Reflections on Training vs. Technology Skills Development

Ed Tittel reports on a webinare with some serious educational clout.

This morning it was my pleasure and privilege to listed to a pretty stellar group of training and talent development experts talk over how, exactly, businesses should go about the task of helping employees develop more, better and definitely up-to-date technology skills. Don Jones, Pluralsight's VP for content partnerships, led a panel discussion webinar that brought in three other experts.


In the interest of proper disclosure, I worked with Don for three years or so on dozens of projects in the mid-2000s, when he was a principal at RealTime Publishers, so I consider him no slouch himself, in good company with the rest of this group. The invited participants included:


Tanya E. Moore — Partner, IBM Talent & Transformation


Eric Geis — VP for Product Development, Cerner Corporation

Gary Beach — Publisher Emeritus, CIO Magazine; Guest Columnist: Tech Talent, The Wall Street Journal


The webinar runs just over 46 minutes and is both lively and interesting throughout. Those readers who find this blog post interesting should find the webinar itself even more so. I've participated in no small number of such get-togethers, and have watched many more than that. This one is about as good as such things get, which is pretty good, indeed.


Training vs. Technology Skills Development


One invaluable insight that came out of this group encounter was the assertion that too many companies think that by sitting people down in front of canned or live training materials they can solve the "skills gap" problem. I agree with the attendees that this approach, while it had its day, is not terribly useful in the here and now.


We need more to teach tech skills than just training videos.

Watching training comes up short in meeting employees on their own ground, then bringing them into a subject matter, and carrying them to the right level of understanding, knowledge, and actionable skills and behaviors. At best, a training class is just one element in the skills development process, which must also include:


? Assessing individual skills and background, so as to bring individuals up to the right level to understand what a class covers or let them skip the class if they don't need it)

? Interactive problem-solving exercises to help individuals put new learning to work, and start the skills development process

? A fully-rounded approach to skills development that includes not just technical skills, but also what Mr. Beach called "cognitive skills" and Ms. Moore explained as "soft skills and critical thinking" (Long-time readers of my work here at GoCertify and elsewhere will recognize this as a particular hobbyhorse of mine.)

? Access to mentors, to provide additional insight and to shed light on skills and topics based on their own, more developed skills and knowledge

? Participation in a learning community, where individuals can interact with other people learning the material (Studies show that students learn quite a bit from each other.)

? Incentives and motivations for people to learn (Ms. Moore noted that IBM's linking of pay to skills learned and mastered greatly improved participation in and enjoyment of employee skills development opportunities.)

? Flexible work assignments and job mobility, so that individuals can change their career paths to match their changing interests and growing collections of skills


The real take-away is that classes or training sessions, by themselves, are not enough to help people develop actionable, usable skills (or skillsets). Training is both helpful and important, for sure, but it needs to be part of a an organizational ecosystem that includes the items described in the preceding list. That ecosystem must go along with building and emphasizing what Ms. Moore (and others) repeatedly invoked as "a culture of learning" within the organization.


What's Driving This Particular Bus?


Changing the way we think about skills acquisition in technology requires all of us.

All of the panelists spoke directly to the incredible pace of technology change, and the need for innovation and new developments to keep up with that pace in businesses and organizations of all kinds, shapes, and sizes. Ms. Moore said the biggest justification for building a skills development ecosystem and a culture of learning was "the incredible pace at which the world changes."


She went on to describe not just the speed of technology change, but also the onslaught of unpredictable and powerful events that require not just a response. but business transformations. Yes, she was referring to the COVID-19 epidemic that has changed the way the world (and business) works in the past 5-to-6 months.


Another major and powerful take-away from the webinar was the idea that organizations and businesses need to think about and understand the skills people have, and the skills people need. To achieve the best results, for both the employer and the employee (and I believe, for teachers, students, and society in the K-12 and higher education worlds), it's important to create individual learning plans.


Students and learners need to be able to take a customized learning journey and enjoy the best possible learning experience along the way to building on existing skills and learning new ones. This is really what makes "continuous learning" a workable strategy, rather than just another buzzword for the training and certification crowd.


I don't know about you, but this sounds very good to me. I'm hoping that we already have enough of the building blocks at hand — including an ubiquitous Internet, cloud technologies galore, big data analytics, and why not throw in Machine Learning and Deep Learning — to start using what we know (and will keep finding out) to create customized learning environments and experiences that work for everyone who want to learn. And yes, that means every person of any age, background, or location on the whole planet. That would be something, if we can all dream and do big enough things.


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About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.