Skillsoft CIO Orla Daly leads internal training culture

Mark Chillingworth Profile picture for user Mark Chillingworth March 20, 2024
The pace of technological change means CIOs must make space for learning. CIO of Skillsoft, Orla Daly, argues that organizations should look to building and training the people that they have already invested in.

An image of Skillsoft CIO Orla Daly
(Image sourced via Skillsoft)

Digital leaders need to build, not buy talent. Arguably, the CIO of technology training company Skillsoft would say this, but Orla Daly is leading by example at the US-headquartered firm. With demand for technologists remaining high, especially in emerging technologies, the CIO discusses how developing the skills of your existing team is more important than ever. 

The pace of change is making buying in talent inefficient, Boston-based Daly says: 

We are at a point where buying your way out of the skills gap is no longer an option. The market for the most sought-after skills, such as AI, cybersecurity and data, has a talent pool that is not sufficient to meet the current needs. The average lifespan of a skill is shortening dramatically too.

Daly says digital leaders and technologists need to think in terms of their current skills requirements but also longer-term investments into a culture of continuous learning across the organization. This, she says, will: 

Ensure your people are able to keep pace at a time of change and build resilience.

Training is more often than not the first budget to be cut in difficult times, but Daly says this view is also being challenged: 

If you do go to market right now for some of the sought after skills, it does tend to be expensive, and that is not something that companies can afford. Balancing affordability is a real issue.

If digital leaders are to succeed with emerging technologies, Daly argues that hiring in new skills can be negative: 

The impact of technologies like AI is about solving business problems, so a big part of that is that you really need to know your business. If you bring in new technology skills, they then have to learn the business.

She adds that developing the technology skills of existing teams with their deep understanding of your organization, its processes and customers can act as an accelerator. The Skillsoft 2023 IT Skills and Salary Report, which was the trigger for my discussion with Daly, finds that 30% of digital leaders are struggling to hire qualified AI professionals. Nearly half (42%) of their survey respondents say that AI training will be a priority in the next five years. Soft skills development remains vital, the survey finds, with a continued focus on skills in leadership and agility. 

Build not buy

Daly has been CIO with Skillsoft since March 2022 and has developed a learning culture within her own department; she says: 

It is a continual focus. Number one is to make time for learning and prioritize it - and we do see across the board that this is a challenge. We have a learning hour blocked off in the calendar once a week.

The CIO has also used hackathons to ensure the learning opportunities include business lines other than IT and that IT learns alongside other parts of the organization. She says creating a learning culture has to include strong communication between the employees and the CIO: 

With feedback from the team we do a combination of generic learning across the department, but then also career journeys aligned to the individual’s roles. Most people want to learn what is relevant to their roles, such as if they are a cloud engineer or a business application specialist.

She says part of the role of a modern CIO is to galvanize the team and the wider organization to embrace learning opportunities: 

At each all hands meeting we find someone who has found a new skill or information and I have them talk and share their experience of what they have learned, what inspired them to look into it, and these have been really helpful. As a CIO, putting learning first and foremost and encouraging people to make space, and then helping them make that space for learning is really important.

Offering people different ways to learn helps drive better engagement.

In addition, the CIO ensures that there are regular lunch and learn, as well as show and tell, sessions for the business. 

Training equals retention

In its annual survey, Skillsoft finds that 43% of employees will leave an organization if there are no development opportunities, and 25% will change roles within the organization if there are no growth and development opportunities in their own department. Given the need to increase diversity in IT and the skills shortage, this is something technology teams could use to their advantage. The 2023 IT Skills and Salary report states: 

When organizations view their tech professionals as interchangeable parts of a machine, failing to invest in their growth and professional development, loyalty naturally diminishes. An inherent drive for continuous learning and personal growth pushes IT professionals to seek out employers who will recognize and nurture their potential.

Skills development not only boosts retention, according to the survey, but delivers further business benefits, with 62% of respondents reporting the quality of their work improved. Nearly half (47%) said they were more engaged with their work and 45% were performing their tasks faster. 

Aside from the impact of emerging technologies, the 2023 IT Skills and Salary report finds that empathy, creativity, and agility are more important than ever. 

Daly joined Skillsoft from the US arm of National Grid, a British energy networks firm, where she was VP for IT and Digital Organizational Change Management. Before National Grid, Daly spent 13 years with vendor Dell in business partner and business line technology leadership roles, an organization she joined from US oil firm Exxon, where she held technology roles across Europe in Belgium, France and the UK. 

My take

New technologies will reshape roles, and in turn, technology teams will need more skills. So with a shortage of tech talent in every vertical or geographic market, the need to build up the capabilities of existing teams is essential. For the last two decades, digital leaders have, perhaps due to necessity, bought in skills as and when needed. There is a growing body of evidence that this model no longer works. Daly has the benefit of being part of a training business, but as she shared with me in this interview, it is the cultural approach and the actions that create a learning culture that makes a difference. 

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