In a landscape of high-speed business and digital transformation spurred on by COVID-19, many companies are facing the quandary of how to obtain the talent they need. Growing it from within is often favored these days, which then raises the question of how to do so.
People Matters asked Grace Cheong, Vice President, HR, APCJ at F5, how she and her team are addressing the skill gaps that disruption so frequently surfaces. F5, a technology company, had been undergoing a major business transformation even prior to COVID-19, so they were fairly well prepared to meet the challenge; here's what Grace shared about their strategy.
Have you found yourself facing skill gaps as a result of the pandemic?
As a company, we are in the midst of a major global transformation as F5 pivots from a legacy hardware business to a more software-based portfolio. As a result, we have identified and surfaced some key skill gaps. While the pandemic might have accelerated the process, the skill gaps were not a result of it.
As we transform, we need to ensure that we are upskilling our workforce accordingly. Especially in the technology space, where new advancements are a norm, our teams need to be agile and be equipped with the right capabilities to adapt to changes effectively. As we extend our reach beyond our traditional foothold in the networking space, our technical teams may need familiarity in other areas like DevOps.
What this means is that beyond rethinking our hiring strategy, we must also look at how we develop our employees as their roles evolve within the company.
What's your strategy for filling these gaps? As a technology company, how are you leveraging tech to do so?
When we identified the gaps, we mapped out a two-pronged approach to ensure F5’s teams have access to the right resources and talents.
Firstly, we reevaluated our recruitment approach. Recognizing the fact that job scopes rarely function in silos, we look for talents with diverse experience across the technology space across different levels of seniority—from job seekers in early stages of their careers to management level. This diversity allows us to bring in new and different perspectives and expertise to the F5 team around the world. In Asia Pacific, we have established partnerships with educational institutions to identify and recruit talent from an early stage.
Secondly, as a technology company, it is in our DNA to ensure we utilize the power of technology for our people. We are constantly investing in the development of our employees through training programs to familiarize them with emerging technologies and build the know-how in their area or function. Especially in this pandemic, we leverage even more online learning tools to provide our employees with flexible learning options. In fact, a global LinkedIn survey found that 74 percent of employees want to learn during their spare time at work. This helps to improve their learning experience in a virtual environment and allows for more efficient use of their time—giving them more control of their learning journey.
Learning inclusivity is emerging as an area of focus in contemporary L&D programs—how are you tackling that?
Inclusivity is at the core of F5’s culture and it is no different when it comes to workplace learning. We ensure that our online learning programs are strategically designed to cater to our employees’ different needs, job functions or learning preferences. On top of that, we also take into account the language that they are most comfortable with as well as different formats (video, audio or written form).
Many of the programs that we roll out can be accessed remotely within our F5 community across the world. Therefore, providing training in our employees’ local languages is crucial to achieve the best learning outcomes. However, it can also be a huge challenge as it requires a significant amount of time and resources to adapt the training content into a specific language or market. As such, when we look for vendors or partners for our training, we prioritize those vendors that are able to provide the language capabilities that we need.
Localizing learning content has been beneficial to driving employee engagement while making sure that they receive a consistent message and the same level of quality across the board.
What do you see as the non-negotiables in workplace learning?
With a rapidly evolving business landscape, the need for upskilling and reskilling is fast becoming a priority for many companies; making L&D a necessity to prepare their staff for the future of work. For F5, we place a strong emphasis on the quality of the content and delivery, as well as ensuring that the content we create will bring value to our employees.
We do not impose hard rules when it comes to workplace learning but believe in giving flexibility in learning and empowering our employees with self-directed learning.
With this in mind, we also expect our employees to approach learning with a growth mindset. For instance, our quarterly Zoom Out Day is aimed at encouraging them to prioritize and set aside time for L&D.
Another important component of learning is the practical application, for example, through collaborating with other teams on projects they have never done before. The essence of L&D is to foster a culture of continuous learning—and that is what makes it non-negotiable for any business.
How is the business leadership working together with the HR function to ensure that F5 has the skills and knowledge necessary for the "next normal"?
As we get more clarity of what the “next normal” is shaping up to be, we also value the importance of F5’s leadership working hand-in-hand with HR to propel the company forward. Our HR team works closely with the different business units to identify their current needs and challenges. This in turn helps inform strategies for our workforce plans.
It is key for our employees to not only understand the company’s vision, but how can they help the company get there.
To help us arrive at a common vision and goal, we need to inculcate an environment that will allow employees to acquire and grow the right skills and deliver impactful work. This is where L&D helps to build that confidence and resilience as we move ahead towards our transformation journey in the next normal.
Providing our workforce with opportunities to grow is always one of our top priorities at F5 and our leadership team has been actively supporting initiatives around employee learning and development. We are committed to empowering employees to thrive in their roles and prepare them for the future of work.