Have you ever ordered an expensive filet mignon at a five-star restaurant? Cooked extra well done? With a side of ketchup? Of course not (we hope). Corporate IT learning and development programs share a similar logic. Where quality is concerned, the cooking process is paramount. 

The purpose of an IT learning and development program is to align employee skill sets and career goals with company objectives. In doing so, organizations can meet new market demands, improve employee engagement and retention, and gain competitive ground. However, when companies invest in “off-the-shelf” L&D solutions, they often inadvertently get an extra helping of risk. On more than one occasion, we’ve seen less-than-palatable outcomes, including higher cost per student, less flexibility, and slower speed-to-market.

If your organization wants to serve up a choice, five-star IT learning experience that mitigates these risks, it needs to work with an instructional design team that understands how to “cook” with all the key ingredients of a world-class training program. Here’s what our experts recommend:

1. Meaningful Lessons

Learners inherently assign value to the information they receive in class. When information is not framed within the context of practical life applications, that value goes down, which may result in lower attention and participation levels. The most effective IT learning programs build context into the coursework during program design and curriculum development to ensure that lessons simulate real-life applications. Sarah Dutkiewicz, one of our most experienced instructors, takes her classroom experience a step further.

“I also use relatable analogies and stories to make technical concepts easier to understand and welcome students to chime in, ask questions, and participate in open discussions. This enables them to use class time in ways that suit their learning style, which makes the time more meaningful to them.”

2. Personal Progress Benchmarking

Learners inherently look for ways to gauge their own progress to validate whether or not they can and will succeed. Without the means to do so, they may feel less confident and, by default, less willing to participate in discussions or problem-solving activities. In other words, the more learners can visualize their own progress and positive performance, the more inclined they will be to engage in future learning activities. 

To foster a stronger sense of competence in IT training programs, our curriculum developers structure content so that it can be delivered incrementally in lessons that are just slightly beyond current student comprehension. This ensures that learners are always on the brink of a breakthrough, but constantly absorbing new information. Furthermore, we recommend progress reporting to benchmark learner development.

3. Autonomy & Collaboration

“The key to a great learning experience is realizing that we are all social creatures—even the introverts!” Said Mike Vanderpool, Director of Curriculum Development. “When you think about it, we’ve only really evolved this far as a species because of social learning. That’s why it’s so important for learners and instructors to welcome diversity in thinking. We all bring different experiences and perspectives into the classroom, and sharing them is crucial in building teams of problem solvers who can work together to make a better future.”

To Vanderpool’s point, there are often infinite ways to approach and solve an IT problem. As such, learning environments must create awareness and respect for differing perspectives. 

“One of the more memorable moments I’ve had in the classroom occurred when S3T’s founder, Eric Wise and I had an open discussion about databases and Entity Frameworks (EF),” said Randall Clapper, Principal Consultant and Instructor. “Students were able to see more than one point-of-view on the subject, which provided a deeper understanding of the topic. We don’t want the future generation of technical professionals to stop at the first answer,” he continued. “We want them to investigate other ways to solve problems, because if there’s one thing we know for certain; it’s that there is always a better way.” 

4. Emphasis on Mastery, Not Success 

In traditional training environments, memorization and strong test-taking can pass for skills development. There is only one way to measure success — pass or fail. Once reached, where do learners go next? Instead of focusing the narrative on “student success” in the classroom, the most effective IT learning and development programs promote mastery, which frames progress as an ongoing journey. This mindset helps to create a culture of lifelong learners who are willing and motivated to pursue new skills as technology continues to change and challenge how businesses operate.  

5. Experiential Coursework

Data science, analytics, and software engineering are not skills that can be developed by reading a book. Experiential training uses “simulations” to provide employees with real-life, hands-on problem-solving experience. Equally important as the simulated lesson is how instructors turn experiences into memorable teaching moments.  

Alan Galloway, Principal Consultant, IT specialist, and design engineer sees great value in the teaching moments that follow mistakes or failures.

“IT learning and development programs must promote a culture and learning environment where mistakes aren’t just accepted — they’re encouraged,” he explained. “The learning environments we create instigate mistakes and failures to mimic the process of discovery that is often applied in the day-to-day creation of work products.”

According to Galloway, when risks, mistakes, and failures are celebrated as important parts of the learning experience, learners develop a stronger sense of curiosity, independent thought, and creative problem-solving skills—all of which are hallmarks of a true innovator.

