Work Shift Explainer
Tech employers look to grow their own and grow the field
One after another, the likes of Microsoft, IBM, Amazon, and Google have announced plans to help millions of workers around the globe develop new tech skills.
Consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimates that demand for technological skills, including advanced IT and programming, will grow faster than any other skill set in the United States and worldwide coming out of the pandemic.
And because of automation and other employment trends, some 5.9 million Americans will need to jump from low-paying or middle-wage jobs to higher-paying ones by 2030. Many of those new jobs will be in tech.
So, expect more big corporate investments in tech training. In this explainer, we go in depth on a piece of that market: training designed to help people enter or switch into tech jobs.
So, when we say “company training” or “employer-based training,” we aren’t talking about programs designed to upgrade the skills of existing tech workers, or digital skills training for employees in nontech roles like marketing and sales. We also don’t mean free college programs and other education benefits offered by tech companies, like Amazon, if they aren’t targeted to tech jobs.
But we are talking about:
- Free college and other education benefits programs that focus, at least in part, on preparing employees for tech jobs.
- Targeted company training that is intended to move nontech employees, often those in front-line roles at risk of automation, into higher-paying tech roles within the same company.
- Corporate-designed courses, certificates, and certifications that are intended to prepare their nontech employees and the broader public for roles in tech.
We looked in depth at employer-sponsored apprenticeships, another growing path into good tech jobs, in this explainer.
The big idea: Companies are putting serious money into training both because of an overall need for more talent in tech and because the industry has severe challenges with equity and diversity. Much of the focus is on growing the skills—and platform-specific proficiencies—that would power a strong customer base. Salesforce’s Trailhead programs in technical fields, for example, are focused on developing administrators and developers skilled in working with the Salesforce platform, not just general coders and IT specialists.
“We can’t afford not to,” Kelly says. “This is investing in our customers and our future customers.”
Work Shift Explains: Tech Pathways
This Work Shift Explainer is part of a series on evolving and growing pathways into good tech jobs.
Part 1: The reboot in tech training. Many of the jobs in the new tech economy are still being filled like they were in the 1990s. But that’s starting to change—and here, we take a look at the new and growing pathways into good tech jobs.
Part 2: Apprenticeships grow into tech. Registered apprenticeship programs in tech have grown more than 41 percent in the past year. In this explainer, we take a deeper look at tech apprenticeships, with a focus on how they work, who pays for them, and who they benefit.
Part 3: A new language for CS degrees. Degree programs are a tried-and-true path into the top jobs in tech, but many learners get lost along the way. Now, programs are evolving to rethink what it means to work, learn, and make it in tech. In this explainer, we take a look at diversity in computer science, the ROI of degree programs, and what’s changing.
Part 4: Making sense of tech bootcamps, coding schools, and on-ramps. As their popularity has grown, bootcamps have become a catchall term for short tech training. In this explainer, we disentangle the world of bootcamps, coding schools, and on-ramps.
How it works
Company-based training designed to move people into tech roles falls into two primary categories.
- Grow the industry: These investments are focused on expanding the overall tech workforce and especially on developing the talent pool for Big Tech’s core customers. Generally, the companies offering this kind of training will never employ the people who benefit from it. In some cases, though, companies are training their existing employees—especially front-line workers who are at risk of automation—to move into tech roles at their suppliers and other companies.
Walmart and Amazon, for example, offer training for cashiers, stockers, warehouse employees that would enable them to move into high-demand tech roles, potentially within the company but more likely outside it.
- Grow your own: These investments are focused on developing the talent pipeline for tech companies themselves, and they tend to be more heavily oriented toward equity and diversity. Training in this area may be focused on developing and bringing in new talent, or on helping existing employees move from front-line to high-demand tech roles.
One of the more popular forms of “grow your own” training is tech apprenticeships, which we covered in a separate explainer here. Corporate-based training also often involves partnerships with nonprofits, for-profit bootcamps, and, increasingly, colleges.
- Adobe worked with General Assembly, for instance, to develop its Adobe Digital Academy, which provides a noncollege path into tech roles at the company.
- Accenture worked with i.c. stars, a nonprofit on-ramp, on its skills-based hiring initiative, which eventually grew into an apprenticeship program and network.
- And company-designed curricula, like cloud training from AWS or Google’s Career Certificates, are increasingly embedded in college programs.
So, all that’s to say that there often aren’t sharp lines between where corporate-based training starts and ends. (You can read more about apprenticeships; degree pathways; and on-ramps, coding schools, and bootcamps in our other explainers.)
Employers (mostly): You’d think this one would be easy—employer-based training is paid for by employers. That is largely the case for “grow your own” training at companies, but less so for education and training designed to expand the overall talent pool. Some companies fully fund that training, often through their corporate social responsibility arms, but others charge low fees for learners or pair their investment with government or nonprofit funding to expand its reach.
- IBM, for example, hopes to retrain or upskill 30 million people worldwide by 2030. To do so, it’s partnering with nonprofits and other organizations to get SkillsBuild—the company’s open-access platform for tech-related learning and certificates—into the hands of more learners.
One of those partners is New Profit, a venture philanthropy that runs a Future of Work Grand Challenge and embeds its work in federally funded American Job Centers and state workforce boards.
Learners: Many companies charge learners a fee for their programs. Amazon Web Services offers free education and training on cloud computing, machine learning, and other specialties, but it charges for its certification exams. The company’s foundational cloud practitioner exam, designed for those looking to break into the field, costs $100. Google Career Certificates cost $39 a month, or about $300 for six months of part-time study through the Coursera platform, plus a $149 exam fee. Both companies increasingly are partnering with nonprofits and community colleges to make their certifications or certificates free for certain learners.
