Upward together

Training, lateral entry, lifelong learning

Our CTO Corsin was a part of a magazine interview in Computerworld, together with other experts from IT, HR and education. He shared his thoughts and know how on resolving the shortage of specialists, discussing the 3L initiative as a possible solution.

IT departments are the engines of modern companies. It would be nice if they could shift up a gear. But there is a lack of additional specialists. 54 percent of CIOs (previous year 46%) therefore rely on focused further training of their in-house IT team and reinforcement through lateral entrants. CIOs and experts from HR, as well as education and Swiss ICT associations, discussed at a virtual round table what matters and how frameworks like 3L help.

Computerworld: What about the further training of ICT specialists?

Nicole Stucki, HR and Transformation Specialist, Post-Finance and Vice President of HR Swiss: I give ICT specialists good marks. They usually bring with them a very good basic education and gravitate to further training on their own. You also need to realize that both employees and employers know that specialist courses must be taken regularly. Accordingly, many ICT specialists want to learn more and are generally very well trained. Companies are also aware that there are already too few specialists on the labor market. As a result, you have to involve the employees and tackle the new technology issues together. It is important to note here that companies also include the specialist departments in their digitization measures so that they can apply the technologies – even if the user-friendliness of digital solutions has increased.

CW: To what extent do you see greater openness in the specialist areas for new digital solutions?

Stucki: In this sense, COVID-19 is also a digitization booster. Digitization generally penetrates all departments and is in general well received and implemented. We are on the right track and need to expand on the progress we have made.

CW: Mr. Hürlimann, what significance does the further training of specialists have for you as a CIO?

 "ICT specialists want to learn more and are therefore usually very well trained"

Nicole Stucki, PostFinance

Christian Hürlimann, Head of IT, SeCO/aLV: Further training is extremely important to us. However, you have to differentiate a little here. Those employees who are new to our company for the most part bring backpacks full of specialist knowledge and good training. Before my time, however, there was less further training taking place. As a result, we have some long-standing employees whose in-service training took place a good while back. Of course, you can send them on courses. However, it is important to note that employees can motivate themselves and that further training can be matched to their particular personality.

CW: What role does personality play in in-service training measures?

Hürlimann: You must be able to transfer what you have learned into everyday professional practice. If you obtain a degree as a certified Swiss project manager, you have the methodical backpack. But if you don't carry within you the temperament for leadership, even the best technical training won't get you as far as you want. From time to time, we realize that we have top-trained people on the team, but the courses do not fit their personality perfectly. Consequently, the further training does not then produce the expected performance increase. This is partly due to the fact that one or the other of them has an idealized image of the areas in which they should be trained further. They believe that after ten years of IT experience they should be undertaking further training as project managers – that's basically the "normal mapped-out path". Some employees want to train as project managers, for example. In conversation, we realize that they are very good doers, but not those who like to stand in front of people and organize things. This is a challenge and responsibility for management, which the training centers cannot solve.

CW: Mr. Schwarzenbach, how do you assess the issue of further training for IT specialists?

Peter Schwarzenbach, CIO, Reka: Since we cannot pay the highest wages in the industry, I'm all the more committed to promoting and retaining our employees in other ways, for example, through further training. We currently have an employee who, in line with the Swiss Association of Commercial Employees (KV), has also trained as an IT specialist. She is currently working on her individual project thesis for her degree. We have also recruited new employees with degrees from universities of applied sciences, but this was not easy. This took some time and took place over two rounds, supported by headhunters, until we found people who fitted in with us professionally and culturally. So we will take care of them accordingly.Regular further training helps employees to climb the career ladder. Companies benefit from the latest expertise in IT operations

"The selected course must also fit the person"

Christian Hürlimann, SECO/ALV

For this purpose, CVs are evaluated according to defined rules using a points system. Prospects undergo a multi-stage assessment, consisting of a multi-choice test that queries methodological and current expertise from various ICT areas, supplemented by a general intelligence test. This is understood as an entry hurdle, which the candidate must pass once. As a further step, the CV data is analyzed with regard to education and further training as well as professional activity in the ICT environment and evaluated according to a predefined grid. Points acquired expire over time but can be compensated by points for new experiences.

CW: To what extent do further training opportunities provide incentives for new employees? What experience have you had with them?

Schwarzenbach: We generously sponsor further training. We also explain this to candidates during the interviews. This is well received and definitely made use of. Another employee started a technical college degree last fall and we are in full support of her doing so. In general, our philosophy is that we give employees every opportunity for further training, even if we run the risk that they then leave us and take the next career step elsewhere.

CW: IT service providers also have great difficulty recruiting and keeping suitable specialists. How do you view the issue of further training at Netcetera?

