3 Common Tech Skills Myths, Busted!

Companies have myriad excuses for not building a skills development program. Most of them are wrong.

Written by Gary Eimerman
Published on Jun. 14, 2022
3 Common Tech Skills Myths, Busted!
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Setting your organization’s upskilling/reskilling journey into motion can seem daunting. Although most business leaders agree that upskilling their technologists is a top priority, many organizations fail to put concrete tech skill development programs in place because of perceived barriers to doing so at scale. The surge of digital transformation spurred by Covid-19 has made it clear that tech skills development is not a luxury, but a necessity. 

Research from McKinsey shows that, out of the organizations that have embarked on a reskilling journey for their employees during the pandemic, as many as 90 percent of respondents say that their skill transformations have had positive impacts on their organization’s ability to execute on company strategy, employee performance and satisfaction, and their reputation as an employer. Simply put, the positive impacts of skills development touch every aspect of the business. Here is how to put common myths about skills development to bed and begin realizing the benefits of a skilled tech workforce. 

3 Common Tech Skills Myths, Busted!

  • Myth #1: Tech Skills Development Takes Too Many Resources
  • Myth #2: Allocating Budget Towards Skill Development is “Good Enough”
  • Myth #3: My Technologists Already Have All the Skills They Need

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Myth #1: Tech Skills Development Takes Too Many Resources

One of the most common objections I hear to implementing formalized tech skills development programs is that an organization or leader simply does not have the resources to make it a priority. Perhaps an organization feels that they don’t have enough money, time, or headcount to deploy an upskilling program. 

In my experience with customers interested in using Pluralsight, many say that their departments are underfunded. They also may lack executive sponsorship for upskilling efforts. If they do have an executive sponsor, they don’t have a team to execute learning and development efforts. 

While upskilling at scale certainly requires resources, it may not require as many as one would assume. In fact, not upskilling your employees would likely cost your organization more money than investing in skill development. According to Dice, hiring a new employee with the skills needed to fit a job description costs roughly $4,425, but the cost of upskilling an existing employee is about $1,300. That means that upskilling saves, on average, $3,125 per employee. 

Beyond the financial objections, a chief concern among organizations is that they don’t have enough manpower to implement a learning and development (L&D) program. Fortunately, creating a tech-skills program doesn’t require an entire department. Several Pluralsight customers have undergone digital transformation with lean teams and limited resources with great success. You can also partner with a strategic company with experience building programs like Pluralsight to augment the places where you don’t have resources, experience or time.

You can build a skills development program just by enabling direct managers to encourage upskilling within their teams. Giving your people leaders resources to upskill their direct reports will help imbue the organization with a culture of learning. 

The takeaway here is that tech skills development can be tailored to fit the needs of your organization. No one-size-fits-all approach to learning and development exists; you may want to launch a company-wide program or start small and keep the snowball rolling and growing. No matter the approach, a skilled workforce is a universal business imperative.  

 

Myth #2: Allocating Budget Towards Skill Development is “Good Enough”

Perhaps your organization has the budget for a program that makes sense for you. So, all that’s left to do is invest in an upskilling program and turn your technologists loose in the software, right? Well, not quite. Strong L&D programs require more than just a budget: They require a programmatic approach that is intentional and tailored to business objectives. 

For example, Pluralsight’s course library has thousands of courses on many different technology-related topics. If a technologist were dropped into our course library with no guidance and told to figure out how to upskill on their own, that would be a very difficult task. Learners want to feel that they have a sense of control over their professional development, but they also want to be guided in that process. This is why it’s important for organizations to establish a strategy for how their technologists should upskill based on their various roles. 

Professional skills development no longer works via a “set it and forget it” approach. Instead, it requires lifelong learning and constant alignment and adjustment to the technology and skills needed for businesses to be successful. You can’t expect to attend one bootcamp and be set on your career trajectory for life. Tech innovation simply moves too fast for that. 

So, what can be done to ensure your technologists have the support they need to thrive in their upskilling journey? First, share the vision for the company/team/product and what role tech skills play in creating that future. Second, clearly set the alignment for the skills each role needs to develop and the timeline for developing those skills mapped back to that vision. Tailored skills pathways for different learners can help create a formalized experience that takes the guesswork out of tech skills development for learners. Additionally, frequent check-ins from leadership and executive sponsors of L&D efforts will help keep the skill development momentum going. What gets measured and shared gets done.

 

Myth #3: My Technologists Already Have All the Skills They Need

The last myth about tech skills development that I want to address is the idea that an organization’s technologists don’t have anything more to learn. Though I think having confidence in the skills and expertise of your technologists is a fabulous practice, the idea that anyone is ever “done” learning, especially in tech, is a fundamentally flawed one. 

Today, the speed of innovation makes tech knowledge outdated more quickly than ever. According to IBM, skills generally have a “half-life” of around five years, but tech skills specifically are only relevant for around two-and-a-half years. This means that tech teams cannot afford to simply rest on current knowledge, but must create a habit of daily learning. On my teams, we call this concept of daily learning a contribution towards our “skills debt.” 

In most places I’ve worked, technologists are familiar with the mindset and practices that surround “tech debt.” Here at Pluralsight, we try to spend around 80 percent of our time on generating new features or new code and 20 percent on technical debt. This means refactoring and fixing existing code and products. This same concept can apply to other things, including growing tech skills. We have to start building cultures that talk about skills debt and how we invest in decreasing that skills debt just as we do tech debt.. 

Any CTO will tell you that if you have too much technical debt (i.e., too much of your existing code/infrastructure needs work), making any changes or new updates becomes too difficult and time consuming. Forging ahead with this technical debt becomes debilitating. Skills debt is the same way. When a strategic initiative changes or a new technology disrupts the market, if you haven’t invested in the skills of the people on your team, you can’t easily make a change to deliver value to the customer. 

Nurturing the skill sets of your technology teams becomes a core business capability, allowing your organization to be truly agile and able to quickly respond to changes. This requires an investment in ongoing skills development for core skills sets, as well as an investment in new skills that will keep your organization ahead. 

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The Takeaway

Tech skills development continues to be one of the most important investments an organization can make in its own future, as well as the future of the technologists within that company. According to the World Economic Forum, wide scale investment in upskilling has the potential to boost the GDP by $6.5 trillion by 2030. This stat shows just how valuable a skilled workforce is to the global economy. 

Knowing the potential benefits of upskilling your workforce means that organizations must confront the reasons that they aren’t investing in tech skills development and work to clear away those obstacles. Doing so can help your organization implement a tailored solution for your technologists that helps chip away at skills debt and imbue your organization with a culture of daily learning. 

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