Departmental dilemma: Bridging the gap between engineering, L&D

May 07, 2021 - 10 min read
Joshua Ahn
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A 2019 survey done in partnership with LinkedIn found that the inability to learn and grow is the number one reason employees decided to look for a new job. Given the rapid pace of the tech industry and the attraction of high caliber and ambitious candidates, it’s also no surprise that jobs in tech hold the highest turnover rate at 13.2% across ten major sectors. Within the tech industry alone, software engineers make up 21.7% of the employees who decided to find a new job. Putting the pieces together, learning opportunities within a company will impact retention rates within your engineering team. Your job as an L&D leader sets the foundation for developing a healthy company culture and retaining high-value talents within your engineering teams.

This article will address the dilemma of departmental gaps that may negatively affect your company’s growth or limit both parties’ potential. The goal is to build an understanding of both departments and providing pragmatic solutions to address the needs and desires between engineering and L&D. We will go over each department, then talk about how to bridge the gap.



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The Developer

Part of building a bridge requires an understanding of both parties involved through the process of curating relationships. COVID-19 has limited occasions for organic communication and raised the bar of intentionally seeking bonding opportunities. The purpose of this section is to help you get acquainted with your engineering team’s learning desires.

The developers on your engineering team are avid learners and seek to do high-impact work. A 2020 HackerRank report showed 71% of hiring managers considered a candidate’s ability to learn new technology and languages to be better equipped for their job. Developers started their careers with a drive to learn new ways to build a product and continue to advance in their careers through growth opportunities. Their time is valuable and may be stretched thin across various projects, which raises the challenge of creating personalized learning paths for your engineering team with purpose, precision, and accessibility. Here are three things you should know about developers and should leverage to increase ROI, job satisfaction, and retention within engineering teams.

Purpose

Many developers are driven by the purpose of developing their careers and making an impact with their work. A 2019 HackerRank report showed that professional growth and learning opportunities were the number one category developers looked for in their jobs. In 2020, this trend continued, with 59% of developers believing that learning new technical skills was the most important form of professional growth. Developers learn a new technical skill to improve their work on a product or develop knowledge that aligns with their interests and values.

Start by identifying what drives the developers on your team. Every developer wishes to advance their career for a different reason. Here is a short list to help you get started on highlighting the purpose for learning opportunities that will resonate with your developers:

  1. Creating high-quality work that makes a difference
  2. Expanding their experiences
  3. Stepping into a challenging and exciting project
  4. Empowering with new knowledge and autonomy

Precision

Developers want precise topics of learning. Learning a new technical skill can be time-consuming and inefficient if subjects are not precisely addressed. The broad range of technical skills to advance in can make it difficult to pinpoint what your developer should learn, so it’s pertinent to start with a list of options available. Here is a list of the top five languages and frameworks that developers are most interested in learning about as of 2020.

Languages:

  • Go
  • Python
  • Kotlin
  • Typescript
  • R

Frameworks:

  • React
  • AngularJS
  • Django
  • Vue.js
  • Ruby on Rails

Accessibility

The easiest way to demotivate a developer is to make it difficult for them to work. The concept of unblocking a developer also applies to their learning process. Developers can become uninterested or frustrated the longer it takes to navigate a process of learning new skills. Learning a new technical language can be annoying for developers if they have to move between various websites, platforms, or videos to gain a holistic understanding.

Moving between different learning platforms or channels can be time-consuming and contribute to decreased productivity. We can make an analogy through the experience of learning how to cook via YouTube. Frequently pausing or replaying sections as you get your tools and ingredients situated can create an unintended loss of time and a slower learning process. Imagine the time-saved and overall satisfaction if someone prepared those ingredients and organized those tools ahead of time. Similarly, the lack of built-in learning environments can create unnecessary exchanges between various platforms to practice skills. Here is an example of what a built-in learning environment looks like:

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L&D Objectives

The 2021 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends (DGHC) survey revealed that 41% of executives believed workforce upskilling, reskilling, and mobility were among the highest priorities to transform work. COVID-19 changed people’s perspectives on leveraging technology to elevate their team’s learning and outcomes. Coupled with the 2019 DGHC survey showing 77% of respondents were planning to invest in their learning team’s growth, the importance of learning is rapidly escalating. Here are three things to consider as an L&D leader on a growing team.

