Workplace

Amazon and others use this company to reskill employees

Rebekah Rombom at Flatiron School shared best practices for deploying education benefits that tech workers actually want to engage with.

Man at laptop

Offering education benefits is a critical way to retain and promote the best employees.

Photo: Wes Hicks/Unsplash

Very early in my career, one of my former employers quietly offered its staffers the opportunity to sign up for an online course to learn Python. The company was paying for it, yes, but there was little information about the time commitment or what a person could do if they actually learned Python. Needless to say, I did not sign up for the course, and I do not know Python. Cue Marlon Brando:“I coulda been a contender!”

My personal regrets aside, Rebekah Rombom, the chief business development officer at Flatiron School, said this is the wrong way to go about offering education to workers. The Flatiron School has made a name for itself over the past decade by training and retraining professionals in software engineering, data science, product design and cybersecurity — some of the most in-demand skills in the tech industry today.

For Rombom, who works with Flatiron's corporate partners, the secret to getting employees to upskill, reskill and engage with education benefits is all about providing awareness and setting expectations. In today’s competitive market for tech talent, offering education benefits is a critical way to retain and promote the best employees. Rombom spoke with Protocol about the current landscape of education benefits and what HR managers should consider when deploying these programs.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

How has the demand for training to upskill and reskill employees shifted over the past two to three years?

What we see companies really wanting to do is either supercharge employee engagement across different sub-goals — recruit, retain, engage, increase employee satisfaction — or fill in-demand roles in the targeted way. These technical roles that we train for are some of the hardest to fill [and the] most competitive in the market, with a wide gap between talent supply and employer demand. And in addition to companies who are looking for ways to engage and retain their employees, we've also seen companies say, “Hey, I have these really hard-to-fill roles, and are there folks internally that could be repositioned?”

What are you seeing in terms of the amount of time and support that companies are allowing for their employees to grasp difficult subjects?

We have coaches and instructors who work directly with students, both one-on-one and in small groups and in a class setting. And their job is to help folks navigate through the material in whatever way will help them grasp it best … And so for an organization, a lot of companies have seen a ton of value in that. You can give your employees content, but if you're really looking to make a transformational change, part of that experience is often a guide, a coach and instructor to help you through understanding the content.

We have been running a program in partnership with Amazon where we are retraining warehouse associates for careers in software engineering and cybersecurity. The first round of that program wrapped up late last year with over 270 graduates, warehouse associates that now have the skills to start careers in cybersecurity or software engineering. These are folks with full-time jobs. All of those graduates I just mentioned worked full-time hours at an Amazon facility, so we had to structure a program in partnership with Amazon that would work for those people's lives.

It was 10 months, part-time learning that folks could fit into their work schedule. It had both a large self-driven component where there's content you can access at any time and instructor support that was flexible and could work with your schedule. So things like lectures you could pop in to and conversations with peers and teachers. I think that's one of the benefits of working with an organization that does this.

We've seen students already start their new cybersecurity and software engineering careers, both inside and outside of Amazon, which is really exciting.

What do you tell executives who are weighing the pros and cons and the reality that once you arm people with new skills, they might not stay?

I think it depends on the company's goals. So for a company that's looking to attract, engage and retain over a couple-year period, retraining frontline workers for new skills and then giving an opportunity to path into a new job at the company, or start their new career elsewhere, might be a really good option. For a company that's looking to in a very targeted way transition existing employees into high-demand roles inside that company, we would recommend a different kind of program, something that's maybe smaller and more tailored to the technical skills specifically at that organization.

What are some best practices that HR managers should consider to make sure employees are engaging with their education benefits and also finishing the program?

One thing is awareness and inviting people into the experience. We’ve worked with a lot of students over the years who have really different backgrounds than what has traditionally been considered a technology worker. So inviting folks in to participate in the tech workforce I think is one really important part, and making folks aware that these pathways exist.

And then [No. 2] is expectation-setting. This experience is hard and requires dedication. It's pretty uncomfortable to learn an entirely new set of skills that you don't have, and it requires openness and vulnerability and a lot of hard work. Making people aware of that in the beginning profoundly helps set them on a productive course through something that's going to be kind of a bumpy ride. When we're engaging in these conversations, organizations already know that they're going to need to identify the time and get manager support, and I think that's what HR and learning and development teams tend to be really good at.

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep Reading Show less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep Reading Show less
FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep Reading Show less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins