Amazon recently announced a large-scale software engineering learning scheme for its employees. Is it just a PR flex? Maybe. Nevertheless, there are definitely aspects of their plans that every organization would benefit from, if put into practice.
In July 2019, Amazon announced its ‘Upskilling 2025’ program for a third of its US workforce. The program’s stated goal is to allow employees ‘from all backgrounds’ new opportunities to learn and move into highly-skilled career paths. It aims to give non-technical staff a leg up into software engineering careers, as well as create machine learning and Amazon Web Services specialists from among its technical staff.
There are many reasons behind Amazon’s Upskilling 2025 plan. One is definitely PR, mainly why Amazon would concentrate on programs for non-technical staff. However, the program reveals an interesting corporate education mindset that we can expect to see more of in the future.
Amazon has identified that technical roles will become more important for the business going forward. Therefore, it plans to create the workforce it needs, without entrusting its future solely to external educators. Whether you have access to a similar large-scale upskilling initiative or not, there are interesting things to learn from its approach.
To determine how it should upskill its employees, Amazon performed an analysis on five years of its own job posting and hiring data. This revealed a list of fastest-growing jobs in the organization, and they set about mining the information for commonly required skills and informing program creation.
Other programs seem to have been created based on Amazon’s business objectives in the same time period. Their ‘Machine Learning University’ and ‘AWS Training and Certification’ are focused around core Amazon data projects – machine learning and Amazon Web Services.
Organizations that want to copy Amazon’s approach should start with a similar focus: look at hiring trends and speak to hiring managers and senior figures setting the strategic agenda.
Amazon’s Upskilling 2025 press release is full of language that emphasizes that it fully expects upskilled employees to find careers both inside and outside of the organization. There’s nothing new about providing career-building learning experiences in order to remain an attractive employer. But the scale of Amazon’s plan and the focus on technical skills for unskilled workers is new. And perhaps is even making a case for itself as an alternative to mainstream education…
While organizational upskilling objectives should be a major factor, it’s always worth researching the skills that competitors are demanding. Remember that when it comes to the job market, your ‘competitors’ aren’t necessarily just those in your industry. Offer to teach something that every other employer is only demanding, and you’re bound to stand out.
Better still, consider if you’re in a position to teach skills for which your organization is already renowned—as Amazon is in cloud computing. This is not only a differentiator for the organization in the job marketplace, it has wider strategic resonances too. For instance, once the natural processes of staff turnover occur, it creates a cohort of experts extending influence into other businesses.
Amazon’s ex-employees will go to other businesses and take with them “the Amazon way” of doing things. Given enough time, the new teams these ex-employees manage or otherwise work with will potentially indirectly learn the skills that are so important to your organization.
Amazon’s scheme isn’t about a single area of its business. However, it also doesn’t make the mistake of trying to target the entire business with a one-size-fits-all initiative. Arguably one of the most interesting attributes of Upskilling 2025 is that, in theory, it provides a full pathway from non-technical to intensely specialist roles.
An employee working in a fulfillment center could go through their Technical Academy to become a software engineer. From there, they could complete their AWS Training and Certification to become a cloud computing specialist. Or they could gain Machine Learning coding skills.
Whether any employees actually follow this path remains to be seen. Nonetheless, the existence of such a progression is great PR. And it goes a long way to making Amazon seem like an attractive employer. Furthermore, it’s a structure philosophically aligned with employee retention. Consider how your learning content at the base of your organization primes employees for skills they will need further into their career.
The press release gives us some idea of the methods that Amazon uses to deliver its training:
Delivering learning to a large and varied workforce is not a straightforward task. Workers in certain parts of the organization may not have regular access to a desktop PC. If you’re teaching technical skills, you will have to consider how to facilitate access. A blended learning approach is ideal. However, digital learning should be available for phones and tablets to expand their learning options.
Digital learning is also an essential tool for connecting your wider community of specialists with your learners. Your Subject Matter Experts aren’t necessarily all going to be skilled teachers in a face to face setting. However, they could be fantastic contributors of video guides, a valuable resource for shaping your curriculum, or an active respondent for employee questions. Capitalizing on this expertise is considerably easier with a learning platform that supports user contributions, quick uploads of all media types, and powerful search, filtering and curation features.
Looking for a learning platform that will help you deliver an ambitious upskilling program? Speak to the Instilled team using the ‘connect with our team’ button below.
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