Professional Development Matters. Here’s How Upskilling Helps.

While any professional can aspire to continue soaking up new knowledge on the job, companies can play a major role in putting them in place to actually do so.
Adam Calica
March 31, 2021
Updated: September 21, 2021
Adam Calica
March 31, 2021
Updated: September 21, 2021

Tech is constantly evolving, which means employees’ skills and abilities should, too. But not everyone has the time or money to go back to school or enroll in a bootcamp to learn a new expertise.

That’s why many companies are prioritizing a tactic that gives their employees a chance to learn something at work. It’s called upskilling.

Upskilling allows someone to learn new skills on the job, whether it’s through their peers or by structured training programs that the company invests in. For example, at fintech company MarketAxess, they use hackathons, dedicated training on tools, and “tech talks.” 

“Upskilling has allowed us to use our innovation sprint to learn new languages, gain certifications (if you can pass them!) and explore new technology,” Liz Brand, a global cloud engineering manager at MarketAxess, said.

Upskilling can even provide companies with new business opportunities. The tech agency Kin + Carta’s recent partnerships centered around technologies like cloud, IoT and AI were all topics employees learned through upskilling.

“The company incentivizes certifications specific to these verticals, and as employees become more knowledgeable and informed, new opportunities can be easily identified,” Stephen Fells, a technical program manager at Kin + Carta, said.

Built In spoke with five companies to learn more about how they prioritize upskilling — and how it’s paid off.

What is Upskilling?

Upskilling is when a company or organization provides resources for its employees to learn new skills and further their career development.

 

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MarketAxess

Liz Brand

GLOBAL CLOUD ENGINEERING MANAGER

Liz Brand

Innovative Ideas

In a recent hackathon, a senior app developer reached out to Brand and asked if they could improve cross-team communication on different tech tools and patterns. Brand loved the idea, which led to yet another upskilling tactic: “tech talks.” It’s an open forum that starts dialogue between team members and breaks traditional silos.

 

What opportunities do people on your team have for upskilling and professional development?

I’ve held multiple roles within the company, all of which have promoted growth, learning and upskilling. Now I’ve grown into a role where I can manage and help lead that process. As a team, we feel our work is always innovative, which allows us to use our innovation sprint to learn new languages, gain certifications (if you can pass them!) and explore new technology. At MarketAxess, much of the upskilling happens through hackathons, dedicated sessions on tools, and tech talks.

 

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Why have you decided to invest in these kinds of opportunities for your team?

My immediate team is a group of absolute rock stars, and it’s because they continuously ask questions, knowledge-share and refuse to be satisfied with mediocrity. We often joke that we need to be careful as to not over-invest and “Rolls Royce” the design. That hunger to consistently improve comes from hiring, investing and upskilling good people. We allow them to make good decisions as teams, because good teams at scale will always feed culture and technology, and inevitably, succeed.

 

I’ve held multiple roles within the company, all of which have promoted growth, learning and upskilling.’’

 

Whats an example of a time when upskilling drove innovation at your company?

After our latest hackathon, one of our senior app developers reached out wanting to improve cross-team communication on innovative technology tools and patterns. We then worked together to start “tech talks” internally, which are knowledge-sharing sessions where topics are submitted and voted on by anyone in the company, and then presented by the subject matter expert. This open forum creates an open dialogue, and breaks the traditional silos between team responsibilities and structures.

 

Kin + Carta

Stephen Fells

TECHNICAL PROGRAM MANAGER

Stephen Fells

A Growth Mindset

One reason why Fells joined Kin + Carta was because of the emphasis the company placed on education. Kin + Carta offers educational reimbursement to boost upskilling and ensure that its employees have a chance to grow professionally and personally.

 

What opportunities do people on your team have for upskilling and professional development?

Kin + Carta has multiple channels for upskilling and professional development, led by a generous allocation to cover educational costs. Personally, this was a key reason as to why I joined the company. As a lifetime learner, I enjoy furthering my education, both professionally and personally. Working for a company that not only supports that, but also promotes it, is very fulfilling.

 

Why have you decided to invest in these kinds of opportunities for your team?

Despite the impacts of the pandemic, Kin + Carta is seeing growth in several business areas, and continues to explore additional opportunities in new markets. We have an agile mindset, which includes building projects around motivated individuals and providing the support they need to get the job done. This creates a space for individuals in similar roles to share best practices and seek input from peers on how to address project needs, build upon skills and improve performance.

 

As a lifetime learner, I enjoy furthering my education, both professionally and personally.’’

 

Whats an example of a time when upskilling drove innovation at your company?

Some of Kin + Carta’s recent growth can be attributed to partnerships centered on technologies that include cloud, IoT and AI. The company incentivizes certifications specific to these verticals, and as employees become more knowledgeable and informed, new opportunities can be easily identified. This helps our teams build upon and transform how services are offered.

