Build Technical Skills and Aim for Innovation: Microsoft CLO Advice for L&D Leaders
Build Technical Skills and Aim for Innovation: Microsoft CLO Advice for L&D Leaders

Every company is becoming a software company and every organisation now needs robust investment in tech capabilities to be able to retain and grow its customer base. These developments are placing the spotlight on L&D leaders, who can enable this transformation.

Most corporate L&D departments are still not rethinking how they operate and are not meeting the upskilling need, says Laurent Hamel, CLO of Microsoft France. At the MERIT European Summit in Paris on 18 September 2020, Laurent shared how Microsoft is addressing the gap in tech capabilities while also building a sustainable global organisation with a shared culture. Here is his advice for L&D leaders today.

The technical skills gap is growing

An important trend that L&D leaders should bear in mind is that the tech skills gap is growing faster in companies whose main line of business is not computer technology. Overall, 149 million tech jobs will be added over the next 5 years, according to Microsoft data science research using LinkedIn data. But the hiring of software engineers is now 11% faster in non-tech than in tech companies. In the automotive industry, the number of software engineers is growing at three times the rate of mechanical engineers.

Few companies are able to meet this need for talent, as other studies have already shown. A 2019 PwC survey found that 96% of global CEOs thought the lack of necessary skills was impacting their business performance. 44% missed out on a market opportunity due to a skills gap, and 22% even ended up delaying or cancelling a key strategic initiative for the same reason. Rapid digitisation due to Covid-19 is further exacerbating the situation.

The hiring of software engineers is 11% faster in non-tech than in tech companies.

This gap leads to the strategic importance of L&D departments in tech and non-tech companies alike. That is why Laurent is proposing an expanded mission for L&D leaders. At Microsoft, the CLO’s goal is to help employees, customers, partners, and even future generations benefit as much as possible from new technologies.

Microsoft is fulfilling this mission by developing high-level tech skills beyond tech adoption. People need to learn how to be creative and innovative with tech, Laurent stressed: “Not only will organisations have to use more technologies, which is somehow obvious – what is new is that we’ll have to build more technologies. And so companies will have to rethink the way they’re organised and the kind of workforce that they need in order to be able to face this new world, to respond and to anticipate it,” stressed Laurent.

Read: 7 Learning and Development Insights from 2020 Corporate Case Studies

Building new job roles, not just skills

Of the nearly 150 million new tech jobs needed worldwide over the next 5 years, not all will be traditional developer roles. 98 million, or 65%, will still be in software development, according to Microsoft’s research. But, in addition, 23 million jobs will open for cloud and data specialists, and 20 million in data analysis and machine learning/AI. Overseeing new technologies and addressing their ethical and social implications will also be important, with 6 million new jobs in cyber security and 1 million in privacy assurance.

Again, this shows that simply knowing the latest tools is not enough. People need to prepare for roles that will require imagination and complex decision-making. To meet companies and employees’ needs for the future, training should be designed with this in mind.

In the past, we used to create content and courses that were based on technologies. Now, we are trying to build content and courses based on job roles,” Laurent said at the MERIT Summit in Paris. His team is conducting ongoing market research to identify how jobs are changing and what new ones are emerging. Some learning plans now need to be revised on a quarterly basis, or even more frequently, according to Laurent.

149 million tech jobs will be added over the next 5 years.

An example of this kind of learning is Microsoft’s “AI Business School” for executives. In a series of trainings that cover business applications as well as culture and ethics, leaders learn how to become AI innovators. Different paths are available for various sectors including finance, healthcare, manufacturing, and education.

By 2022, every employee will need an additional 101 days of training beyond current L&D efforts to meet the tech capability gap, the World Economic Forum has found. Laurent argues that L&D leaders need to break away from current models and think bigger.

Read: Covid-19: The Growing Importance of Upskilling and Reskilling

Learning at scale

At Microsoft, L&D has taken on a strategic role by providing learning not only to employees, but also customers, partners, and anyone else willing to learn. This is transforming the organisation as a whole into one committed to upskilling and development.

The same learning management system, content, and assessments are offered to all learners, regardless of their status. This expanded reach is beneficial to the company – it ensures a talent pipeline to meet the tech skills gap. At the same time, Microsoft is also creating an engaged customer base and a broader culture of tech curiosity that helps the organisation advance its mission.

To make trainings more effective and increase the sense of community, Microsoft is emphasising learning’s social aspect. The more collaborative the training process, the better, Laurent says. He recommends incorporating the following elements in course design to engage learners:

  • Interactive whiteboarding
  • Digital polling
  • Break-out rooms
  • Instructor office hours
  • Hands-on lab activities

Within the company, Microsoft is encouraging “social learning in the flow of work” – employees get incentives to support each other and share skills. It is encouraging that a widespread desire to take part in a learning community already exists. Employees are excited to become teachers, Laurent observed: “People were starving to use their own skills to help their peers to upskill.”

Read: Is VR Training the Future of L&D?

Other HR and L&D leaders have shared similar observations at MERIT events, including Victoria Feldman, former Global Leadership Development manager at Uber, and Dr Nina Kreyer, Global Head of Learning at Philip Morris International (PMI). At PMI, 82% of people would like more opportunities to share knowledge, according to a survey of over 4,000 employees.

People were starving to use their own skills to help their peers to upskill.” - Laurent Hamel

With the average employee over 100 days of training behind and companies falling behind on strategic goals due to lack of tech talent, L&D is taking on an unprecedented importance in companies and in society at large. Laurent encourages other L&D leaders to embrace an expanded sense of purpose.

We are entering into the third era of education and rethinking how we should train and skill people,” Laurent said. “We have already found out how to train and skill the machine, and machine learning is already on the go. We need to make sure that we are doing that for humans – that we will not lag behind compared to what we are doing for machines.


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By Ani Kodjabasheva