Successful learning programs help employees teach each other
Empowered employees can accelerate everyone's development if they are given the tools to share what they've learned, PwC discovered.
When PwC decided it was time to ready their 50,000-strong workforce for the digital revolution, the company knew it would be a huge undertaking. So to prepare for a tech-enabled future, PwC turned to tech-enabled education.
"The plan was to build something for the entire workforce, degreed or not, but first we needed a baseline," Rod Adams, PwC's U.S. Recruiting Leader, told HR Dive.
About two years ago, PwC rolled out their Digital Fitness App. The mobile-accessible app gives employees a chance to anonymously gain insights into their own tech capabilities and broadly focuses on foundational elements. The 15-minute exercise gives staff members a score immediately. The app then directs employees to a wealth of carefully curated assets, both in-house and external, to increase their skill set. "We believe workers need to move from awareness to intelligence at their own pace and when they're ready to learn," Adams said. But understanding where they are is only the beginning, he added.
How can tech solve problems? What were skills the company really wanted to target in the broad category of tech? The company narrowed it down to categories around data, including visualizing and creating insights from data as well as process automation skills like bot building.
PwC readied a dynamic curriculum delivered through a variety of vehicles, including apps and a podcast series, leading to participation rates that average at about 30 to 40 hours per year. But to boost learning even more, the company created a team of "accelerators" — employees who have gone beyond 50 hours of training and have agreed to help others along the path to digital fluency.
Through a limited pilot last year, the company asked staff members if they'd be willing to take more training and become a resource to their teams. More than 3,500 volunteered. PwC selected 1,100 for its first round of training, spreading out selections across all areas to create a diverse and accessible group of accelerators. No tech experience was needed — just curiosity, a desire to be agile and flexible and a pioneer spirit, Adams said.
"Once we stated talking about need and opportunity to upskill our workforce," Adams said, "we thought, okay, that's great, but we needed to go further faster to meet our objectives. Not everyone will need to know how to create bots and wrangle data, but some do, and they can help others along the way." The Accelerator Academy put the volunteers through one month of training. The first two weeks involved total immersion, followed by an average of 10 hours of work per week for the next two weeks. The program had around a 95% completion rate. It's been so successful they're relaunching it again this spring, Adams noted.
Paying it forward
HR Dive spoke with Patricia Miller, digital accelerator and senior manager at PwC, about her experience with the program. "When it was first introduced, it was perfect timing," she said. "I just graduated with my MBA, and was beginning to look at where I was going. The program hit every internal question I was asking myself: How do we remain relevant? How is tech impacting our work and how will it become more prevalent and impact my role?" She was skeptical at first, wondering if it would be worth her time, but she wanted to take the lead. "Thank goodness I did," she said. "Words can't describe how good this has been for me and my coworkers."
The program teaches everything from individualization and analysis to machine learning. "It's not watered down at all," Miller said. "It pushes into all areas on how tech is going to impact business and your teams." Today, the energy of the Digital Accelerators program is dispersed throughout the company; people regularly put time on her calendar to find out how they can work better and use her as a resource.
PwC will continue to provide Miller additional time to get through more specific training to increase her skill set. When it comes to helping others, she said, there's no set limit. "It's up to what you have on your plate and what your responsibilities are," said Miller. Feedback she receives is overwhelmingly positive, she added. For example, she and coworker with no tech background at all worked together to create a bot the coworker could use. The next day, the colleague had another idea for a bot. "The program generates energy and excitement to take on new challenges," said Miller. "The big drive here is to develop an appetite for infinite learning and growth. Everything we need is here; we just need to inspire interest."
The program has worked for Miller as well. "The way I work is so different now," she said. "In the past I was always looking for bridges between myself and my clients. This changes the dynamic and our conversations." Work is changing, she said, and skills that someone learns can never be taken away.
What do you do with all the great ideas and bots employees are now creating? Share them, of course, Adams said. "PwC's Digital Lab lets everyone put in their ideas into a central repository so others can use them, or ask for help," he explained. The lab has a governance process, but solutions that work can go to scale. "It's been very popular and a huge incentive to keep learning and growing," he said. "When people identify even small wins on the ground, it motivates them to keep learning." Staff members who submit ideas that are picked up more widely earn points they can spend on things of value to them, yet another incentive to learn and grow.
"The goal of PwC's talent proposition is to upskill and provide unlimited access to learning and growth," Adams said. "We always look for continuous learners, and we're fortunate our population has that desire."
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