You Can Plan Your Organization’s Technical Training Future – Sort of

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No one can actually forecast the future. But in the world of business it pays handsomely to make a few educated guesses on what will happen next. When leaders do, and they’re right, their companies can flourish beyond anything imaginable. New technologies are born, along with new jobs, even new industries. When they don’t consider their organization’s future, sometimes they don’t have one.

Blockbuster, Kodak, Blackberry, Toys R Us, all of these formally well known, extremely successful organizations are either gone, or they’ve been diminished to a shell of their former selves. Why? Because they didn’t read the tea leaves. Their crystal balls were cloudy. Or, in laymans’ terms, they didn’t read the signs, and business – along with their customers – moved on without them.

Terry Grim is partner and founder for Foresight Alliance, a foresight consulting firm that helps businesses look at the future and anticipate the changes that will enable better decision-making. She said when it comes to creating a training strategy to prepare technical talent for the future, the most important things for learning leaders to consider has nothing to do with programming languages and everything to do with keeping a keen eye on trends.

“A lot of people, especially junior people get real focused on, I know Java. I know C++, I know this and that,” she explained. “That’s less important than having a fundamental grasp of, for example, what object-oriented programming really does, what it gives you, what it enables.”

Grim said while truly great programmers will always be in demand, average or acceptable programming skills are now quite cheap to acquire from eastern Europe, China and India. Organizations must still build solid, workable skills, but it makes sense to encourage technical talent to specialize and ensure they actively apply new knowledge.

Specialization will provide more business value than a team of programmers, for instance, whose contribution could easily be outsourced. So, learning leaders should identify talented individuals’ secondary passions, and exploit them with targeted learning. For instance, enable a talented developer working in a financial institution to build on his or her interest in security, or how devices talk to the internet.

“Ultimately, it’s about developing people who have an aptitude for programming, for understanding the technology and where technology’s moving, what will be out there in their field,” Grim explained. “If you’re a financial institution, for example, you want people who are interested in blockchain. You want people who are really interested in security.”

She said it’s also important for learning leaders to evaluate their talent pool and where it’s best to allocate training resources. The gig economy is currently running ahead full steam, which means organizations need to decide which talent they’ll keep, who they’ll develop, who to outsource, and how to choose vendor partners.

Some might have simple programming needs, for instance, but they’re critical and proprietary to the organization. So, the organization decides to develop the skills internally, which makes sense for security procedures. “Other things, if you need an expert on x, it may not be worth your while to build or develop it, just go out and freelance that. Your first order of business is to understand all the different relationships you can have with staff, and which ones make sense to develop versus hire or partner with.

“As a futurist, training is about getting somebody where you need them to be, when you need them to be there. That takes awareness, planning, and an understanding of the technical environment,” Grim said.

So, learning leaders have to take the futurist perspective and start now to understand what will the organization need in the next 10 to 20 years, and what will be our learning strategy? What are the risks? What are the potential wild cards and uncertainties, and what is our strategy for talent acquisition? “Training becomes a subsidiary of that because if you’re saying we need to bring this in house, you have to do training.”

It’s not possible to know anything with 100 percent certainty, but it pays to take some educated risks on emerging technologies – even those that are not proven – if it makes sense for your company.

“If you’re in finance you should be developing some experts in blockchain awareness and skills right now,” said Grim. “If you’re working in retail maybe you’re following blockchain, but you’re just going to hire that talent because it’s not a core skill for your business.”

Further, if you chose to hire technical talent rather than train in-house or outsource to a training vendor, you will need to have people smart enough to know that the people you bring in are good. “That’s the catch, you need somebody skilled enough to ask the hard questions and recognize the right answers.”