And Google last month launched a $100 million fund that will cover the up-front costs of training and wraparound supports for 20,000 learners over the next 10 years, but the company will expect those individuals to pay back a portion of the costs once they land a job paying $40,000 or more a year. Loan payments will be capped at about $100 a month over five years. It’s a new twist on income-share agreements.
“Grow your own” education and training at companies is designed for employees looking to move into tech roles, particularly front-line workers who are in roles that are at risk of being automated. “Grow the field” training, on the other hand, targets young adults and career changers looking to break into tech. Increasingly, it is designed to open up noncollege pathways into well-paying tech jobs and focuses on learners without degrees.
The intended reach of many corporate tech programs is huge. IBM, as noted above, hopes to train 30 million people across the world by 2030, including several million in the United States. AWS plans to offer free cloud training to 29M people globally by 2025. And Microsoft is partnering with community colleges across the country—providing free curriculum and faculty training—to help train 250,000 people for the U.S. cybersecurity workforce by that same year.
Numbers + diversity: The companies’ goal is not only to bring large numbers of people into the talent pipeline, but to diversify tech. In cybersecurity, for example, one in three jobs in the United States are unfilled, and more than 82 percent of workers are men. Eighty percent are white.
But as ambitious as the goals are, companies are often vague about whom they end up training.
- IBM, for example, declined to give a specific number for how many people it planned to train in the United States.
- Grow with Google, the tech giant’s training arm, says more than 70,000 learners have earned one of its Career Certificates since they launched in 2018. But the company doesn’t provide demographics on those completers, including how many of those people already were working in tech or had a degree.
Corporate training is designed to prepare people for a wide range of jobs, including IT specialists, software developers, and UX designers. Preparation to be a cyber or cloud specialist is also common.
Big tech companies don’t say how many of their certificate and certification completers they hire themselves, but generally, the programs are designed to develop tech talent for other companies. Grow with Google, for example, has an employer network of 150 companies—such as Deloitte, Ford, and Target—that have committed to considering certificate completers for tech roles.
The headline goals for company-based training are big—literally training millions of people—but it’s hard to pin down how that translates to jobs.
- AWS says that 92 percent of IT professionals report holding at least one of its certifications. But it’s not clear whether those certifications open up access to jobs or whether most of those certifications are held by people who already have computing degrees and work experience.
- Grow with Google’s learner surveys have found that 75 percent of learners report an “improvement in their career” within six months of completing a certificate—but it’s not clear how many landed new jobs in tech.
- In touting the benefits of its certifications, Microsoft points to a 2021 survey by Pearson Vue looking at the value of IT certifications broadly. It found that 36 percent of certificate earners got new jobs and 28 percent saw raises—but 73 percent of learners pursuing certification were doing so to upskill and enhance performance in their existing job, not to enter IT.
More data on how employer-designed training impacts job pathways may be emerging soon, however. Both JFF and MDRC, research and implementation specialists, are looking more closely at the impact of Google Career Certificates.
- Starting in 2018, JFF worked with Google.org to embed its certificates at 100 community colleges, and the organization has been tracking the outcomes. It analyzed learners and put together a guide on the five types who are most likely to benefit from the certificates.
- MDRC will be tracking the impact of Google’s new Career Certificates Fund.
Bringing it all together: Workday
Eight years ago, Workday decided that if it wanted to get serious about attracting new kinds of candidates, it had to change how it hired. The company began building an educate-to-hire program—what it came to call Opportunity Onramps—first with transitioning military members and then with young adults and older workers looking to re-enter careers.
The program has been very successful at moving participants into full-time roles, says Carrie Varoquiers, chief philanthropy officer at Workday.
- About 70 percent of young adults that come through the on-ramp program end up being hired, and more than 80 percent of the older adults do.
- By comparison, the company hired about 60 percent of the college students who went through its traditional internship program.
By 2023, the company plans to fill 20 percent of its full-time early to midcareer roles with Opportunity Onramps hires. Many, though not all, of those jobs will be in tech roles—some Onramps participants end up in marketing or sales, for example.
To facilitate that hiring, the Opportunity Onramps program recently moved from the philanthropy arm of the company to central human resources.
“This kind of hiring is not philanthropy,” says Varoquiers. “It benefits the bottom line, and we needed to operationalize it within the business.”
From the beginning, buy-in from key executives and hiring managers has been key, she says. Not that it’s easy to get managers to change their practices.
For one, at a rapidly growing company like Workday, recruiters and hiring managers feel pressure to move quickly. It is both easier and lower risk to hire traditional college-educated candidates through the standard procedures.
“When we ask people to take away that filter, now we’re asking you to look at people who have nothing on their résumé that’s familiar to you,” Varoquiers says.
With time, hires made through the Opportunity Onramps program have become more routine. Workday has also changed its compensation practices to ensure that recruiters, who are paid in part based on placements, aren’t being penalized for doing skills-based hiring, which can be more time-consuming.
The company also has brought in key partners along the way. It works with Year Up to recruit and help train the young adults in its Onramps program. Participants spend six months in training provided by the nonprofit Year Up and then do a six-month internship at Workday. While it’s not classified as an apprenticeship, the arrangement is similar.
Three years ago, the company extended the program to its customers. Workday pays for Year Up training that is designed to prepare learners for roles as HR information system analysts with expertise in Workday software. Year Up then matches participants with Workday’s customers for six-month internships and ideally a full-time position after that.
Workday also has hosted events on the on-ramps concept and is leading an effort to get employers in the Bay Area to hire at least 5,000 people who gained skills through alternative routes by 2024.
“We’re encouraging other companies to do the same and think of this as part of their DEI work,” Varoquiers says.