Corsin Decurtins, CTO, Netcetera: The specialists that we find are very well trained. The difficulty lies in finding people in the first place. In the training courses, we are finding changes in the technical area, for example, in cloud technology, where we are partly lagging behind with our expertise. In project management, there are profiles that partly disappear or are filled differently, for example, through agile software development. In these new organizational forms, our colleagues need to continue their training and gain experience.

CW: How do you experience this as a training expert, Mr. Marti? How much demand are you seeing?

Markus Marti, Head of Training, ZHAW School of Engineering: We are seeing a run on training, especially in ICT disciplines. We have been registering increasing demand here for around five years. Whereas a MAS class used to be fully booked two to three months before the first class, today's courses are fully booked many months ahead. We have waiting lists of more than a year for some IT training courses. Anyone interested in taking up advanced training in the field of data science has to wait a year or two for a place to become available. This development shows that many more people actually have the need to continue their training.

CW: How are you dealing with it?

Marti: For us, this means that we train a lot of people in our MAS (Master of Advanced Studies), DAS (Diploma of Advanced Studies), and CAS (Certificate of Advanced Study)  programs. We also observe that many from ICT-related areas undergo further training in order to subsequently enter the ICT sector. Lateral entrants are therefore an important topic. For us, and we have designed several offerings in order to specifically attract this group. These courses are also always fully booked. Accordingly, we consider the demand in the economy to be very high.

"Diplomas should be regularly updated"

Jürg Gutknecht, SI

CW: What are the areas that the lateral entrants who attend your courses come from?

Marti: For example, they have completed a degree in engineering, such as electrical engineering or physics. They are increasingly entering the ICT sector, as they have approached the IT sector through the digitization of their previous occupations. But they still lack a basic backpack in ICT. They can fill this up with our further training offerings.

CW: The desire for lateral entrants is reflected in the Swiss IT study, but what does it look like in practice? To what extent do you rely on lateral entrants? Decurtins: We are hiring lateral entrants in sales. In the technical environment, however, we rely on specialists who move within the ICT job profiles. These are, for example, people who started in software development and then switched over to testing. Or testers who subsequently take on project management. These employees are particularly valuable to us as they bring two professional backpacks along with them to their work.

Hürlimann: It is very important to us that we offer lateral entrants and young people who have completed their apprenticeships opportunities for further training. We are also an apprenticeship company and train three to five apprentices per year, and everyone must be able to get their opportunities and gain experience in order to grow. The team composition is important – we find that a healthy mix of juniors, which for me includes lateral entrants or graduate apprentices, and experienced employees, such as professionals and seniors is vital.

Schwarzenbach: We like to work with lateral entrants. It works out well! There are people who, for example, have an affinity for PCs and bring with them knowledge that they have picked up themselves. At Reka, for example, we hired a former road builder for PC support. In the overall operation, our processes are becoming more and more digital. That's why we analyze what our employees can do in the digital environment and where there are still gaps in their knowledge. An example: With Reka Checks, we are running a payment method. In this business, there has been a shift toward cashless and mobile payments for several years. Accordingly, we must deal with security and certificates, for example. Competencies have been added here, which we have to bring in from the outside or expand internally. So wherever we see an opportunity to further train our own people, we do so.

CW: Mr. Gutknecht, what would have to be done from your association's perspective to promote further training?

Jürg Gutknecht, ex-President and Board Member SI (Swiss Informatics Society):  There are numerous top-notch institutions in this country that manage basic IT education. However, their work ends with awarding a degree. The diploma that someone gets in their mid-20's and that should be valid for the rest of their professional life contains, however, a conceptual defect. It should not be the case that a diploma is valid for life, but rather it should be the starting point for a career. Degrees should be reviewed and renewed periodically or gradually. Further education should not, therefore, be established on personal initiative or that of the employer, but rather on an institutionalized basis. This is why SI has launched the LifeLong Learning Initiative (3L) together with swissICT.

CW: What can the framework do and how is 3L being received in the IT market, Mr. Hunziker?

Christian Hunziker, Managing Director, swissICT: The one important component is the thematization of lifelong learning in the 3L system. The second component affects lateral entrants, a group which, as Mr Marti pointed out, is increasingly looking for a way into the ICT professions. The test that has to be carried out within the scope of 3L is independent of how someone came to their knowledge, skills and abilities. Once completed, a certificate is received which is an important benchmark for the overriding qualification assessment. This can help specialists and lateral entrants to determine their situation and develop their career.

CW: To what extent do companies benefit from 3L in the development of their employees?

Gutknecht: It is a valuable tool for employers, both in the selection of job applicants and in checking the competences of their specialists and their need for further training. I think that it is particularly important in the current situation, with lateral IT entrants from a highly varied professional past, that throughout Switzerland there is a legitimate standard from an independent organisation for this. Another plus is the obligation of those who are 3L-certified to behave ethically, more precisely to comply with the Code of Ethics that SI has developed with experts from the humanities.

CW: As an HR expert, how do you assess the 3L initiative as a means for determining the situation of specialists? Stucki: HR departments from various companies are taking a very close look at the framework, as swissICT has already launched many good initiatives in the past, which are standards in the industry today. 3L is comprehensible and meets our need to retain specialists in the companies and to respond to the challenges in the labor market. However, several questions need to be addressed: Will 3L create the breakthrough? Will the certifications become almost mandatory on the labor market? Ultimately, will employers check their employees for qualifications and work toward clearing up qualification gaps?

 "We have had good experiences with lateral entrants in our IT business"

Peter Schwarzenbach, Reka

CW: How do you assess the development?

Stucki: From an HR perspective, I can say that we are thinking a lot about how we can make ourselves fit for the future and what the necessary future skills will be. It is obvious that digitization will be a top issue in all areas of work. Curiosity and openness will be the relevant key skills for all specialists in the future. Today, the term digitization is different than it perhaps will be in five years time. It seems to me that the thrust of 3L is that people are able to take on new things and adapt to changing situations. That's why. for me, it's only a matter of time before the initiative catches on.

"Some will probably fear assessments"

Corsin Decurtins, Netcetera

Decurtins: I see 3L as a useful tool for assessing the qualification of our employees. It's also exciting for the employees themselves to get an overview of where there are still gaps in their training. I don't know to what extent the 3L qualification assessment can be standardized. It may be possible for basic education. But after that, careers diverge greatly depending on whether someone is focused on a very technical career, such as software development, or a career in data sciences or project management in agile development.

CW: That may be interesting for companies. For employees, however, this can also arouse fears. Will I perhaps lose my job if I am not sufficiently good after the assessment?

Decurtins: I can imagine that some may have some misgivings. But I haven't had that impression yet. There's a wide range of education and further training, and the need for people to acquire additional expertise is very high.

 Hürlimann: I find the approach very exciting. I only wonder how you get employees to participate in an assessment. Anyone applying for a management position will want to prove themselves and will face an assessment without further discussion. However, there are also people who think that their original IT studies are sufficient. Given the situation on the labor market, employees have the upper hand. They can choose where they want to work. Here's where the challenge lies: What added value does the individual take with them so that it is worthwhile for them to take such an assessment?

Decurtins: We've also considered this question. We want to motivate employees to find out for themselves where they still have gaps and help them close those gaps. This means that education and further training can be systematically promoted. Taking this perspective, certification and employability are merely by-products. Perhaps this is the way foward.

Stucki: Employees are best equipped when the triangle of further training, on-the-job experience and the appropriate manager is right. All three are important to keep motivation as high as possible. To achieve this, good managers are needed to analyze with their employees what triggers intrinsic motivation in them. Then the assessment is no longer an obstacle.

Gutknecht: An important aspect that has not yet been mentioned enough is trust as a result of the obligation to comply with SI's Code of Ethics as part of the 3L certification. For example, a doctor with Swiss Medical Association (FMH) certification enjoys significantly more trust than one without. We do not work in medicine in IT, but we often also work on security-critical projects. In such cases, if an IT certificate can increase the relationship of trust between the parties involved, this creates substantial additional added value.

CW: What conclusion do you take from this discussion? Stucki: Putting trust in employees to meet these challenges is a game-changer. I would also like to emphasize that in addition to classic ICT skills, general skills such as curiosity and openness are becoming more important in order to meet the challenges of the future.

"3L verifies qualifications and creates trust. This opens up opportunities for lateral entrants to advance digital transformation"

Christian Hunziker, swissICT

"We experience in practice how important lifelong learning is"

Markus Marti, ZHAW

Decurtins: Observability is important in IT. You need to be able to better observe and analyze how computer systems work. Perhaps it could be an approach to transfer this principle to education and further training and look at where there are knowledge gaps among employees but also in the companies themselves.

Hürlimann: On the one hand, I take away the realization that everyone is struggling with the same issues. On the other hand, the 3L approach is interesting and I will take it into account in my personnel requirements and further development planning in the future. I am curious to see where the journey takes me and wish the project every success.

Marti: We experience in our everyday practice how significant lifelong learning is for the career of IT specialists.

At the moment, the market for employees is holding the cards. But at some point the tables could turn. That's when it will be important to be well-trained and up-to-date. An initiative like 3L contributes very well to this.

Hunziker: Digitization will change our world. 3L helps everyone to identify where there are knowledge gaps and where someone could benefit from training. Especially for lateral entrants, this opens up an opportunity for them to prove themselves as qualified specialists. We need them to advance the digital transformation. So that in a Corona crisis 2.0 we will hopefully have many companies prepared for the new work situations.So we can get through the challenging economic times even better.

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