Finding the Right Platform to Administer Skills Instruction

eWEEK IT SCIENCE: How 1-800 Contacts used technology skills development platform Pluralsight to help launch CTAC University, a program that made technology skill development available to hourly associates to empower them to move into full-time technology roles.

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Here is the latest article in an eWEEK feature series called IT Science, in which we look at what actually happens at the intersection of new-gen IT and legacy systems.

Unless it’s brand new and right off various assembly lines, servers, storage and networking inside every IT system can be considered “legacy.” This is because the iteration of both hardware and software products is speeding up all the time. It’s not unusual for an app-maker, for example, to update and/or patch for security purposes an application a few times a month, or even a week. Some apps are updated daily! Hardware moves a little slower, but manufacturing cycles are also speeding up.

These articles describe new-gen industry solutions. The idea is to look at real-world examples of how new-gen IT products and services are making a difference in production each day. Most of them are success stories, but there will also be others about projects that blew up. We’ll have IT integrators, system consultants, analysts and other experts helping us with these as needed.

Today’s Topic: Reskilling Hourly Associates Into Technology Roles to Future-Proof an Organization

Disruptions to every industry are happening at a rate history has never before witnessed. With the rapid advent of new technologies, tools, frameworks and processes, vision care is no exception.

1-800 Contacts has spent 25 years and counting at the forefront of disruption in vision care, enabled by advancements in technology at every step of the way. Its big changes to the industry started with a first-of-its-kind call center and now include a best-in-class mobile app, a first-to-market mobile try-on experience and, most recently, a virtual prescription renewal service called ExpressExam.

While rapidly adopting new technology has always been a hallmark of the company, the pace of technology change has become a force to contend with. Continuous innovation demands a steady stream of highly skilled workers capable of keeping up on the latest advances in technology.

Name the problem to be solved:

Engaging in the battle for tech talent is no longer a viable option for companies seeking to make fast, impactful changes to the market. Like most companies, 1-800 Contacts finds that recruiting high-quality technology professionals is both challenging and costly, when you consider the time and resources it takes to ramp them up. 1-800 Contacts’ leaders sought to tackle this problem while at the same time addressing the marked lack of diversity in technology. They wanted their diverse workforce to see themselves reflected in their IT org, and in the technology landscape as a whole.

Describe the strategy that went into finding a solution:

They decided the only way to create a deep bench of employees who are both skilled and passionate about the success of the company would be to implement continuous technology skill development across the organization—from the call center to the C-suite.

Championed by leadership at the top, IT managers were asked to report on the skills and projects they would need to meet the business objectives of the future.

Then, realizing that many of their IT professionals started with the company as hourly associates, they proposed a formalized path for anyone on the payroll to level up to a career in technology.

Describe the solution selected:

1-800 Contacts launched CTAC University, a program that made technology skill development available to hourly associates to empower them to move into full-time technology roles.

CTAC University is a one-year program to build back- or front-end developer skills. Participants attend a two-hour class once or twice a week where an instructor introduces them to new concepts, helps them put them in action and then provides two to four hours of homework, much of which is delivered through Pluralsight, a technology skills development platform, in the form of on-demand skills content and assessments and hands-on learning activities that, in turn, provide helpful analytics to inform instructors and team leads as they move forward on key projects outside of CTAC-U.

Results of the initiative:

  • By leveraging Pluralsight for both its existing technology teams as well as CTAC-U participants, 1-800 Contacts is now able to put the right people on the right projects with the skills they need to move quickly.
  • By upskilling from AngularJS to Angular using Pluralsight, their technology team recently upgraded their website and built ExpressExam, which utilizes emerging technology to allow customers to renew vision prescriptions online.
  • Employees are now versed in critical technologies such as C#, CSS and HTML so they can jump in on projects that were previously out of their wheelhouse, speeding up delivery time on critical initiatives.

ROI:

  • Cost savings: Reducing the need for one-off workshops or conferences and enabling employees to access technology skill development content anywhere, anytime dramatically decrease the amount spent on L&D that was reaping little reward.
  • Pipeline of talent: Leaders at 1-800 Contacts have a self-sustaining supply chain of talent that allows them to circumvent the expensive recruiting, hiring and retaining process for a number of critical technology roles.
  • Engaged employees: Feeling invested in helps employees behave with passion for the company. They are dedicated to building the skills necessary to make sure the business succeeds.
  • Speed to market: With instant access to just-in-time learning using Pluralsight, projects move through potential roadblocks more swiftly, speeding up time to delivery and meeting customer expectations faster than the competition.
  • Diversity of thought: Technology teams now include people with both institutional knowledge of the business and a fresh perspective as they don’t come from what’s considered a "traditional" IT background. A more diverse tech workforce pays dividends in innovation.

If you have a suggestion for an eWEEK IT Science article, email cpreimesberger@eweek.com.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...