PwC says its Digital Accelerators will future-proof the workplace - here's why

Profile picture for user barb.mosher By Barb Mosher Zinck October 15, 2018
Summary:
The PwC Digital Accelerator program is part of an ambitious digital skills initiative that will touch all 50,000 of PwC's employees. So how well is it working so far? Barb Mosher Zinck talked to a program designer - and one of its first trainees.

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PwC’s Digital Accelerator program is an internal program that takes groups of employees out of their day jobs and puts them through a two-year immersive training program that teaches them skills in technology such as automation, machine learning, design thinking, and digital storytelling.

The reason? To give their workers the skills they and PwC need to compete in this ever-changing digital landscape.

I first heard about the Digital Accelerator program earlier this year. Now that it’s a few months in, I thought I would find out more about the program and how it’s working. I spoke with Sarah McEneaney, PwC's Digital Talent Leader.

About the Digital Accelerator program

McEneaney explained that the program kicked off in March with a self-nominating process for those employees across PwC that wanted to participate. Employees would take this two-year program and apply what they learned in their current or a new position. McEneaney said that 3500 employees applied for 500 planned positions.

With such an overwhelming response, they increased the admission to 1000 employees over three enrollment periods. To date, 700 employees have been on-boarded across all business lines and internal departments, including audit and accounting, consulting, internal marketing and technology.

Yes, this is a tech program, but you didn’t need a tech background to be a part of it. The ideal candidate, according to McEneaney was someone who was curious and driven to remove pain from the business. She said you don’t need a computer science background to get up to speed fast and learn how to code. When you pair that coding capability with business knowledge, a lot of good things can happen. For example, one of the first participants was Patricia Miller, an IT Project Manager based in Tampa, Florida.

Miller is from the PwC IT group. She was very interested in the program but had little technology skills. Part of the team involved in the PwC Digital Fitness App, a tool that measures employee technical knowledge and applies gamification to tech training, Miller became deeply interested in how the app worked and wanted to dissect it. The app changed her view of her work.

At the same time, she was also finishing up her MBA, and she knew she wanted to pivot, but she didn’t know where. One of the selling points of the Digital Accelerator program was that it could help employees pivot in their role at PwC. She migrated over to the new projects team just prior to starting the program and sees herself continuing down that path.

Participants spend about ten hours a week learning through a combination of classroom and online learning, as well virtual teams working on projects. They then take this learning back to their jobs and not only apply it but share what they are learning with their teams.

The training comprises a range of technology, from RPA (robotic process automation), data analysis and RDA (robotic desktop automation) to passive learning like machine learning, AI and NLP (natural language processing). To complete training, they also want participants to understand and look at their work from user's lens, so they are learning about user experience, design thinking, and storytelling.

One example McEneaney provided of how this program helps comes from the tax practice. A lot of work goes into preparing tax returns as anyone who does their own taxes, or the taxes of their business, knows. At PwC, they are building bots to take the data and fill in the tax forms automatically, allowing tax consultants to focus on providing better tax advice and services to their clients. Another example is leveraging OCR to scan leasing documents and pull out the relevant information.

Miller talked about learning SQL, Python and other coding languages. She said her team was hitting a requirement they couldn’t get past for a program they were working on. In her training, she learned a trick to get past it. She stopped what she was doing, and they applied the trick, fixing the problem.

Participants in the program also receive digital badges they can show on their resumes to attest to the training they have done. McEneaney said that they are seeing a number of trends in learning, including the idea of micro-credentials (digital badging) that show what a person has learned. All participants in the Digital Accelerator program will receive the Digital Acumen badge - demonstrating a foundational level understanding, and then individual badges for the skills they learn.

Future-proofing the workplace

The Digital Accelerator program is part of a larger company initiative to upskill all 50k of PwC’s workforce. Everyone is learning a lighter version of this program.

McEneaney strongly believes that PwC (and all companies) need to build a workforce that is ready for the future. She was passionate about doing it herself and went to the leaders at PwC with the idea. As a partner, she helped design the program and leads it, applying design thinking as they work through it.

McEneaney noted several benefits of the Digital Accelerator program:

  1. A decrease in costs and consistent quality demonstrate financial benefit.
  2. Building a sense of community by connecting strangers across the company. These participants are working together, helping each other, ensuring the knowledge will scale out much faster.
  3. Not only are there improvements working with clients, but PwC clients are also paying them to help them do the same thing.

PwC is seeing lower turnover from people in the accelerator program than is typical for their industry according to McEneaney. But it’s not because participants must commit to the company to get into the program. There is no requirement to stay with the company.

For Miller, the program has been a way to learn new skills and apply them at the same time, sealing in that knowledge. She said the training was self-driven and you get to choose how you use it. For her, it was about investing in yourself as a person and learning how to apply it anywhere.

My take

One of the best things about this program is that you don’t have to be in IT to take it. Too often companies don’t recognize the value of training all employees in technology. A broader understanding of how tech can improve and advance the way people work today is something every employee needs to have.

Miller was very excited about the training she was doing. McEneaney was very excited about the program she created and what it means not only for PwC, but for its employees. Investing in employees is a critical part of any company’s future.