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Narrowing the Gap in the Digital World

Jan. 6, 2020
Addressing the skills gap goes well beyond filling the Baby Boomer void.

Not only is the skills gap real, it’s multifaceted. Sure, there is a lot of attention focused on the need to prepare as Baby Boomers retire. And for good reason. After all, the mass exodus will undoubtedly result in a significant skills gap that will be hard for manufacturers to fill.

However, the ongoing digital transformation is putting manufacturers in an equally difficult position. It’s a new world as IT and OT environments converge. Existing employees will need to learn a new set of skills, and manufacturers will have a new set of expectations as they bring talent onboard.

Academy approach

When Cisco started its effort on addressing the skills gap, it did so by expanding what it teaches its own employees and partners about networking into an offering capable of helping those looking for opportunities within an increasingly digital industry, especially workers from rural and underserved areas. “We created an intense 280-hour vocational program to prepare participants for actual on-the-job responsibilities,” says Cisco Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs Tae Yoo.

Partnering with schools, colleges, governments, and nonprofits across the world including USA ID and the United Nations Development Program, Cisco aims to close this skills gap through its Networking Academy (NetAcad) program, a skills training program that has trained and educated more than 10.9 million students in preparation of digital future. Since its inception in 1997, Cisco has invested more than $3 billion in providing education and direct paths to jobs in networking, security and emerging technologies like IoT. NetAcad has expanded to more than 12,000 academies worldwide and 94% of participants have obtained a job or an educational opportunity. 

Today the academy offers basic networking, IoT and big data introductory courses. “The goal is to give people a sense of what’s new in this growing segment as well as provide skills to take students to the next level,” she says. “Everything is tied to certifications because that’s what gives comfort to employers – knowing that employees could actually master some of the basic tenants – for instance, to run, design and install a network.”

Closing the gap 

The challenge, Yoo tells IndustryWeek, is that there is a constant evolution in technology that is never going to stop. “Knowing it is never going to stop, how do we systemically enable people to keep up, learn new skills and bridge the gap.”

There are a few interventions, and key is to first understand what’s needed and then provide access to the programs that address the gap. In conjunction with Oxford and Gartner, Cisco has segmented the types of skills it teaches. The first are includes the specialized skills such as software development, analytics, IoT, networking and security. “But there's also broader skills such as business operations, project and program management, those will be ones that will change over time because as you get new technologies that can help, you better manage a project,” she says. “The person who is used to doing project management can adapt and adjust to become more efficient and accurate.”

Addressing entrepreneurial skills is also crucial in an environment of constantly evolution and innovation, explains Yoo. “We can't discount the importance of these skills where the ability to really think through new ideas and how to feel comfortable in a space or an area that you don't necessarily have a lot of data, but you're going to learn as you go,” she says.  “This is what entrepreneurs do – look at a problem, break it down and ultimately find solutions. It also involves skills like design thinking, critical thinking, adaptability as well as the human skill. Just because we have AI, machine learning and an evolution of technology, there are still human skills that are highly valued like negotiation, persuasion, social perceptiveness, service orientation, creativity and collaboration.”

As manufacturers through how they will effectively make use of the plethora of technologies available today – and ones that don't even know exist yet – it is crucial to embrace and support perpetual learning, explains Yoo. “Organizations need patience and the commitment to employees in order to give them the opportunity to learn,” she says. 

About the Author

Peter Fretty | Technology Editor

As a highly experienced journalist, Peter Fretty regularly covers advances in manufacturing, information technology, and software. He has written thousands of feature articles, cover stories, and white papers for an assortment of trade journals, business publications, and consumer magazines.

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