More on Career DevelopmentCareer Development Tips + Resources

 

Focused Labs

JT Trotto

HEAD OF PEOPLE AND OPERATIONS

JT Trotto

A recent upskilling success story at Focused Labs? Head of People and Operations JT Trotto said that leveraging their bounty program and “Focused hours” were crucial in team members’ ability in supporting a client’s COVID-19 response application.

 

What opportunities do people on your team have for upskilling and professional development?

We provide ample opportunity for employees to upskill and work on their own professional development. Two of my favorite opportunities are our bounty program and our dedicated “Focused hours.”

We pay “bounties,” or spot bonuses, when employees complete industry-recognized certifications and achievements. Resume builders, such as the Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA) certificate, the Certified Kubernetes Application Developer (CKAD) certificate and the Google Cloud certificate could earn a team member thousands of dollars in bonuses. Not only do we want you to upskill — we want to reward you for doing it.

“Focused hours” give employees 5 percent of their time to upskill by doing things like preparing for a bounty certificate or working on a passion project. So, not only are we paying team members a bounty bonus to upskill, but we are also providing them company time to do it. 

 

Why have you decided to invest in these kinds of opportunities for your team?

We believe that providing team members opportunities to upskill is not only the right thing to do for our team, but it’s also a win-win for us and our clients too. Being in the services consulting business, we aim to provide our clients with highly skilled and credentialed consultants. Allocating resources to our team to invest in professional development just makes sense to us.
 

Allocating resources to our team to invest in professional development just makes sense to us.”


Whats an example of a time when upskilling drove innovation at your company?

Our clients expect us to provide dynamic consultants who can be experts in many settings. Recently, we have been running Kubernetes clusters for one of the country’s largest COVID-19 response applications. By using bounties, “Focused hours” and book clubs, we were able to rapidly upskill our team and scale our client’s infrastructure with zero downtime and low latency to deliver COVID-19 test results to millions of people in the United States.

 

Aptitive

Jason Maas

COO

Jason Maas

According to Aptitive COO Jason Maas, taking advantage of training stipends, study sessions and topic-specific, “The More You Know” informational talks are a handful of ways that employees can expand their skill sets.

 

What opportunities do people on your team have for upskilling and professional development?

While we have many ways that our team members can upskill and develop professionally, the primary avenues are through an annual training stipend, various study groups and Friday “The More You Know” sessions.

Our annual training stipend allows employees to choose the right training to address career development areas that will help them advance their careers. They can use this to get a certification for a technology, take a class that interests them or attend an event. The training stipend helps to cover certification fees and the costs of testing materials. 

We organize bimonthly “The More You Know” sessions discussing various topics such as investing, mentoring and networking in a virtual world. Additionally, our employees also benefit from monthly certification study groups that promote a group-learning style. For example, we currently have an AWS Certification study group. With these study groups, consultants within our company can get together and improve their skills, learning from one another and other outside sources.
 

Why have you decided to invest in these kinds of opportunities for your team?

Our team members have the freedom to use their technical background and creative problem-solving to make a direct impact on our clients. Providing professional growth opportunities to our employees is a no-brainer. It not only ensures quality solutions for our clients, but also the development and career advancement of our people.
 

Upskilling constantly drives innovation at our company.”


Whats an example of a time when upskilling drove innovation at your company?

Upskilling constantly drives innovation at our company. Upskilling has resulted in employee career advancement, new partnerships with technology companies and improving and/or creating new service offerings. As our consultants grow their technical and professional skills, it challenges us as a company to continually provide new and creative ways to advance their careers.

 

PerkSpot

Jeffrey Sharpe

SOFTWARE ENGINEERING MANAGER

Jeffrey Sharpe

“We view investing in learning opportunities a vital component of two of our core values: ‘We Value People’ and ‘We Aim High,’” Jeffrey Sharpe, software engineering manager, said. Team members of PerkSpot — whose service connects employees with perks and discounts — can level up through tools like Pluralsight subscriptions and engineer-hosted lunch-and-learns.

 

What opportunities do people on your team have for upskilling and professional development?

Our team is exposed to a clear, well-defined career progression plan so they can track their progress against the next track with their manager. Our team is provided a Pluralsight subscription, and many engineers on our team integrate Pluralsight courses into their career progression plan. One of our engineers used Pluralsight to study for (and pass) a Microsoft Certification exam. In addition, our engineers host occasional lunch-and-learns to bring new ideas and knowledge to the team.

 

Why have you decided to invest in these kinds of opportunities for your team?

We view investing in learning opportunities a vital component of two of our core values: “We Value People” and “We Aim High.” We are investing in our engineers’ careers by offering and encouraging learning opportunities, and we give them an opportunity to aim high and bring something new to our development.
 

We are investing in our engineers’ careers by offering and encouraging learning opportunities.”


Whats an example of a time when upskilling drove innovation at your company?

Most of our front-end code is legacy and not in the best shape. Our developers had an opportunity and the desire to improve upon it. Through a joint effort, they learned ReactJS and have started bringing it to several parts of our application. The difference in quality of our UI in the old code versus the new code is astounding. As its usage increases, we know our users will love it.

 

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