Amazon is taking the lead with individualised learning and professional development. This became clear at a Business Transformation conference I attended recently. And it wasn’t just technology at the top of the agenda for government, academia and the technology sector itself.
Everyone I spoke with understood the boundless opportunity that current and future technology offers, even being able to identify many examples of where and how this could be applied. Critically, they also understand that it’s going to require a pool of sufficiently skilled and experienced resources to realise this.
One of the presentations I attended during the conference was given by Amazon, one of the major global players in providing cloud technology services. Amazon are providing universities and other academic institutions with online training programs and the tools to deliver them.
What really stood out from the structure of Amazon’s education program was that approximately twenty-percent of the content was completely non-technical in focus. Not an insignificant percentage.
Whilst technology itself is fundamental to the quantum changes occurring in all facets of our lives it’s really people, their skills, competencies and behaviours that are ultimately going to carry us there, wherever that happens to be.
Whilst this might sound mundanely obvious, it’s very worthwhile keeping this front of mind as we consider developing skills for the future.
So back to Amazon. I don’t think there’s anyone who’d argue that Amazon doesn’t have a very good idea of what the future might look like, or the magnitude of effort they are going to apply in a bid to shape it. There would have been a significant investment in developing an education program of this type and it would not have happened over night. The inclusion of non-technical material is no coincidence either.
When it comes to dealing with other humans in any shape or form (and completely irrespective of the profession or industry involved), the most effective individuals and their achievements demonstrate not just knowledge or qualifications in a given field but a well-developed repertoire of non-technical skills and behaviours too.
To put it another way, they don’t just know what to do, they can also select and apply appropriate soft skills to work effectively with others and get the job done. One only has to Google “Things effective [insert your chosen profession or role name here]do” and thousands of articles will be returned, each including skills such as motivation, communication, adaptability, leadership and so on.
Amazon, by focussing a portion of technology professionals’ development on non-technical skills will help ensure that when those individuals enter the workplace they’ll be more effective in employing behaviours and interacting and collaborating with others than students who may have focussed on more technical skills alone.
This is just one of the many ways in which Amazon strives to develop and maintain competitive advantage in the longer term. Making sure the future generation involved in supporting and delivering Amazon’s offerings is more adept at dealing with people is potentially a major differentiator.
The existing workforce won’t have the opportunity to begin incorporating development in these areas before leaving full time education, however, there is a plethora of resources and methods available from which individuals and organisations can draw to include a targeted percentage of development on the sphere of ‘softer’ skills and behaviour.
Prevalence and accessibility of online courses in these areas through major platforms such as LinkedIn or Lynda.com and their delivery via mobile device at any time convenient to the learner means accessibility is virtually ubiquitous. More specialised providers can also help groups and individuals identify and build tailored programmes with curated content from multiple sources. They can also provide evaluation and iterative feedback to ensure those undertaking development are focussing efforts appropriately.
As I had the fortune to experience for myself more than a decade ago, tailored iterative coaching is also a highly effective method to help individuals and groups to rapidly build non-technical skills. Extensive research also shows that this type of approach has significantly higher outcomes and return on investment in the longer term than training.
But whatever the channel or delivery mechanisms employed, organisations and individuals alike should maintain an ongoing focus on softer skills and behavioural development alongside more traditional knowledge and qualifications. After all, if Amazon think it’s a significant factor, there’s a fairly high chance it is.