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Ep 529: Developing Digital Skills


The tech sector has been going through an unprecedented period of layoffs in the last few months. However, the demand for digital skills in the wider market will continue for years.

So what strategies are employers putting in place to ensure they have the skills they need for their businesses in the future?

My guest this week is Alexia Pedersen, VP of EMEA at O’Reilly Media. O’Reilly has been helping businesses develop digital skills for over 40 years, and Lex has insights and advice for employers looking to gain a competitive advantage through skills acquisition and development.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The current state of the tech talent market

• Will digital skills shortages continue for the long term?

• The constant demand for new skills

• How employers are investing in their future

• Understanding the internal skills gap

• Reskilling and upskilling

• Creating a culture of learning that serves different learning styles

• Breaking down silos in HR to enable talent mobility

• Implications of generaive AI

• How will the most successful companies of the next ten years think about talent?

Listen to this podcast in Apple Podcasts.


Matt Alder (Intro) (2m 19s):
Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 529 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. The tech sector has been going through an unprecedented period of layoffs in the last few months. However, the digital skills shotagages in the wider marketare as challenging as ever and allow it to continue for years to come. So what strategies are employers putting in place to ensure they have the skills they need for their businesses in the future? My guest this week is Alexia Pedersen, VP of EMEA at O’Reilly Media. O’Reilly has been helping businesses develop digital skills for over 40 years, and Lex has insights and advice for employers looking to gain a competitive advantage through skills acquisition and development.

Matt Alder (3m 7s):
Hi Lex and welcome to the podcast.

Alexia Pedersen (3m 10s):
Hi Matt, nice to meet you. Thank you for having me today.

Matt Alder (3m 14s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please, could you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Alexia Pedersen (3m 20s):
Sure. So I’m, my name is Lex Pederson and I work at O’Reilly as the VP for the EMEA region. And I’ve been at O’Reilly for nine years now. And in my role I work really closely with customers that are investing for their learning needs, making sure that they’re getting value from the investment to support the goals that they have around skills and learning and knowledge within the workplace.

Matt Alder (3m 44s):
There may be some people listening who are not sure what O’Reilly does. Can you tell us a little bit about the organization?

Alexia Pedersen (3m 50s):
Oh yeah, sure. So, we were founded by Tim O’Reilly. He’s still very much part of the organization. Able to spot emerging technology trends. And O’Reilly has a learning platform. And you go on there to access the very latest and best content for any skills that you might need, particularly in the digital world of today. And I guess some of our unique aspects is there’s lots of different learning formats of how you might want to access knowledge, books, videos, live courses, but also the idea of, I think traditionally people still very much enjoy structured learning, which we provide, you know, a course going from beginning to end, but also just the ability to dip in and out and get quick answers to questions and practice in an informal moment in need.

Alexia Pedersen (4m 42s):
So yes, that’s O’Reilly for those that perhaps haven’t come across it, but we’ve been around for about 40 years. So some people in the tech space perhaps will know us from our books with the animals on the front.

Matt Alder (4m 53s):
Absolutely, yes, very familiar I think to anyone who’s been working in that sector. And I suppose that leads nicely to my first question. The last sort of few months in the tech sector, you know, we’ve seen kind of massive upheavals, a lots of very well known tech companies laying people off at a scale that’s never happened before. But at the same time it still seems that lots of tech companies are hiring and still having problems getting the talent they need. So, give us your view of what’s going on in the market at the moment.

Alexia Pedersen (5m 23s):
Yeah, I mean it’s fascinating, isn’t it? It is very complex, I think. a couple of thoughts really. I think first of all there’s a lot of structural change happening. You know, we had the pandemic that led to digital projects happening very quickly overnight and huge amounts of upskilling and hiring took place. So there’s perhaps a little bit now that we’re coming out to the pandemic and the world is changing. Not all of those people that got employed are needed, but there’s also a lot of change isn’t there around the economy. And we’ve now with the war, we’re a year into the war with Ukraine and Russia. So, I think as organizations try and provide a conservative view perhaps on their direction for the year and meeting their goals that they’ve perhaps had to restructure or make some layoffs unfortunately.

