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With much of the workforce in 2020 operating from the friendly confines of their own homes, nothing became more clear than this: tech skills are no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Leveling-up those skills, though, is a team effort, and it’s incumbent on employers to make sure they are providing their employees with the proper opportunities to expand their knowledge, and, in effect, their career potential. Joe Atkinson is the Vice Chair and Chief Products and Technology Officer at PwC, one of the largest professional services firms in the country, and a company that is setting a precedent when it comes to upskilling its workforce.

“Everybody should have an opportunity to grow their skills. It doesn’t matter where you are in the organization If you have a desire and an inclination, then we believe that employers have a degree of obligation, almost like an employee benefit. It’s the new 401k to make those assets of learning technical skills available.”

On this episode of IT Visionaries, Joe details why PwC places such an emphasis on upskilling, the importance of growth throughout an employee’s career journey, and how the employee experience is shifting how PwC conducts its business.

Main Takeaways

  • Leveled Up: In order for your business to continue to evolve, so must your employees and their skills. Corporations need to start putting an emphasis on upskilling their employees, and that includes everyone from entry-level warehouse employees to those in upper management. If you don’t invest in your employees throughout their career life cycle, your business practices can stall and your workforce won’t be as agile.
  • Bob the Builder: While it’s important to work with third-party vendors to fill your product needs, it is equally as important to continue to innovate and build your own products. By building your own products, you have an opportunity to fill in the gaps within the marketplace while providing your clients with products that are unique to them and fits their needs.
  • Death to Billable Hours: The billable-hours approach is no longer a viable way of conducting business. By placing an emphasis on activity, the consequence is that you tend to overwork your employees, which eventually leads to diminishing returns and employee burnout.

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For a more in-depth look at this episode, check out the article below.


With much of the workforce in 2020 operating from the friendly confines of their own homes, nothing became more clear than this: tech skills are no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Leveling-up those skills, though, is a team effort, and it’s incumbent on employers to make sure they are providing their employees with the proper opportunities to expand their knowledge, and, in effect, their career potential. Joe Atkinson is the Vice Chair and Chief Products and Technology Officer at PwC, one of the largest professional services firms in the country, and a company that is setting a precedent when it comes to upskilling its workforce.

“Everybody should have an opportunity to grow their skills. It doesn’t matter where you are in the organization If you have a desire and an inclination, then we believe that employers have a degree of obligation, almost like an employee benefit. It’s the new 401k to make those assets of learning technical skills available.”

On this episode of IT Visionaries, Joe details why PwC places such an emphasis on upskilling, the importance of growth throughout an employee’s career journey, and how the employee experience is shifting how PwC conducts its business.

With more than 275,000 employees worldwide, PwC operates on a global spectrum, surpassing 75 office locations around the globe. With a staff that encompasses that many employees, Atkinson stressed the importance of not only keeping your employees updated on industry trends, but making sure you are empowering them with the proper tools to best execute their responsibilities. That reasoning is a big driver in why PwC often decides to build its own products as opposed to purchasing from third-party vendors.

“We have a product that we call Digital On Demand,” he said. “One of the things that we’re really proud of at PwC is we have taken our transformation journey across all of our people around the world and we have equipped them with technology and tools to help them innovate on the job. We call it citizen-led development, and we put automation and data visualization tools in their hands.”

That initiative is an approach built around equal parts leadership and employee crowdsourcing, a $3-billion effort by the company to upskill its entire global workforce to develop and share technologies to better support its client base.

“We’re going to equip you, we’re going to train you and that’ll give you value, whether you’re here at PwC for your career or wherever your career takes you,” Atkinson said. 

That mission, Atkinson said, has been a driving force of value for both the company and its employees, who he estimates have created nearly 7,000 assets that PwC now uses to deliver services to its clients.

“Our clients started to ask us, where did that come from, how do I get one of those?” he said. “Digital On-Demand is basically taking the output of our people around the world, all the innovation, and all the effort that they’ve put in to solve problems, and now we’re taking those and we’re putting them through an enterprise-grade hardening process so our clients can consume the benefit of our citizen-led innovation. That was entirely market-driven and the clients asked for it. And that’s the kind of thing that we really look for is where do you see that opportunity, where a client sees a problem and they see us as a trusted provider that can help solve it. And we have the scale and the technology asset to do it.” 

Of that global workforce, PwC estimated that 45-55,000 thousand employees had spent time learning how to develop skills such as coding and automation design, all with a focus on data. Atkinson said the traditional model, a platform of solely hiring people with deep technical backgrounds was not something that was broken, but that the company saw an opportunity to provide its employees with added resources to uplevel their skills, something they had been clamoring for.

“We discovered there’s a whole population of people that are willing to dig into [technical skills] with the capability to learn it,” he said. “That’s what we saw. We saw our people learn it. So we said, ‘If you have that desire and skill, we will actually develop your skills alongside the work that you’re doing in the field and for our clients,’ and over a two-year period, you can go deep on those skills.” 

One of the biggest challenges behind the program remained how to not only put the tools in place to equip employees on their new journeys but rather how to design the platform in a way that would work for all the people who wanted to consume and take part. So they came up with a two-pronged approach.

“We massively underestimated how much our people wanted to consume this kind of capability and asset and training,” Atkinson said. “They were all-in from the beginning. I do think that that was in part because we didn’t tell them, you must do this. We told them that this is available to you. But the other thing that I think mattered a lot is we made a decision that folks that are working on warehouse floors, et cetera, should have an opportunity to grow their skills. It doesn’t matter where you are in the organization.”

While leveling up an employee’s skill set is a nice perk, another big change at the forefront of the organization is the shifting desire for the company to alter its billing practice, all driven by the need to reward its employees.

“We’ve recognized that we cannot stay on a billable hours model,” Atkinson said. “We’re one of the few organizations and business models that are really at an activity price point kind of model. Nobody is in that world anymore. They want outcomes. They want solutions. They want business benefits. That hour’s model is under tremendous strain. And that was the underlying business reason that we said, ‘We’ve got to equip people with different skills. We’ve got to get them to automate their own jobs, the tasks on their own plate. We’ve got to give them the ability to help us reshape this business so that ultimately we can move more and more of this business from an hours and rate model to a solutions and business outcome model.’”

To hear more about how PwC is redefining the workplace, check out the full episode of IT Visionaries.

To hear the entire discussion, tune into IT Visionaries here

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