• PTP Chicago

How and Why IT Executives Must Upskill Themselves in 2020

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

“I believe companies are going to start valuing training... and if your company doesn’t, it behooves you to figure out a way to gain those skills”

- Eric Lannert, CTO at Cloudbakers

Employer training was once a fundamental component of most human resources departments at large organizations. In recent years, however, companies across the world have drastically reduced their spending in nearly all aspects of learning and development.

The future of work puts the responsibility of learning both technical and leadership skills in the hands of the employee. Fortunately, the number of resources one has to learn new skills has grown exponentially both in terms of quality and quantity. The ability to upskill oneself is now more than accessible provided the candidate or employee is willing to look for it.

The decline in employer training

"The program at Continental bank resulted in... some 40 CIOs. It focused on business solutions not necessarily technical solutions. Unfortunately, it's not around anymore."

- John Fisher, former CIO and current Founder of RethinkingIT

Since 1998, employer-funded training has steadily declined worldwide by over 20% (1). The pace is quickening in the United States as the total expenditure on workplace training dropped from $93.6 billion in 2017 to $83 billion in 2019 (2). This $10.6 billion decline in on-the-job training comes despite research showing the benefits that properly trained, engaged, and growing employees bring the company. 

Many current c-suite IT executives credit learning and development (L&D) programs from early in their careers with paving their way to their success. Unfortunately, as John mentioned above, many of them no longer exist. 

What has replaced the previous investment in employee training in the current corporate environment? Technology has changed and evolved but employee learning has shifted course. It is as important as ever but the onus of responsibility is no longer on the employer.


Learning new tools.

Obtaining new certifications. 

The responsibility for these professional skills growth has shifted to the employee’s hands. 

The shift in ownership over skills

“Find out what’s really important, and find out what you’re good at, and then you capitalize on it.”

- Mark Griesbaum, Former CIO/COO and Managing Director at Affinity4U

The tech stacks used by IT companies change as quickly and frequently as the tools themselves. Each feature update, bug fix, and code optimization results in a new version and, quite often, comes with a new skill to be learned. While employer demands for specialization increase it becomes impossible for any single team, or individual, to know it all regardless of their knowledge or experience.

“The new world of work is about skills, not necessarily degrees.” says Jaime Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase (4). Chase recently invested $350 million into “Future of Work” programs designed to teach deeply technical and highly specialized skills to their employees. They, however, are the anomaly. 

The need for life-long learners is now a requirement for most employers. It’s one of the many key professional qualities that senior IT Executives look for as we’ve discussed before in our Careers and Conversations series. An open mind and willingness to learn is only the starting point. A passionate hunger and desire to independently be upskilling is now a minimum requirement for most IT hiring managers. 

What resources exist for those willing to do it on their own?

The explosion of self-taught educational resources

“The great thing about growing your own career is then you’re able to help others grow theirs.”

- Mark Griesbaum, Former CIO/COO and Managing Director at Affinity4U

Though many outstanding employer-funded training programs have disappeared, a plethora of both in-person and online resources have emerged. From Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) thoroughly covering broad subjects to specialized certifications and MicroMasters degree, nearly every skill is now accessible to anyone with internet. 

In-person, developmental organizations such as i.c.stars in Chicago provide knowledge and opportunities to many who otherwise wouldn’t have access. The benefits of these in-person programs are incalculable. They not only teach technical skills but provide leadership training, business experience, a platform to demonstrate one's abilities, and access to community and IT leaders. 

At the time of writing, over 500 Ivy-league courses are currently available free and online. The schools offering these MOOCs include Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and many more. Over 20% of the courses are technical in nature while another 22% are focused on business. A complete and regularly updated list can be found here

Some universities, such as MIT and Columbia, offer “Micro Degrees” through platforms such as edX. The cost is extremely cheap when compared to traditional 4-year degree programs. Earning a MicroMasters in Data Science or MicroBachelors in Artificial Intelligence has never been more accessible.  

Complete guides, practice labs, and often even the exam itself, are available for nearly any technical certification you could image. Cybrary provides free courses for CompTIA Security+, Certified Ethical Hacking (CEH), CIISP and many more. Some certification boards, such as CompTIA, have recently opened their testing procedures to include online exams. A willing student no longer has to leave their home to learn and earn that certification that could propel their career to new heights. 

Many platforms offer specialized, skill-specific learning paths and their own, industry-recognized certifications. Coursera houses Google’s IT Support certification. Khan Academy explains any mathematical topic you could imagine. LinkedIn Learning offers access to thousands of learning paths, both broad and specialized, for a small monthly fee.

For-profit companies such as IBM offer free, specialized certification courses. Through their Cognitive Class program, one can learn topics ranging from Data Science and Machine Learning to Blockchain and Cloud Computing. They go further and also offer verifiable certification badges upon completion free of charge. 

Upskilling is in the hands of the individual

"It's possible to train people from any walk of life to become programmers or business analysts or anything related to computers."

- John Fisher, former CIO and current Founder of RethinkingIT

Both the future of work and the future of education are currently undergoing a transformation. While employers provide less and less training, access to knowledge becomes more freely available. The responsibility of upskilling is now more accessible than ever, but it’s the responsibility of the candidate or employee to take ownership of their life-long learning.

Join Eric, John, Mark, and Tulika for the premiere of

episode 3 on Tuesday, June 23rd

Careers and Conversations:

Journey to the C-Suite

Part 1

About the Company:

Peterson Technology Partners (PTP) has been Chicago's premier Information Technology (IT) staffing, consulting, and recruiting firm for over 22+ years. Named after Chicago's historic Peterson Avenue, PTP has built its reputation by developing lasting relationships, leading digital transformation, and inspiring technical innovation throughout Chicagoland.

Based in Park Ridge, IL, PTP's 250+ employees have a narrow focus on a single market (Chicago) and expertise in 4 innovative technical areas;

  • Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning/Data Science

  • Robotics/Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

  • Cyber/Data/Information Security

  • DevOps/DevSecOps

PTP exists to ensure that all of our partners (clients and candidates alike) make the best hiring and career decisions.

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