Human Resources

A New Program for New Programmers

Appian, a low-code vendor, recently launched a LowCode4All, a scholarship program that will cater to developing the low-code skills of marginalised individuals. The program will be launched in stages, with an initial focus on people with a background in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) or that have outdated coding skills.

Initially, eligible participants will include current undergraduate and graduate students, students who have paused their education, unemployed individuals, career-changers, and military veterans. As the program progresses, additional target groups will be added, such as single mothers, women returning to the workforce and disenfranchised groups. Low-code platforms represent a particularly powerful option for bringing people into the technology industry, and providing education and certification to disenfranchised citizens is both a socially sound policy and a way to directly address the skill shortage in software development.

This round of the program includes distributing 1,000 scholarships to provide training and certification to marginalised communities, teaching them low-code development practices. This not only benefits the individuals receiving the training, but also addresses the critical scarcity of skilled software professionals. Obviously, it also benefits Appian by ensuring a ready supply of Appian-skilled staff.

In short, the program aims at helping people that have historically seen employment opportunities limited to the lowest paying jobs, or who have experienced generational poverty, which may have hindered them from entering the technology workforce.

The fully-funded program includes a training program, trial examinations, mentoring and employment opportunities through the Appian network. Applicants will need to pass a final examination before becoming an Appian Certified Associate Developer.

Importantly, the program also includes post-certification mentorship with the vendor’s engineering and professional services teams to ensure they are ready for employment.

In an interview with IBRS and Appian’s executive, Appian described the plan as a way of ‘democratising access to a low-code career by reducing financial barriers’. Aside from supporting the scholarship recipients’ low-code platform certification, it will also assist them with job placement. IBRS notes that starting rates for low-code specialists average around US$70,000, which is significant, even life-changing for some candidates targeted by the program, but still very cost-effective application development (which is one reason why low-code is gaining such traction). Given that the people being targeted for the program may have been at poverty level wages, such employment opportunities are genuinely life-changing.

Other tech companies have also launched similar corporate initiatives for low-income learners to earn their certifications. For instance, Microsoft offers the Women at Microsoft Scholarship for high-school women and non-binary applicants, while Salesforce has established the Salesforce Foundation that supports global educational initiatives.

IBRS believes that these programs can help improve diversity by nurturing qualified developers. Women returning to work and young women are both targets for these types of programs. In addition, the programs can help address underemployment within the ageing population and low-income communities. They have real economic and social benefits.

Observations and Lessons from Appian’s Proposed Model

During IBRS’s discussion with Appian’s executives, several contentious issues were raised about the structure of the program. While the intentions of the Appian scholarship program are to support vulnerable members of society, especially those whose income opportunities are limited, IBRS raised the following:

 1. Educational Mentorship is Different from Career Mentorship

Appian’s mentorship program commences once the applicant gets certified after the final exam. However, a true educational mentorship program fosters prioritising first the development of the individual over his or her identity as a certified skilled worker. This means that the mentorship has to be set right during the practice exams instead of leaving them to figure out coding exercises on their own until they experience burnout prior to the final certification test. 

Appian has taken this advice on board and will be expanding mentorship within the program over time.

 2. Mental Health Concerns Among Learners

The target scholarship recipients are individuals with stressful backgrounds compared to typical university scholarship applicants. For instance, U.S. army veterans or service members who were recently discharged and intend to go back to the civilian workforce may still have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or simply be facing severe financial stress. Many academic and clinical literature has shown that such stressors manifest in dysfunctions when transitioning to student life. 

In addition, the pandemic has affected the mental health of employees who initially took their retrenchment in their stride but have become more distressed by the situation. Anxiety is high among this group of individuals.

IBRS recommends that a combination of tutoring and mentorship, with a special consideration on mental health issues, be instituted to ensure that the trainees can remain committed to fulfilling the requirements of the program. Most educational networks (TAFEs, universities, K12 schools) have mental health professionals that support students in need. Vendor-driven programs - especially those targeting marginalised individuals - will need similar support.

3. Time Flexible

Many of the marginalised individuals targeted by these types of programs will be time poor, or have commitments well outside of their control. For example, low-income, single parents may not be able to fully commit to the training in a given time period. Many of them have inflexible schedules and would have to balance their jobs and training while making time for their children because they cannot afford daycare facilities. 

Any programs that aim to support the marginalised will need to accommodate a great deal of flexibility in how and when training is conducted, timing and approach to trial exams, and even the certification exam. This means any mentors involved in the program will also need sufficient training and freedom to work with students at sometimes inconsistent times. A balance must be struck - but exactly what that balance looks like will depend upon the type of training and subject matter.

 4. One-Time Examination

In relation to the points raised above, the drawback to an all-or-nothing certification exam is highly concerning given that these students have to deal with non-academic issues and mental health problems. A pass-or-fail mentality can be demotivating since not everyone can be at the same pace in terms of building their low-code skills.

In these situations, the exam may likely have a poor predictive quality if the performance of all examinees are considered on their first attempt, due to anxiety and lack of focus initially, even if students had engaged with practice exams prior to the final test.

IBRS recommends that vendors implementing such programs establish a ‘safety net’ for their students. In its simplest form, students can be assured that they can retake the final examination a number of times to prevent further anxiety around whether they can pass or not. This can be done by requiring them to do some or all of the curriculum again before being allowed to retake the test.

