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Bringing Home the Gold: Encouraging Change with Technology-Oriented Reskilling Programs

By Laurie Giddens, G. Brint Ryan College of Business, University of North Texas and Stacie Petter, Hankamer School of Business, Baylor University

There’s nothing new about the pressure on government agencies to do more with less. In many areas, including human resources, advances in information technology are often touted as a powerful solution.

There’s no question that IT can improve operations or offer new services to citizens. But the idea that these benefits will magically appear if an entity simply buys the right hardware and software is little more than a fantasy.

It’s critical to accept the idea that managing, using, and maintaining information technology for these purposes often requires employees to learn new skills. The Government Accountability Office identifies managing human capital within federal agencies as a high-risk area in part because of a skills gap related to technology. The same thing is doubtless true in states and localities.

How can we narrow the technology-skills gap? A growing number of organizations are relying on technology-oriented reskilling programs to train employees on skills for new or different roles within their organization. One billion people worldwide will need reskilling by the year 2030, and companies expect to provide upskilling and reskilling opportunities to nearly three-fourths of their current workforce. Specifically, technology-oriented reskilling programs teach workers new skills about one or more technologies to solve organizational problems in new or evolving organizational roles.

It's abundantly clear, though that sending employees to technology-oriented training programs is just the first step to address the technology-skills gap. Attendance alone doesn’t ensure success. For a training program to be successful, the employees must transfer the knowledge they have gathered back to their respective agencies. Unfortunately, within six months, less than half of what is learned during training is transferred back to the organization.

To encourage the transfer of training:

  • Agencies need to carefully select which employees should attend technology-oriented reskilling programs, which can be time and resource intensive.

  • Organizations should choose reskilling programs that deliver training using methods that are more likely to help the employee apply the lessons learned to their context.

  • Agencies must be prepared to support employees as they use their newly learned skills from training once they return to work.

In our recent report published by the IBM Center for the Business of Government, we describe two case studies of technology-oriented reskilling training programs. One reskilling training program is offered by a non-profit for local, state, and federal law enforcement to learn how to use information technology in new ways to fight human trafficking. The other reskilling training program, created by the Office of Management and Budget, teaches employees skills in cybersecurity. Our report offers recommendations to government agencies regarding practices to improve the likelihood of transfer of training in technology-oriented reskilling programs.

This table from our report identifies factors that influence the likelihood an employee will transfer training knowledge back to the organization. The three categories focus on the characteristics of the employee attending the training program; significant elements contained in the training program itself, and the organization’s level of support.

In today’s world, where rapid technological advancements are commonplace, change is inevitable. However, local and state governments can find ways to leverage technology effectively by ensuring their employees have the appropriate technology-related skills. This effort may not be simple to implement, but recognizing the need is a critical first step.



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