Highlights from the ATD Tech Skills Gap Panel

By Alexandra Levit

The technology skills gap is a well-known issue in American employment circles. Yet, research tends to focus on only one aspect of the problem – the shortage of hard tech skills like programming and information security management. But there is another, perhaps even more critical dimension to the technology skills gap1: the lack of applied tech skills in the workplace.

As we’ve talked about previously, when an individual has applied tech skills,2 they can integrate people, processes, data, and devices to effectively inform business strategy and plan for and react to unanticipated shifts in direction.

At the annual Association for Training and Development (ATD) conference3 in San Diego last week, I moderated an applied technology skills gap panel with John Aquilino, Manager, Skills Gap Training and Services, DeVryWORKS; Jessica DiCicco, VP, Learning & Development, Randstad; Jackie Linton, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, City of Philadelphia; Kristen Switzer, Sr. People Development Manager, Taylor Morrison; and Andre Walker, VP of Training & Development, Securitas Security Services.

Applied Technology Skills: Why Now?

I began by asking the panel why applied technology skills have become so critical in business. “Everyone in our company, whether they are in construction, purchasing, accounting, or customer service, touches a technology system. They need to understand these systems to do their jobs well,” said Switzer. “We are also offering training on a variety of technology platforms that require employees to come up to speed.”

Next, I asked John to comment on how his cross-industry employer partners are equipping their workforces with applied technology skills. “Access to training and development is not the issue,” he responded. “It’s much more about how those skills are curated and aligned to arrive at actionable outcomes.”

Panelists shared that their organizations are searching for and using solutions that help their employees develop “soft skills” related to technology adoption such as critical thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving. “Applying knowledge of Big Data, digital infrastructure, and integrated processes is essential to effective decision-making,” said Aquilino. “Companies are infusing learning experiences with technology, so employees can leverage the familiarity of working with machines in their daily roles.”

Identifying and Fostering Skills

I then wanted to know the specific techniques the panelists have used to identify essential applied technology skills in applicants. Linton had much to say on this topic.  “We release open data sets and attend meet-ups so we can inform our community about various technology needs. We try to meet people who can translate and communicate the value of data, and make it relevant, interesting, and understandable to our constituents, she said.

We also addressed how panelists are developing and updating these skills in their current workforces. “Our Municipal Innovation Academy teaches employees about innovative ways to apply technology to solving business problems.  Candidates come from multiple disciplines and various levels across city government and work together to solve policy and programmatic challenges through a shared process,” said Linton. “We also have an innovation fund focused on improving processes through technology.  Projects are approved by application, and employees receive funding and recognition for their efforts.”

“Employees learn applied technology skills best through experience and ongoing engagement, so we provide them the latest technologies though our SecuritasVision platform, and we’ve instituted a cross-mentorship program that bridges the technology knowledge gap between various generations,” said Walker. “We’ve also partnered with institutions such as DeVry University to embed technology-related skills into all types of degree and certificate programs.”

“At Randstad, we create bite-sized training videos that are easy for employees to consume,” added DiCicco. “We also roll out any training from the top down so that leaders support their teams in being the early adopters of new technologies.”

How to Get Started

We closed the panel with a discussion of the first steps L&D professionals should take if they haven’t yet added applied technology skills to their mix. “First look at your employee population, and then review your current technology. Askyourself: how can we train employees to maximize those investments?  Who do we have at the executive level who can champion the use of these technologies?” said DiCicco.

Added Walker: “Focus on giving your employees the applicable tools to do their jobs and use assessments to pinpoint learning opportunities and create individual development plans around applied technology skills.”



1 Career Advisory Board, 2017, CareerAdvisoryBoard.org, Technology Skills Gap Survey, accessed on the Internet at http://www.careeradvisoryboard.org/research/technology-skills-gap-survey/ (visited May 8, 2018)

2 Career Advisory Board, 2018, CareerAdvisoryBoard.org, Annual Survey Reveals Importance of Applied Technology Skills to Employers, accessed on the Internet at http://www.careeradvisoryboard.org/content/dam/dvu/www_careeradvisoryboard_org/cab-jpi-release2018.pdf  (visited May 8, 2018)

3 ATD, 2018, ATDConference.TD,org, ATD International Conference and Exhibition, accessed on the Internet at http://atdconference.td.org/ (visited May 8, 2018)


About the Author

Alexandra Levit is the author of nine published books on careers and the workplace, including the international bestseller They Don’t Teach Corporate in College. A former columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, she has consulted with dozens of organizations around the world about issues facing modern institutions and their employees.