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Learning Delivery

Teaching Tech Talent: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Being mindful of tech employees’ learning needs and preferences will deliver a greater return on investment.

Gone are the days when software developers and other IT employees would learn by themselves, peering at books and manuals over their large, thick-rimmed glasses. OK, so maybe that’s an old stereotype. But here’s a reality: Despite the fact that 90 percent of tech employees say instructor-led training helps them do their jobs better, 71 percent of employers don’t provide formal training opportunities for their software developers, according to a 2017 “Developer Learning Survey Report” conducted by DevelopIntelligence (DI), a software training company.

For the survey, conducted between November 2016 and March 2017, DI reached out to almost 800 software development professionals from more than 200 companies across more than 40 industries and 50 countries. Survey respondents hold a variety of positions, including software developers, project managers and development managers.

According to the survey, when highly skilled technical workers are denied the opportunity to grow their skills, they begin to look elsewhere for employment. And it’s no secret that staff turnover is expensive — several studies report the cost to replace an employee can average six to nine months’ salary.

Kelby Zorgdrager, CEO and founder of DI, said a big problem is learning leaders are misjudging how technical employees prefer to learn. The survey found that learning leaders expect tech talent to learn on their own, which often results in low morale and slower product releases. On average, respondents to the survey report spending seven hours per week of their own time learning new skills necessary to do their jobs. They spend an average of just two hours in formal training opportunities.

Additionally, according to Zorgdrager, learning leaders tend to use popular techniques such as mobile, social and video learning without considering other forms of training. But according to the survey, while approximately 20 percent of senior (five or more years of experience) and junior developers prefer video-based learning, reading is the most popular among both (36 percent and 42 percent, respectively). Twenty-two percent of senior developers cite private, dedicated instructor-led training courses as their favorite method of learning. Among junior developers, 14 percent prefer learning from a peer and 13 percent prefer instructor-led training courses. Thirty-two percent of developers rate mobile learning as their least favorite learning method.

Based on the survey data, DI recommends a blended strategy, combining reading with dedicated training courses, as well as video training, peer-to-peer mentoring and coaching. “Understand the preferred learning modality for your audience and then design your learning approach (and culture) around it,” said Zorgdrager.

Instructor-led courses can be especially helpful for technical talent when they are starting to learn a new technology. “There’s so much complexity and so many moving parts,” Zorgdrager said. “They’ll need an instructed class just to help them get over that initial hurdle and understand how the different moving parts fit together and how the entire technology works.”

Based on the survey data, DI recommends three-day courses as the most effective training option in terms of cost, retention and project schedules.

The lack of suitable training isn’t the only reason tech employees are leaving their companies. Zorgdrager says employees are tired of using technology that’s outdated and want new challenges in order to grow.

“Good engineers like to solve problems, so if they don’t feel like they’re being challenged, that’s an issue,” Zorgdrager said. “Beyond compensation, [they want] the opportunity to learn new things and to grow within their career.”

Ultimately, companies with technical talent must engage with employees and embrace their learning preferences for their investments to be worthwhile.

Marygrace Schumann is an editorial intern at Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.

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