6. A Process For Measuring, Iterating, & Improving

A master chef, like an expert in instructional design, stands by their work. To that end, the IT learning and development program a provider puts into place should offer more than one way to track and measure performance and improve quality (nobody wants a mouthful of burnt filet mignon). In addition to student surveys, we conduct routine classroom audits to assess instructors and learning environments and ensure that lessons nurture the skills and experience employees need to deploy training immediately. 

“If employees can take the training and put it right to work, that’s going to have a better business impact than if skills require more time and experience after training to become useful,” explained Dutkiewicz. “By then, technology might have already moved on, rendering their skills outdated!” 

Process is Paramount

When it comes to IT learning and development, you get what you pay for (chuck is chuck, even on Bobby Flay’s grill), but not all design and development approaches create the same savory IT learning experience. Process is paramount, which is why organizations that lack an internal framework for developing and deploying customized curricula are best served by partnering with a full-scale team that does. 

For additional help creating a world-class IT learning experience, check out this Essential IT Skills Training Program Planner.

 

In an era benchmarked by race and gender equality movements, over 90% of software developers are still men. As an equal-opportunity organization with a cast of female characters who are foundational to our success, this statistic struck a chord with us. Women represent almost half of the US workforce, but only about one-third of workers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). 

What gives?

To find out, we went straight to the source—our very own mentor, instructor, and software developer extraordinaire—Sarah Dutkiewicz. With over 20 years of experience braving the tech frontier as a woman and a mother, her story proved to be an invaluable perspective for business leaders, instructors, and fellow “techies” alike. 

In part one of this two-part series, we delve into the human and social sciences responsible for perpetuating the gender gap in STEM-related fields. While this article references men and women specifically, we think it’s important to note that the gender gap affects all binary and non-binary gender identities. How will you use these insights to encourage more gender diversity in IT skills training?

Factors Prolonging The IT Skills Gender Gap

1. Gender Stereotypes

Females are just as equipped as men for careers in STEM — that is a fact. However, research suggests that women lose confidence as they advance through schooling due to gender stereotyping. Gender-based stereotypes result in two unfavorable outcomes (among others) that can affect both women and men. First, they create self-limiting beliefs about one’s ability to compete in fields dominated by the opposite sex. Second, they create exclusion that can prevent women (or men) from realizing their options, opportunities, or potential.

“When I was growing up, computers and technology were considered Sci-Fi, and that was a boy thing,” explained Sarah. “I never thought about a career in technology; my family didn’t even own a computer. It wasn’t until a teacher recognized my gnack for computers and recommended that I study programming that I became aware of the opportunity.” 

2. Underrepresentation

Women are grossly underrepresented in the tech industry and this alone might be a factor prolonging the gender gap. More specifically, the underrepresentation of women in technology contributes to the gap in two key ways: 

  1. The Chameleon Effect: a well-documented phenomenon wherein people feel compelled to behave or perform an action simply by witnessing someone else doing it. 
  2. The Illusion of Truth: a human condition in which one defines their version of “reality” based on how they see the world around them.   

By this logic, if more women developed IT skills and filled more roles in STEM, other females would find STEM careers more relatable and might be more likely to follow similar career paths. Likewise, greater female representation in STEM and leadership roles could normalize and alter negative stereotypes about a woman’s qualifications and capabilities in tech-based positions.

Case in point: As Sarah pursued a degree in software programming, she occasionally learned alongside other women. But, more often than not, she was one of the only females in a classroom full of men, led by male instructors. In her career, the gender dichotomy was much the same.

“As one of the only women on many developer and analyst teams, I didn’t always feel like the social “vibe” was there,” Sarah recalled. 

However, over time, her place among male-dominated teams became the respective norm. 

“I was held to the same standards as everyone else, and I developed a strong support network in the field, which included the man I eventually married. There was mutual respect between myself and my teammates, but customer calls were a different story.”

On more than one occasion, she found herself having to “prove” to male customers that she was, in fact, the manager after rightfully earning the title.  

3. “Bro Culture”

The tech industry is a far stretch from Mad Men’s depiction of Ad agency culture in the 1960s, but negative perceptions fueled by the gender gap might still be a factor influencing women to err on the side of caution when considering a career in STEM. Men and women often have different interests and priorities. In a diverse company culture, variety inherently leads to inclusion. In a gender-dominant culture, a lack of variety can unintentionally exclude minority groups. Furthermore, the #metoo movement resurrected an age-old problem regarding sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace, which may add to negative perceptions about “bro culture” and might even raise safety concerns for women and other gender identities accustomed to considering the potential “emotional labor” implicated by certain work environments. However, Sarah made an interesting point on the subject of sexual harassment in the workplace—it affects men, too. 

