Corporate Education for Programmers: How to Make It Effective
According to Solon, one grows old “ever learning many things.” This is good advice to keep in mind in all cases, but it's perhaps particularly relevant in corporate life, where knowledge equals professional skills, status, and income.
And so, the appetite for new knowledge and professional growth has been pushing specialists in all domains to keep on learning constantly.
As for programmers, continuous learning is one of their all-time essential goals: Since technologies are evolving so fast, mastering new knowledge and skills is the only way for software specialists to stay competitive on the market and build up their careers.
Companies are also interested in all types of corporate education activities and consider learning an investment in their business development. According to Forbes contributor Dan Pontefract, in 2018 U.S. organizations spent over $87.6 billion on corporate learning and development.
But are those investments reasonable and do they have true business value?
In this article, we will not only answer this question, but we will also analyze corporate learning challenges that enterprises face. Moreover, we will discover feasible ways of improving learning processes, particularly those targeted at software development professionals.
Learning Investment vs Outcomes
Surprisingly, even though educational spending is so big, the effectiveness of corporate training stays questionable. 75% of 1,500 managers from 50 companies proved to be dissatisfied with the outcomes of their corporate learning initiatives.
As for business owners, they hardly get expected outcomes from their educational activities: Only 8% of CEOs observe real business benefits from corporate learning and development programs, while only 4% demonstrate a measured ROI.
There can be several reasons for the low efficiency of corporate learning:
- The learning process is stiff. Educational programs lay idle for years, they are too general and aren’t adapted to the specifics of particular teams and specialists. 35% of US employees state that their corporate training is outdated, while 33% of specialists say that training they took didn’t meet their expectations.
- Organizations don’t want to lose control over the learning process. Thus, many businesses still rely on good old learning in classrooms, while ignoring the benefits of digital education. At the same time, switching to e-learning would allow such companies to save up to 60% of trainees’ time on absorbing new materials.
- Employees have no chance to apply new knowledge and skills in a business context. In reality, only 12% of employees who participated in corporate learning report they do practice newly acquired skills at work.
Obviously, such poor corporate learning results may impact companies in many ways. Learning gaps can become the core reason for slowdowns in business processes, repetitive human errors, and employees’ passiveness.
Learning management issues are characteristic of any enterprise. However, learning weaknesses in software development companies and IT-centric organizations can bring negative business outcomes quicker than in any other business domain. And here is why.
What Do Learning Gaps Mean for Programmers and Their Companies?
When learning gaps spring up in companies with in-house IT departments or in specialized tech firms, they can bring the following staff-related headaches:
- Software professionals can lose their qualifications quickly. This is particularly critical for software development outsourcing providers whose service quality depends on their staff’s skills.
- There can be substantial knowledge gaps between teams, so members from different teams won’t be able to replace each other if needed.
- Programmers might look for relevant training at competing companies and even apply for a job there. Currently, 73% of employees affirm that better capabilities for professional skill development would prevent them from leaving their companies.
- They can feel unengaged and show low productivity. Companies that manage IT teams risk facing employee churn and end up with rather unenthusiastic IT people on board, whose knowledge stays at the same level through years. All in all, companies with mature learning processes report 53% lower attrition rates compared to companies with poor learning activities.
- They can choose self-education and leave as soon as they find a better offer where they can practice new knowledge and skills.
So what can companies do to avoid issues coming from inadequate learning management and to make their corporate education more effective?
Toward Effective Corporate Learning
Here are several activities that companies can take to break through the corporate learning deadlock.
Align Learning Programs With Business Goals
It’s worth reviewing an adopted corporate learning strategy to align it with the current business needs. There is no need for a long-term strategy; starting with a year-long program will be ok.
Companies should focus on training that follows their business plans. For example, if they are planning to adopt AWS in a year, internal specialists have to start learning the AWS technologies right now.
Elaborate Learning Programs for Different Teams and Technology Experts
Instead of introducing yet another generalized educational course, businesses can try to draw up more personalized programs for software professionals from different teams and at different levels of seniority.
They can test such a personalized training approach on two or three teams, and then spread the best practices across other employees.
Clean up Learning Content Storages
Corporate libraries are oftentimes packed with outdated manuals and books. Updating content storage is an essential step to enabling more effective self-education and providing software specialists with the opportunity to keep their technological knowledge updated and level up their soft skills.
Optimize Software in Place for Learning Needs
When it comes to improving corporate e-learning, companies start selecting dedicated leaning management software straight away. They often forget that they can use their current solutions to revitalize basic learning management activities.
For example, an organization might run an underdeveloped SharePoint portal. So instead of paying for another piece of software, a company can build a SharePoint learning management system by tailoring the platform’s versatile out-of-the-box features.
Mix Hard and Soft Skills Training
Companies often focus on developing their IT staff’s hard skills while ignoring the importance of soft skills. In reality, in the era of digital communication and distributed workspaces, programmers’ soft skills are the key to their professional success.
To give companies an idea of non-trivial soft skills training, they can follow Etsy’s example: The company successfully combines coding training for their software engineers with dance and photography classes.
Plan Post-Learning Activities
Learning for learning’s sake is rarely a good idea. Every training session or course taken should be followed up by projects where software professionals can apply their new knowledge.
It’s unreasonable to make programmers learn the principles of Salesforce customization just because Salesforce is a popular platform while there are no real projects for them to participate in.
Ensure Knowledge Exchange Between Teams and Specialists
Using employee portals, wikis, or corporate learning solutions, programmers can share their real experience and life hacks with colleagues.
Say there is a team that has been dealing with AngularJS for several years, and there is another team that has just started to learn the technology. In this case, weekly tips-and-tricks accumulated during development projects and shared between the teams can be even more effective than long training sessions.
Start Practicing Microlearning
Too much to learn in too little time. That’s one of the biggest impediments that ruins learning programs.
Trying to engage 10 developers in a 60-hour long training, companies risk seeing no one at the finish line. It wouldn’t be about poor time management or individual procrastination, but about software developers’ working pace and timetable that can hardly absorb 60 extra hours of training.
Instead of time-consuming sessions, companies can adopt the popular microlearning methodology and ensure knowledge delivery through 5-minute videos, one-pagers, and quick quizzes.
Programmers themselves have to be selective and learn new programming skills reasonably. Sometimes, reading the latest industry news, short reviews, and colleagues’ lifehacks is a way more effective than learning a new programming language.
From a Corporate Learning Strategy to a Corporate Philosophy
As long as corporate learning exists only as a formalized strategy, positive outcomes will be just a dream. Learning should become part of programmers’ everyday life, their habit that will stimulate their professional growth and result in achievements valuable for the business.
Companies can nurture such a learning-centric corporate philosophy by making learning accessible, personalized, and diversified. To achieve that, it’s better to avoid delegating the entire mission to learning management technologies only or making it a one-time activity.
For example, even the best learning management system won’t boost learning activities when it isn’t coupled with regular learning content refreshment and active distribution of learning materials.
Once a company achieves learning success in one team of developers, they shouldn’t stop, but keep on enhancing the program and spreading it across other teams where applicable.
Finally, companies shouldn’t leave corporate learning aside as an auxiliary and unimportant activity. Businesses have to keep in mind that learning opportunities not only motivate current staff and increase their loyalty, but also attract potential candidates who consider corporate learning as an essential corporate benefit.