From education to employment

Instituting a Skills Development Culture

Scott Barneson is the Director of Learning Products for AWS Training and Certification

How to institutionalise a skills development culture in order to empower learning and training 

Many factors contribute to a workplace culture that attracts and retains the right employees.

In nearly every industry, employees are looking for an encouraging environment and opportunities for advancement.

People want the room to learn and grow professionally.

A key element in any organisation’s strategy for employee engagement and business growth must be ongoing learning and development.

However, for many organisations that face competing priorities and razor-thin budgets, providing non-essential training often takes a backseat.

As more organisations adopt the cloud, it’s not an option to de-prioritise employee skills development.

There simply aren’t enough professionals with cloud-skills.

As such, organisations must be intentional about investing in and nurturing a culture that places cloud-skills learning at the forefront to attract and retain high-quality cloud talent.

Furthermore, as new ways of working become the norm in our post-pandemic world, it’s more important than ever to reassess how your organisation prioritises employee development.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen how encouraging skills development increases confidence among employees and leads to a more innovative, agile, and collaborative work environment.

Developing a culture that centers around skills development can include various forms of formal and informal training and inspiration. It can include affirming the value of hands-on experience, encouraging experimentation, and emphasising the importance of achieving industry certifications.

From harnessing the real-world experience of seasoned employees to train new team members, to hosting online and in-person courses and introducing game-based learning opportunities, there are many ways to meet your business goals through employee skills development.

Here are a few strategies for implementing a culture of skills development to make the most of your organisation’s cloud investment:

1. Institutionalise your skilling culture.

Incorporate employee skills development into the company’s annual goals—tied to leadership’s performance metrics and each employee’s goals—to establish operational rigor that substantiates your desired culture. Consider specific strategic and operational imperatives that align to skilling gaps, as well as industry certification achievements that can bolster new business wins.

Managers should have an open and continuous dialogue with employees to align skills development and industry credentials to the individual’s current role and their short- and long-term career path. Institutionalising skill building from the very top of the organisation ensures the culture is intentional about ongoing learning and curiosity.

2. Stay future-focused.

What cloud initiatives are forthcoming in the next 12 to 24 months, and what cloud skills are lacking now?

Think beyond the IT teams. Arming IT and non-IT staff alike, such as finance, sales, marketing, and even administrative staff, with cloud knowledge increases the organisation’s ability to deliver more quickly and collaboratively to customer needs.

Think holistically to solidify the expertise and cloud competencies the organisation needs, formulate a future-focused skills-development plan, and start energising teams to lean into these development areas.

3. Identify champions.

Acknowledge the skilled professionals in your organisation and encourage them to act as mentors and coaches to others. Create a process and structure to empower these champions to drive employee learning programs.

This helps build leadership opportunities for your champions—while creating additional mechanisms for employee growth—creating a flywheel. Before long, once-new learners step up as emerging champions.

4. Encourage dedicated time for skills development.

For a culture of learning to take hold, it’s vital for leaders and managers to bake-in skill development time into their timelines and milestones so that they can achieve priority objectives for their team and organisation.

Empower employees to dedicate time during the work week to prioritise learning and build their skills. For example, on my team, we set aside time for learning once a month without meetings or other deadlines. While it may take time for this to take hold, consistently dedicating time for employees to learn new skills will encourage them to take advantage of it.

5. Create sprint-style learning.

Think about creating an agile—and repeatable—approach to learning in short timeframes or sprints. Establish a desired timeframe and design a learning program that includes a team or multi-team challenge (e.g., earn 50 certifications in 50 days).

This compressed approach helps organisations skill up or gain certifications quickly in a particular job function or domain, but must be balanced with business demands. Employees need to feel the organisation’s commitment to making space for learning so they feel confident setting daily responsibilities aside to pursue their skills development.

6. Incorporate peer connection.

Take advantage of interactive and gamified learning approaches to create peer connections and cross-functional synergies. Fun, hands-on, and risk-free learning scenarios can be a motivating way for employees to learn a new skill, enhance a current one, or experiment.

Split employees into small groups to work on hands-on cloud projects to increase expertise and collaboration. Invite the winning team to present their project and key learnings during an All Hands meeting.

7. Recognise and reward.

Don’t forget to acknowledge, reward, and create incentives for all employees who are putting in the effort toward creating a culture where learning new skills is the norm. This includes advancement opportunities, a leadership role in a new business venture or project, managing employees, and more.

Ensure skills development is part of regular manager check-ins with employees to encourage a two-way dialogue about ongoing skill milestones.

Building a skills development culture can help you attract and retain valued talent, help employees stay more engaged and innovative at work, and increase your overall business prosperity.

With a little creativity and a lot of enthusiasm, you can realise tremendous organisational benefits from cultivating a culture of continuous skills development.

Scott Barneson, Director of Learning Products, AWS Training and Certification

Scott leads global curriculum development, product management, and AWS Certification programs, helping individuals and organisations acquire and validate in-demand cloud skills.

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