Is Your Workforce DOA On The Oregon Trail?

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This post originally appeared on Medium.com by Jim Deters, CEO & Founder, Galvanize. 

In today’s hyper-digital world, whether CEOs and top executives realize it or not, every company — from polished Fortune 500’s to nimble startups — is a software company. In fact, according to IBM, 60 percent of all businesses say that having the ability to analyze data is a “must” in order to be competitive in the current corporate landscape.

Take General Motors, for example. In 2015, the world’s second-largest automaker added 6,600 programmers to its payroll, killing a $3 billion contract with Hewlett–Packard Co. to bring the work of building custom software in-house. In doing so, GM aimed to save money and position itself to more quickly and thoughtfully respond to customers’ needs — say, the experience of ordering a new pickup online. At the time, a GM spokesperson said the move gave the company the ability to “take the lid off of what is possible.”

Car companies aren’t the only ones making this shift toward tech. Over the past few years, General Electric, Exxon, Boeing, even NBA franchises have all made investments in coders. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that software developer jobs will grow 17 percent by 2024, significantly faster than the average across all occupations.

Another frequently-cited jobs statistic I hear a lot about these days has to do with people losing their paychecks to robots. According to the market research firm Forrester, automation will swallow six percent of the job market by 2021. (The majority of those losses are projected in customer service and truck and taxi drivers.) But when I consider the facts and look to the future, I don’t see a corporate America comprised solely of robots; rather, I see successful companies leaning even more heavily on highly-skilled, creative people. Now more than ever, I’m convinced the workforce of tomorrow can be populated by the people of today.

This reality, however, will not crystallize on its own.

Right now, there’s a skills gap in our job market. The same Bureau that projects the accelerated growth of software jobs over the next decade also expects nearly a million of those jobs to be unfilled by 2020. To keep pace with the evolution happening at GM and countless other companies we need to transform the personnel in our labor pool. Think of it this way: Education is like software — it has to be constantly updated. Otherwise you’re stuck running Windows 98 in a world full of iPhones. This is the founding principle of Galvanize, a coding school and entrepreneurial learning community I co-founded that now has eight campuses from San Francisco to New York.

When I started this company four years ago, we began by teaching individual students to be web developers and data scientists. I’ve long thought the idea that when you graduate high school or college you’re somehow done learning is bullshit; I wanted to empower people who felt the same way. People like Carey LaMothe, a single mother who was driving a city bus around Seattle to get by. LaMothe wanted a better life for her and her son, and she found it at Galvanize. After graduating from a six-month web development cohort earlier this year, LaMothe landed a programming gig with Disney. She’s now in a profession she enjoys and has both the salary and work-life balance she needs.

After retraining hundreds of individuals like LaMothe, I realized Galvanize could help empower corporations in much the same way. As institutions adapt to the increasingly fast-paced digital world, there’s an opportunity to re-skill employees instead of disrupting company culture by letting go of talent with valuable institutional knowledge, only to then have to spend the time and money to rehire and retrain a new army. Accenture CIO Rob Alexander recently put it this way, “Recruiting and retaining talent is top of mind for me. It’s not enough to be 10 percent better than the next bank. We have to move fast, build our own software, and leverage data and analytics to build customer experiences — and that all starts with our talent.”

In the fourth quarter of 2015, to address this very issue, Galvanize forged a unique partnership with Allstate. CEO Tom Wilson recognized the importance of closing a skills gap within his own company but doing so in a way that utilized the talent he already had. During the past year, Galvanize has retrained more than 200 of Allstate’s junior and mid-level developers on current cloud-based technologies. After all, Allstate — just like GM and everyone else — is a software company.

Bottom line is that companies need to stay current, and seems to me laying off an entire division is rarely the best option. It’s why Galvanize is working with Allstate, and why Smart CEOs like Wilson know that retaining high-quality employees isn’t just valuable — it’s invaluable.

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