and reinforce the organization’s culture of growth and learning, while also meeting organizational talent needs in IT departments.

“I can show up as myself and develop the skills and confidence for my career in software development within the financial industry. From early on my contributions at work have been respected, and I’ve found it very easy to reach out and ask questions to people on different teams,” says Aimee Oz [they/them], a software development engineer at Capital Group who participated in an internal bootcamp.

Progressive bootcamp bridges skills gap

Insurance company Progressive has developed an in-house IT Programmer Bootcamp to reskill non-technical staff for technical roles within the organization to meet skills and talent gaps in the organization. And by turning inward to find qualified candidates within its own workforce, Progressive can also leverage the wealth of knowledge candidates already have about the organization, while “knocking down some of those barriers of eligibility for some of these tech jobs,” says Stephanie Duca, leadership development consultant at Progressive, and leader of the IT Bootcamp program.

The pilot program was launched in 2021 with eight participants who came from non-IT roles such as customer support, underwriting, and claims. Employees attend the 15-week intensive training program full-time and are compensated for their time in the program, ensuring they will be able to focus entirely on the training. Employees do not need to have a background in tech to join the program and they are guaranteed a job placement along with adjusted compensation to reflect their new role. Progressive plans to continue expanding this program to include other areas of focus, such as data analytics roles.

“I just know that it’s sparked some real passion and an appreciation for Progressive — our employees see that we want to invest in them and keep them here and retain them,” says Duca.

Altria’s career development focus reaps rewards

Fostering career development is a key strategy for retaining vital talent. At tobacco company Altria Group, employees are given the chance to engage in upskilling and training, gain experience working in departments outside their own, and utilize the company’s structured career planning process. In fact, Altria’s dedication to investing in employees earned them first place for career development on IDG’s Best Places to Work 2021 survey.

Career development is a focus for all employees, even entry-level workers, and everyone is given several opportunities to grow their skills and learn new technologies. For example, an entry-level code developer at Altria will be thrown into highly technical work right away, so they gain experience fast. And then throughout their first five to six years with the company, they will be moved around IT departments to work on different projects, gaining more experience and potentially finding out what they’re most passionate about.

“In many cases, we’re trying to put them into a role that ultimately is going to make them sweat — it’s going to really challenge them,” says Dan Cornell, vice president and CIO of Altria Group.

Employees also go through an annual talent planning review process to assess where they are in their careers, what they aspire to within the organization, and how they want to shape their career moving forward. Managers can identify areas for growth, what skills can be developed, opportunities for training, and potential experiences in other departments they might benefit from. There’s also a heavy focus on helping employees pave a career path if they aren’t interested in leadership positions. Oftentimes, it can feel like the only way up is the leadership path, but helping employees discover there are other paths within the organization can go a long way for retention.  

Talent development pays off at Capital One

Upskilling and cross-training programs are key factors in improving employee productivity, retaining top talent, and filling skills gaps. Financial services company Capital One focuses on “developing the whole person” by leveraging internal professional development programs, including a full-stack development academy, the Capital One Developer Academy (CODA), and Capital One Tech College.

With over 11,000 engineers across more than 2,000 agile teams, Capital One has worked to run individual teams as if they’re each a small business. It’s a strategy that allows the large organization to stay agile, while also attracting and retaining engineering talent through the promise of getting to work on open-source projects, in an agile environment, and on a small team.

“It keeps a big company very nimble, creates that autonomy and then drives a lot of that team dynamic and team culture down into the other groups of folks that are releasing software every day of every week to our customers and our associates,” says Mike Eason, senior vice president and CIO of enterprise data and machine learning engineering at Capital One.

Its CODA initiative is a six-month software engineering program for full-time Capital One employees to learn full-stack development principles. It helps employees inside or outside of IT get the training they need to become a software engineer within the organization. The Capital One Tech College focuses more on upskilling employees through free training and certification courses, with opportunities to attend in-person and online courses on their own time. The investment in employees helps Capital One retain its best tech talent, while also cultivating stronger tech skills and expertise through the ranks.

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