Digital Transformation and Talent Strategy: Two Pieces of the Same Puzzle That Every Company Needs to Solve

Jay Chakrapani, Chief Technology Officer, Trilogy Education
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Jay Chakrapani, Chief Technology Officer, Trilogy Education

Jay Chakrapani, Chief Technology Officer, Trilogy Education

There’s no such thing as a non-digital company anymore. Digital transformation has become an imperative for any business that wants to survive in the current and future marketplace, and digital tools have proliferated across every industry—wielded from the C-suite down. Retail staffs are operating sophisticated point-of-sale devices. Factory employees are working alongside robots.

This all means that there’s no such thing as a tech-free job anymore, either. Even sharing a Google Doc demands a level of digital competency that wasn’t widely seen outside of tech circles 15 years ago.

But for every efficiency these tools bring, they also present a challenge—finding and nurturing the skill sets required to harness them. If companies want to successfully adapt and evolve in today’s tech economy, they need to put as much thought into their talent strategy as they do into their digital transformation. Without one, the other is doomed to fail.

Safeguarding your skill base

Unfortunately, overcoming the digital challenge isn’t as simple as hiring an IT person to handle the “computer stuff.” It’s now essential for virtually every employee to possess at least a basic level of digital competency, and for some to have advanced tech skills that will enable your organization to optimize its digital effort and remain innovative.

That requires a twofold approach: ensuring your existing workforce is equipped with the skills it needs to remain effective, and bringing new skills into your organization as needed, either by hiring new staff or by upskilling current high-potential employees.

This is a challenge I have confronted throughout my career. My company, Trilogy Education, offers intensive tech training programs to help companies upskill and reskill current and future employees. But as a tech company ourselves, we’re also faced with the need to hire and retain technical talent and keep our organization’s skill base up-to-date.

Hiring comes with its own challenges. It’s not just digital talent that’s in short supply right now—in the first half of 2018, U.S. unemployment as whole fell to its lowest rate in five decades. This has made it more difficult than ever to hire seasoned technical employees. It also affects retention; with large organizations offering enticing salaries, signing bonuses, and perks to attract the high volume of talent they need, smaller companies can find themselves hemorrhaging staff as they struggle to compete.

 If companies want to successfully adapt and evolve in today’s tech economy, they need to put as much thought into their talent strategy as they do into their digital transformation   

Old skills, new skills

In response to this shortage, smart companies are experimenting with innovative models for attracting and retaining digital talent. For some, this has involved relaxing job requirements and looking beyond college degrees, with an eye to bringing high-potential talent onboard and training them internally. Others, including IBM and GitHub, are hiring candidates fresh out of intensive training programs like coding boot camps, regardless of their previous tech experience (which may be zero).

On the surface, these models seem at odds with traditional hiring practices. For years, best practices have recommended hiring the person with the most impressive resume, who could hit the ground running.

But with technology advancing at a breakneck pace, that model just isn’t sustainable anymore. The half-life of relevant technology skills is shrinking; computer science grads who left college three years ago are facing the need to upskill, and those with decade-old degrees possess skills that have long-since become obsolete. A candidate boasting 25 years of tech experience has probably spent half that time working on projects that don’t reflect the demands of the modern workplace. Even non-technical grads are entering jobs that necessitate digital skills, from the CRM software used by sales professionals to the ERPs ubiquitous in finance.

That’s not to say that degrees or past experience aren’t useful—only that they aren’t essential anymore. Regularly upskilling is no longer optional. It’s the only way to stay relevant in today’s tech economy.

Refresh, reskill, and retain

I encourage companies to look at this as an opportunity. Offering an intensive training program of your own comes with numerous benefits. First and foremost, it allows you to upskill or reskill existing employees, or train lower-skill hires who are easier to source.

But intensive training programs do more than teach technical skills alone. They also help employees learn how to learn, making regular upskilling a painless process that can quickly become second nature.

Showing employees and potential candidates that your organization is invested in their continued education can also have a huge impact on your ability to hire and retain talent.

To make this possible, I predict that companies will soon begin partnering with educational organizations that can create and maintain training programs tailored to their specific needs. This might come in the form of on-site boot camps and professional education programs at local universities, or it may entail online training. But whatever step companies take, it needs to happen now—before the digital skills chasm grows too wide for many to leap.