“It’s something that I wish I hadn’t seen, but I did,” she recounted. “This is why I stress the importance of developing a strong support network. It was painfully difficult to see other women struggle with how to handle unwanted advances from male counterparts, especially those in a position of leadership. But, I wasn’t the only one who felt the stress and emotional impact. Many of the men on my team were also affected, and eventually, we were able to work together to document the misconduct and take action.”

4. The Nature of The Job 

A career in IT can entail long hours, 24-hour on-call shifts, and working holidays, nights, and weekends, which can clash with other life priorities, such as starting a family and raising children. For many women, a career that doesn’t allow enough time and space for parenting simply isn’t an option. 

According to a recent Pew survey, women are more likely than their spouses or partners to “carry the load” when it comes to parenting and household responsibilities. The survey results also illustrated how women feel more compelled than men to cut back on work hours and turn down promotions due to their priorities as a parent. COVID-19 shed additional light on these findings.

After forcing almost half of the US workforce into remote positions, where women worked and parented alongside their spouses and partners for a year or more — 8 out of 10 moms said they did more than their spouse or partner when it came to managing their children’s schedules and activities. And 62% of fathers agreed.

“Co-parenting is super important for women in technology,” explained Sarah, who raises two kids with help and support from her husband. “There has to be teamwork at home, whether that’s a family support system or a committed partner or spouse. It’s also up to employers to create more flexibility — not just for moms and dads, but for all employees. Life happens whether you have kids or not. It gets in the way of work sometimes, and that needs to be OK.”

Why Women Should Pursue Careers in Tech

With so much potentially working against women in technology, we had to ask — Why should women bother? Sarah’s response…

“Because tech needs many voices.”

Despite the hardships, Sarah loves her career in technology. She also sees the critical importance of gender and race diversity in fields that are defining the future of industry and the world. 

“STEM professionals are driving life-altering advancements in AI, quantum computing, data science, MedTech, and countless other key areas that ultimately shape our existence. If these revolutions are to serve diverse populations equally, the people behind them must represent a full spectrum of experiences, perceptions, and – yes – genders.”

Sarah also highlighted the fact that, in many ways, women are uniquely qualified for IT skills training and positions in STEM. Generally speaking, women tend to be strong communicators, creative problem solvers, and passionate about having a positive impact on the world around them. They’re also master multi-taskers.

“Tech fields can be chaotic, at times,” she said. “Many women that I know thrive in chaos. If you want to create change in the world or make something happen, if that would make your job feel purposeful, a STEM career will enable you to do that with impact.” 

Sarah also stressed the importance of job hunting for a company that fits your lifestyle, values, and ambitions. 

“Not all company cultures are toxic. There are a ton of employers out there creating healthy work environments for their employees and investing in diversity and inclusion programs. Find a good fit for you. It’s out there,” she said. 

As an instructor, she sends a strong message to her students: 

“I’ll gladly hold the door, but I won’t hold your hand.” 

In other words, while she never anticipated becoming a “role model”, per se, for women in technology, she hopes that her presence in the tech space broadens the pathway for others and creates greater access and opportunity for all gender types. Once in the classroom, her focus as an instructor is on preparing learners to think and solve problems for themselves. After all, innovation is not the product of one idea shaped by structured logic. It’s the product of free-thinking and many ideas that collectively offer a fresh perspective on old challenges.

In part two of our “Women in Tech” series, we look to women as a potential solution for the IT skills gap. Find out how your organization can encourage more gender diversity in IT skills training to fill crucial positions in data science, analytics, software programming, and more.

In the meantime, learn more about The Future of Corporate IT Training Programs

 

Organizations already struggled to keep pace with large-scale shifts in workplace automation, machine learning, and advanced analytics before the pandemic (hence the steady increase in coding bootcamps and other IT training program solutions between 2018 and today). As the COVID-19 dust settles on corporate America, recent research by McKinsey & Company found that the gap in economic profit between the top corporate performers and everyone else “has widened dramatically”.

The pandemic amplified the urgency for digital transformation. Those already ahead of the technology curve were propelled forward. Those behind floundered (and continue to tread water) in the wake of disruption. Technology is the single most significant factor widening the competitive gap. Which means the pressure is on for corporate leaders to develop and enhance their IT training program. However, increasing the learning and development budget for IT skills will not guarantee that your investment pays dividends in acquired skills or accelerated digital transformation efforts.  

