Booz Allen Hamilton feeds employees’ appetite for development

Booz Allen Hamilton’s emerging certification program pays big bucks for new skills — and employees are eager to participate.

When customers come to you for advice on the toughest technical challenges in today’s market, you better make sure your workforce has the knowledge and skills to meet their needs.

It’s a challenge that Booz Allen Hamilton faces every day. The global consultancy helps Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and military organizations defend against cyberattacks, adopt analytics capabilities, and manage massive digital transformation efforts. To meet their needs, they must constantly hire and train staff in some of the most complex and hard-to-find skills on the market.

“Our people have a huge appetite for development,” says Jason Jury, cybersecurity learning and development manager for BAH, which has 29,000 employees in 80 offices. This appetite for learning and ever-changing customer expectations drive BAH to constantly reinvent the way learning takes place in the organization.

The latest iteration of their learning environment is the Emerging Certification Program, which takes learning incentives to a whole new level. “Our goal is to motivate and reward employees to build highly mobile skill sets in critical areas,” said Jim Hemgen, Director and CEO.

The program targets high-demand skills where BAH needs to build technical capacity, offering $5,000 in cash and $10,000 in unlimited stock options to qualified employees who complete the training. That may seem like a generous incentive, but senior management fully supports the idea, Hemgen says. “It’s a lot cheaper than finding those skills on the market,” he says.

Four essential skills

For the first iteration of the program, which launched in late 2021, BAH analyzed job postings across the company and surveyed business unit leaders about the hardest-to-find skills in the job market. talents. Through this analysis, they identified four certification topics:

  • AWS and Microsoft Azure certifications.
  • DevSecOps certification.
  • Databricks Data Science Certification.
  • Cyber ​​Threat Hunter Certifications.

The company then analyzed the skills and experiences of employees across the company to identify those who had skills adjacent to these certification areas – for example, a software engineer who could become a DevSecOps expert. To ensure diversity, the analysis process was fully anonymized, with all names removed. “We only wanted to focus on skills and qualifications,” says Hemgen.

They also partnered with HackerRank and internal SMEs to develop a series of assessment questions to test the core competencies of these employees in order to identify the most promising candidates for the program.

Through this analysis, the company identified 605 employees with the skills to participate. The L&D department sent them emails explaining the program and what was required, and inviting them to complete the assessment. If they were successful – and their career managers approved their participation – they could enroll in one of the training programs.

Hemgen admits he was a bit concerned that some of their career managers were being pushed back. The training would require participants to take time off on their billable projects and could potentially put them on the path to another position on a different team. But his fears did not materialize. “Every manager said yes, at every level,” he says.

Of the 605 employees contacted, 449 completed the assessment and 400 participated in the training, which ran from January to March 2022.

Each of the four training tracks includes a series of instructor-led, cohort-based, live learning sessions. “It’s very effective when employees can share the learning experience with their colleagues,” says Hemgen. “We find many tangible benefits in making these connections.”

Participants also had access to online courses and practice labs through Udemy, the company’s learning platform. Much of this training took place outside working hours. Participants were required to complete 40 to 100 hours of live, self-paced training before taking the exam.

Focused on the future

One of the attendees was Kevin Meeks, a senior full-stack developer who was intrigued when he received the email inviting him to apply.

“I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to learn,” Meeks says, noting that was one of the reasons he joined BAH in 2019. “They always encourage us to get training, but this program was different. They weren’t just encouraging it, they were making it a priority.

His manager agreed that the training would help Meeks excel in current and future roles. He passed the assessment and started the training.

Over the next few months, Meeks spent three eight-hour days in instructor-led training, and an additional 40 to 60 hours working on his own to prepare for the AWS Solutions Architect certification. He passed the exam and the bonus appeared on his next paycheck.

Meeks was happy with the money, but he’s even more excited about the doors the new certification opens. During his training, he was able to take on more complex tasks on his current project, which made him more valuable to his team and helped him hone his new skills. After passing the exam, he was promoted to Senior Associate and is preparing to move on to a new project where he will take on a higher position.

“The training helped me get placed on this project, and it will look good in my next exam,” Meeks says.

Linking training to professional mobility is one of the key elements of the programme’s success. “We want to foster mobility within the organization because it helps build loyalty and allows the company to continue to meet customer needs,” says Hemgen. “It affects a lot of business results.”

Taisha Ferguson had an equally successful experience. She started at BAH in 2021 as a Data Engineer, and when she received the invitation, she immediately knew she wanted to pursue the Azure Data Scientist certification.

“It was an easy choice to make,” she says.

Finding the time to take the training outside of working hours was not easy, but she received a lot of support from her team and managers. Being able to apply what she was learning under the guidance of her teammates allowed her to practice her new skills. Her career manager also helped her find resources and use cases to enrich her studies.

She passed her exam and was quickly hired on a project as an advanced data scientist. “There aren’t a lot of people with Azure machine learning experience, and it’s a high-demand skill,” says Ferguson. “If I’m good at it, the opportunities will be endless.”

An Abundance of Experts

Along with Meeks and Ferguson, another 326 participants completed the training and passed their exams. “Our success rate has been incredible,” says Jury. “These certifications are very difficult.”

They include the 12-hour DevSecOps exam, which 19 students passed.

“We now have more DevSecOps-certified employees than any other company,” Jury says. “It’s a huge win.”

The L&D department is currently working with BAH business units to measure the impact of training on customer engagement and revenue generation. Early data suggests training has led to higher margins as emerging roles have higher hourly rates, increased employee engagement as measured by the annual employee survey, and anticipated improvements in retention versus benchmarks Of the industry.

“We started this with the end in mind, and now we’re seeing results,” Hemgen says.

They are now planning the next phase of the emerging certification program, including topics to cover and employees to target. Many of the original trainees hope to participate again.

“It’s exciting to see the buzz around this program,” adds Hemgen. “It’s gaining a lot of ground.”

As a consultancy company, BAH must do everything in its power to ensure that its staff have advanced skills to meet the needs of clients. But this approach to training can work for any organization struggling to find talent.

“In most cases, it’s less expensive to develop than to buy new skills,” says Jury. “But to do that, you need to invest in employees who are eager to grow and show them the value of investing their time.”

This article has been originally published by Chief Learning Officer, sister publication of Talent Management.

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