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.

Workplace

What the economic downturn means for pay packages

The war for talent rages on, but dynamics are shifting back to the employers.

Compensation packages could start to look different as companies reshuffle the balance of cash and equity.

Illustration: Nuthawut Somsuk/Getty Images

The market is turning. Tech stocks are slumping — which is bad news for employees — and even industry powerhouses are slowing hiring and laying people off. Tech talent is still in high demand, but compensation packages could start to look different as companies recruit.

“It’s a little bit like whiplash,” compensation consultant Ashish Raina said of the downturn. Raina, who mainly works with startups that have 200 to 800 employees, previously worked as the director of Talent at Index Ventures and head of Compensation and Talent Analytics at Box. “I do think there’s going to be an interesting reckoning in terms of pay increases going forward, how that pay is delivered.”

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Sponsored Content

Why the digital transformation of industries is creating a more sustainable future

Qualcomm’s chief sustainability officer Angela Baker on how companies can view going “digital” as a way not only toward growth, as laid out in a recent report, but also toward establishing and meeting environmental, social and governance goals.

Three letters dominate business practice at present: ESG, or environmental, social and governance goals. The number of mentions of the environment in financial earnings has doubled in the last five years, according to GlobalData: 600,000 companies mentioned the term in their annual or quarterly results last year.

But meeting those ESG goals can be a challenge — one that businesses can’t and shouldn’t take lightly. Ahead of an exclusive fireside chat at Davos, Angela Baker, chief sustainability officer at Qualcomm, sat down with Protocol to speak about how best to achieve those targets and how Qualcomm thinks about its own sustainability strategy, net zero commitment, other ESG targets and more.

Keep Reading Show less
Chris Stokel-Walker

Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of "YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars." His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.

Policy

How 'Zuck Bucks' saved the 2020 election — and fueled the Big Lie

The true story of how Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s $419 million donation became the 2020 election’s most enduring conspiracy theory.

Mark Zuckerberg is smack in the center of one of the 2020 election’s multitudinous conspiracies.

Illustration: Mike McQuade; Photos: Getty Images

If Mark Zuckerberg could have imagined the worst possible outcome of his decision to insert himself into the 2020 election, it might have looked something like the scene that unfolded inside Mar-a-Lago on a steamy evening in early April.

There in a gilded ballroom-turned-theater, MAGA world icons including Kellyanne Conway, Corey Lewandowski, Hope Hicks and former president Donald Trump himself were gathered for the premiere of “Rigged: The Zuckerberg Funded Plot to Defeat Donald Trump.”

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Fintech

From frenzy to fear: Trading apps grapple with anxious investors

After riding the stock-trading wave last year, trading apps like Robinhood have disenchanted customers and jittery investors.

Retail stock trading is still an attractive business, as shown by the news that crypto exchange FTX is dipping its toes in the market by letting some U.S. customers trade stocks.

Photo: Lam Yik/Bloomberg via Getty Images

For a brief moment, last year’s GameStop craze made buying and selling stocks cool, even exciting, for a new generation of young investors. Now, that frenzy has turned to fear.

Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev pointed to “a challenging macro environment” marked by rising prices and interest rates and a slumping market in a call with analysts explaining his company’s lackluster results. The downturn, he said, was something “most of our customers have never experienced in their lifetimes.”

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Enterprise

Broadcom is reportedly in talks to acquire VMware

It hasn't been long since it left the ownership of Dell Technologies.

Photo: Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Broadcom is said to be in discussions with VMware to buy the cloud computing company for as much as $50 billion.

Keep Reading Show less
Jamie Condliffe

Jamie Condliffe ( @jme_c) is the executive editor at Protocol, based in London. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, he worked on the business desk at The New York Times, where he edited the DealBook newsletter and wrote Bits, the weekly tech newsletter. He has previously worked at MIT Technology Review, Gizmodo, and New Scientist, and has held lectureships at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London. He also holds a doctorate in engineering from the University of Oxford.

Latest Stories
Bulletins