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Forget “Training,” Build a Learning Culture

Learning is the default response to change.

By Bradley Clerkin, BreakFree Solutions CTO

If you want digital transformation to scale, you need to institute a learning culture within IT. IT’s ability to hire, retain, and more importantly up-skill and re-skill talent is a critical component of a digital capable IT organization. In this post, we’ll discuss our approach to learning culture, some ways to enact an apprentice model, and the benefits these factors will have to your company.  

Defining a Learning Culture

When you have a learning culture it means that IT team members are constantly learning new concepts and how to apply them. Learning and skills development is not the outlier, but the default mode of behavior. One common difference we see between IT groups that have successfully instituted a learning culture and those that are struggling relates to the distinction between training and skills development.

We see all too often that while there is a focus on producing a nearly limitless amount of training material, little attention is given to creating situations where the training can be used safely in the real world to develop skills. To combat this, we like to use the apprentice model common in trades industries. You can train to be an electrician, but you'll need real-world, hands-on, and guided experience before you can legally claim the title.

IT leaders need to create a process that allows people who want to advance their careers to do so. Using the apprentice model is a great place to start instituting a learning culture. Here is how we approach incubating an apprentice model:

1. Make apprenticeship a part of a professional development plan. Although this appears to be a little modification, it is actually significant. Managers frequently need to be engaged in order to discover apprentice possibilities and then advocate for the resources necessary to devote time to skills development. It also sometimes necessitates the movement of teams, a reduction in their focus on a current project to focus on a new item, or the management of an apprentice/mentor relationship.

2. Create programs that enable group-based skills-development opportunities to help scale and then consider developing other programs, toolkits, and capabilities for managers, teams, and individuals to use.

3. Establish a community around skills development and learning that promotes what skills are in demand, shows where they are required, and brings technical people together organically.

4. To encourage participation in skills-development communities, have your cross-functional Agile teams promote mentorship, cross-training, and pair programming as standard practice.

With a learning culture, you can create an IT team that is constantly developing new skills and applying them.

It’s not about training for the sake of it; it’s about creating real-world situations to gain practical skills through methods like apprenticeships.

Contact us today if you want to learn more or find out how our team can help make this happen for you.

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