Evolution

Methods and tools for learning are rapidly changing to adapt to new generations of developers. As a result, create a culture of learning that evolves with the rapid succession of changes in the tech industry. Develop a learning toolkit that aligns with your business growth and supplies your developers with the latest updates. New trends within the learning and development world suggest that professionals prioritize reskilling or upskilling their employees. Above all, L&D should stay adaptive to keep your company competitive within dynamic business conditions. Here are some trends other companies are following to stay competitive in the market while meeting the needs of your engineering team:

  1. Integrated corporate learning
  2. Transformation to digital learning models
  3. Data-driven learning insights
  4. Rapid upskilling and reskilling

Strategy

Consider the strategic implementation of L&D programs within your organization. The role of L&D plays in larger business objectives besides just “training” employees. Here are several initiatives to consider when investing in a new learning platform.

Ask yourself the question, “How does this learning platform help…”

  1. Attract and retaining high-value talents
  2. Develop a “growth mindset” culture
  3. Build your brand
  4. Encourage employee growth
  5. Scale your business

Personalization

Creating a personalized learning path for individual departments vs. finding an all-in-one solution for the whole company is a tricky balance to find. When weighing these decisions, consider the following aspects of personalization that may help departments become more invested in learning.

Designed Journeys:

Create incremental goals and expectations for learners to measure progress and success. Journeys should include key metrics to assess learner progress, such as:

  • Courses completed
  • Minutes watched
  • Languages learned
  • Certificates achieved

Readaptations:

Learning is a fluid and experimental process that requires iterations to find the best fit. Find ways to gauge interest or receive feedback through methods such as:

  • Surveys
  • Meetings
  • Incentives
  • Slack channels
  • Established relationships

Relational:

Find ways to create or build relationships through the learning process. Developers desire to be surrounded by other technical experts and proficient developers. Help develop team relationships through communication channels for shared learning journeys or highlight the advancements within the team.


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Bridging the Gap

Now that we’ve covered both sides of the equation, let’s focus on solutions to draw departments closer together and help your organization succeed. Investing in reskilling or upskilling your engineering team starts with understanding what they need, which can be difficult with the gap of technical knowledge between L&D and the developer. There’s a growing list of L&D tools available, but it’s essential to start with your engineering team’s perspective to align your learning tools with their need best.

Narrow Bridge

In short, look for quality over quantity. It may be tempting to acquire learning subscriptions with a wide range of topics, but this will only create less motivation for your developers to follow your learning leads. Invest in a tailor-made learning tool made primarily for developers to create a successful learning initiative for your engineering team. After all, the first step of any excellent educational experience is trusting the precision and utility of the learning platform.

Questions to ask when finding a quality learning platform include:

  1. How frequently are courses updated?
  2. How many steps of the revision process are involved in course development?
  3. What are the sources for the courses?

Scaling Tools

Choose a learning tool that scales with your organization’s goals and growth. It may help you to find a learning solution that won’t go out of date as time passes. For engineers, upskilling and reskilling is not a one-and-done process but ideally uses a platform that can adapt and create iterations of learning paths that scales with your business. Your engineering team will appreciate the choice of a product that can assist in their professional development. At the same time, your L&D department will meet goals to keep up with the competitive business environment.

Questions to ask when finding scaling learning platforms include:

  1. How frequently are new courses available?
  2. What are readaptation features are available?
  3. How in-tune is the course development team with new technical skills?

Innovative Products

New options for learning tools are rising with innovative products tailored to assist your engineering teams. You can place yourself as a strategic influencer within your company by keeping up to date with fresh solutions to old problems. Your job in L&D is more than just “training” employees. Innovate and improve your L&D strategies with new products to keep your developers engaged and equipped for their future projects. In the meantime, stay in close contact with your engineering teams to see how learning products can best meet their needs. At the moment, your developers are using multiple platforms to learn technical skills. Finding an efficient and innovative solution to save your engineers time in their technical skill growth will improve their job satisfaction, and in turn, set yourself up as an L&D leader.

Questions to ask when searching for innovative learning platforms include:

  1. What is the unique material administration taken by the learning platform? (Ex. reading, videos, in-person, learning environments, hybridized)
  2. How are leading developers reacting to this product?
  3. How does this product stray away from more traditional forms of learning? What are the pros and cons?

Wrapping up

The departmental dilemma between L&D and engineering is ongoing due to gaps of knowledge and understanding between both parties. Building a bridge across that gap requires more conversations to occur between your engineers and L&D department. Strive to learn more about what can best help your engineers, and in return, you’ll be able to advance strategic organizational ventures. Place yourself as an L&D leader by bridging the gap through narrow, scaling, and innovative solutions.

Happy learning!


WRITTEN BYJoshua Ahn

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