4 Trends Impacting Investments In Corporate IT Training

1. The Scarcity of In-Demand IT Skills 

In-demand IT skills are impossible to acquire at scale in the open labor market. The shortage is due, in part, to the speed of change in technology. Traditional education models can’t keep up, and, as a result, skills have fallen behind. Like dropping a breadcrumb into a piranha-filled pool, competing for talent with in-demand IT skills has quickly become a feeding frenzy that favors the largest companies with the most to offer. Consequently, organizations have little choice but to invest considerably more in learning and development for IT skills to cultivate talent from within.

2. Greater Emphasis on Mentor & Peer Collaboration

One of the biggest challenges with modern technical tools and techniques is that there is no one right answer. An online guide or video might showcase one or two ways to approach a problem, but placing solutions within the context of the problem, recognizing and evaluating various approaches, and taking a reasoned, data-driven approach is not something that any piece of static content can provide. To address this issue, organizations are rethinking how programs incorporate regular feedback, structured discussions, and information-sharing to enhance curricula, accelerate learning, and improve outcomes. 

Thanks to the pandemic, companies are becoming more comfortable working virtually. The most forward-thinking organizations will parlay this growing level of comfort into new learning opportunities that allow individuals from across the globe to participate in knowledge sharing and expand the program feedback-refinement continuum. Knowledge sharing gains tremendous reach when aligned with existing collaboration platforms such as Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams. However, keep in mind that success will hinge on your organization’s ability to structure and moderate these touchpoints effectively. 

3. Greater Program Design Flexibility 

Most IT training program solutions struggle to align content and learning opportunities with the specific platforms, processes, and tools within an organization. To be fair, the vast selection of solutions available in the marketplace means that very few infrastructures are exactly alike—for example, many organizations implement analytical dashboards, which require the baseline skills of data analysis and SQL, while others use Microsoft Power BI, Tableau, Qlik, and other platforms to expand analytical capabilities.

To address variability between organizations, the most progressive IT training program providers are taking a modular approach to content that enables program designers to quickly swap out specific content, tools, and techniques to match the client environment as it changes over time.

4. Connected Pathways For Curriculum Versatility

As competition globalizes and intensifies, the demand for versatile solutions that can be tailored to address multiple challenges will continue to increase. Organizing content into connected pathways is the key to making it more utilitarian (i.e., providing both reskill and upskill opportunities to incumbent workers). For example, a pathway that begins with data literacy (a broad offering that makes sense for most professionals in an organization) followed by progressively more technical capabilities in reporting, analytics, data cleansing/ETL, and machine learning. 

Design For What Is and What Has Yet to Be.

When it comes to technology and digital transformation, we can say one thing with absolute certainty. Change is inevitable. If your organization wishes to convert the resulting disruption into opportunities that propel the business forward, operations must shift from a reactive state to one that’s more proactive. Our advice? 

  • Start by aligning IT skills with strategic business priorities. 
  • Map data skills to current and future roles within the company.
  • Enhance career advancement opportunities to close your own IT skills gap by helping employees grow into new and existing IT roles within the company. 

Offering a dynamic and versatile IT training program with the flexibility to grow and scale alongside the business will deliver on all of the above. But beware, not all program solutions are created equal. Most providers tout that their solution delivers results. Rather than take them at their word, always ask for proof.

Check out this case study.

Multiple factors play into an employee’s decision to leave. They don’t jive with the company culture. They don’t get along with management. They don’t feel that the job matches the description. On the short list of reasons, you’ll find a lack of career advancement opportunities. 

Yes, it costs money to provide learning and development programs to employees, but it also costs money not to provide L&D. Furthermore, in the event that your organization does need to hire externally, the lack of career development opportunities will make your recruiting pitch less compelling.

Employees that move into new jobs internally are 3.5x more likely to be engaged compared to those who stay in their current jobs.

All costs and risks considered, there’s a reason why the term “upskilling” has become the latest buzzword among employee experience leaders, HR administrators, recruiters, and more. The benefits are well-documented and far-reaching:

  • Lower turnover rates
  • Higher employee engagement
  • Increased productivity levels
  • Recruiting & hiring leverage
  • Stronger corporate culture
  • Employee loyalty
  • Less financial risk

The cost and risk associated with external hiring cannot compete with the ROI benefits of developing an IT skills training program to nurture and evolve capabilities from within. PwC agrees, offering a compelling case for upskilling employees in their 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey

However, the question remains — is developing a curriculum and deploying an IT skills training program realistic and affordable for most organizations?

The short answer is yes. 

Check out our Essential IT Skills Training Program Planner Checklist to help you maximize your investment and minimize risks.