5. Forward-Looking Approach

Such programs need to be evaluated at least annually to assess the quality and success of the program over time. Without formal evaluation, such programs can be dangerous - actually harming marginalised individuals - and the vendors cannot identify areas for improvement.

Conclusion

Appian is engaged in what should be a powerful win-win-win program:

  • a win for society by creating new employment pathways for marginalised people, in a way that government programs rarely provides
  • a win for the ICT industry that is critically short of developers
  • a win for Appian, as it expands the availability of workforce ready talent

Conclusion:

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised expectations for improved organisational processes, new policies, and evolving workplace habits. Armed with experiences from 2020 and 2021, many (not all) knowledge workers now prefer to work for organisations that can give them tools to do their jobs remotely and effectively. What is often overlooked in this discussion is the increased need to consider diversity and inclusion in a hybrid work enablement process.

Leaders have critical decisions to make in relation to both hiring and the creation of a workplace that embraces diversity.

IBRSiQ is a database of client inquiries and is designed to get you talking to our advisors about these topics in the context of your organisation in order to provide tailored advice for your needs.

Conclusion:

Employee empowerment is the basic principle behind activity-based working (ABW). In order to make ABW work, a company’s culture needs to shift from command and control to trust, responsibility, and empowerment. As organisations plan their return-to-office strategy, an opportunity exists to decide if workplace defaults will continue, or the lessons learned from working through a pandemic will be incorporated to accommodate a more holistic approach to getting work done.

Conclusion:

As detailed in IBRS’s 2021 Trends report, the vaccine shot will not end sporadic lockdowns. Organisations should routinely review workplace safety plans and update them based on current public health guidelines. Protective measures should still be in place.

If not already established, organisations should set up a workplace COVID-19 working group, which should include ICT representation. The working group should ensure the company’s compliance with public health recommendations, plan education, and determine how digital services will support the plan.

The Australian context for workplace vaccination policies are complicated by different privacy, duty of care and other workplace and safety regulations. This paper provides an overview of the policies that may impact management decisions as of June 2021.

Conclusion

Whilst many enterprises have successfully implemented a bring your own device (BYOD) mobile policy, many have put this in the too-hard basket fearing a human resources (HR) backlash.

Revisiting the workplace mobile policy can reduce operating costs associated with device loss, breakages, and unwarranted device allocation. IT service delivery operating costs have been increasing annually as more sophisticated and expensive handsets hit the market. Meanwhile, mobile applications are creating increased security concerns which add to asset management and monitoring costs.

Now is the time to take stock and transform the organisation’s mobility space by creating a shared responsibility with staff. Mobile phone allowances are fast becoming the norm with a multitude of different models now being adopted. Choose the one that delivers cost savings across the board as there are both direct and indirect costs associated with each option.

Conclusion

Major increases in demand for ICT and business professional employment in the year 2020 have been reported, despite the economic downturn. These increases are important to note as they signal a post-pandemic increase in ICT investment in the year 2021 and in future years to support enhanced business systems and demand (user) computing.

To complicate matters a survey of Australian CIOs indicated that it will be more challenging to find qualified technology employees in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic market conditions. Unless recruitment programs are well thought out, the inability to recruit the right people will stifle plans to take advantage of ICT growth opportunities in 2021.

Conclusion

At 21.7 per cent, staff attrition within the Australian Information Technology (IT) sector is unsustainably high. Staff recognition can be defined as the action or process of recognising employees for the work completed through words and gratitude1. Over the past five years, globally, organisations have increased their focus and investment on employee reward and recognition.

However, despite this increased focus, research shows that recognition is not occurring as often as it should be, as only 61 per cent of employees feel appreciated in the workplace1. Research also shows that even when recognition is provided for employees, it is not executed well or enacted correctly 1/3 of the time.

Organisational development and human resource studies demonstrate that reward and recognition programs commonly do not resonate or hit the mark for employees, if they are: not authentic and sincere2, only provided in a single context, or are based on award criteria that is overly complex or unattainable3.

This paper covers how leaders and organisations can recognise and then subsequently avoid these three common pitfalls, to maximise the investment into employee reward and recognition programs and efforts.

Conclusion: Many organisations are engaged in implementing digital transformation programs to provide enhanced customer services, e. g. with new products or to reduce operating costs, or both. Unfortunately, many programs fail, sometimes repeatedly, until they achieve their set objectives. What is important though is when failure occurs, use the lessons learned to try again.

Delivering a transformed organisation is hard as it is inevitably accompanied by:

  • Redesigning business processes to meet today’s business imperatives
  • Implementing enhanced information systems
  • Encouraging employees to acquire new skills and be innovative
  • Actively minimising the business risks

Conclusion

DevOps, business intelligence (BI) and data, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) are all driving rapid change within IT departments. The challenge will be finding Cloud certified people to meet the rising demand.

Leaders have two main choices. Upskill their existing teams, or embark on a recruitment campaign that brings in Cloud certified professionals to manage Cloud migration and provide the ongoing support and optimisation needed to bring the full value of Cloud to IT operations.

For organisations who suddenly realise how far they are behind on the Cloud value curve, pressure will mount to deliver results quickly. Make sure staff are certified and ready to address your hybrid or multi-Cloud environments.

Conclusion: Making a business case for human capital management (HCM) solutions can be undervalued by senior leadership who do not share the same perspective as the teams involved in the proposal. Securing their commitment through highlighting pain points and respective solutions can build momentum for digital transformation.