Alexia Pedersen (6m 15s):
So I think there’s a number of things going on. It’s very hard to pinpoint one individual aspect. And I think what we’re seeing is just a response to the huge amounts of structural change that are happening in the market, particularly in the tech sector where we did have rapid growth, you know, going digital so quickly, overnight. And then now it’s sort of perhaps slowing down a little bit in some areas I would say. Not all. I mean some organizations are still very much full speed ahead. So yeah, it’s a little bit hard to pinpoint any one item I think, isn’t it?

Matt Alder (6m 48s):
Yeah, no, it is a very complex situation, I suppose thinking more sort of switching to sort of a bit more long term thinking about what’s going on. For the last few decades we’ve been in a position where don’t have enough people with the right digital skills to fill jobs that are available, for companies to build out their digital infrastructure, to go through digital transformation. It’s something that we just kind of got used to. I mean, how important are digital skills moving forward in the sort of the new version of the world we’re looking at. And are they still likely to remain in short supply?

Alexia Pedersen (7m 29s):
Yeah. Well, I feel very passionate about this topic, obviously working in the sector for adult education. But it does really begin with the schools as well, I think. So in answer to your question, yes, I think digital skills is hugely important right now and in the future that we’re seeing with the technology and digitization that’s going on. But I think if we take a step back, you know, when young ones are coming out of school, I’m not sure they really have the digital skills ready for the workplace and the roles that we have available for them. So, it would be great to see perhaps a bit more happening at the ground roots, at the early stages to really get some of the young population a bit more tech ready for roles.

Alexia Pedersen (8m 19s):
And perhaps closer alignment between educational establishments and the corporate working world so that, you know, when people come into the workplace they can be digital and ready to get going on what’s needed. And then I think, you know, for companies themselves, it is hard to generalize obviously, you know, whether it’s a small, medium or large organization, there are different requirements around what’s needed in the digital skill set. But we are seeing, even though we’ve got layoffs, there’s still such a lack of the talent in the areas that need to be recruited, particularly around hot items like cloud and cybersecurity AI, which is obviously very hot right now with ChatGPT as it is.

Alexia Pedersen (9m 6s):
So yeah, I think, you know, there’s some real core technology digital skillsets that are required and it’s absolutely essential that organizations can really look at that within, within all aspects of the business. Whether it’s new hires coming in, young grads or apprenticeships, but those that perhaps been working there a long time will also be needing to upskill and shift a gear perhaps into some new skill sets because what we’re seeing is only going to come more so rather than disappear. I think the digital world and technologies as we see it today is just continuing and rapidly moving a pace as I see it anyway.

Alexia Pedersen (9m 47s):
And I think we need to be really ready for that, and help companies yeah, do the best by getting people ready with the skills that they need.

Matt Alder (9m 58s):
And also I presume that because the skills needed are changing so quickly, that must represent a big problem for employers as well.

Alexia Pedersen (10m 8s):
Yeah, exactly. And you know, I think organizations really need to embrace that. You know, it begins with what do they need to do with their strategic goals? How do they innovate? How do they stay ahead and maintain their competitive angle in what they’re doing? And based on what those goals are that sort of transcends into those projects. And it’s the people and technology that are going to make that happen. So do they have the right technology in place or do they need to implement it? And then how, are they going to do that? And it’s people that are really at the heart of that. Do they have the skillsets needed to be able to move things forward?

Alexia Pedersen (10m 48s):
And so that goes through every level. But certainly organizations really need to be looking at what they’re doing. You know, what are they doing to invest in their people, and invest in the future, and ensure that it, you know, is the digital skills of today. But what about tomorrow and the following year. And you know, making sure that I mean the investment pays off. It really pays dividends, but it’s important to acknowledge that and have those conversations internally.

Matt Alder (11m 15s):
And digging a bit deeper into that. Kind of break down what that looks like. What are the strategies that employers need to adopt to make sure they have the right digital skills in their business. I suppose both now and in the future?

Alexia Pedersen (11m 30s):
Yeah, it is interesting. Because obviously, you know, with working with many organizations of different sizes, I think something that you see really clearly that has success is a top-down view. You know, it’s important to have sponsorship at the executive level. And when learning and investment in training and skills can be had at the highest level, that makes a huge difference to the success of investing in learning and making sure that you get the outcome that you want. It’s no good just paying for something and paying for training. You want to make sure it gives you what you need from that. So I think, you know, number one is definitely at the top end making sure that that conversation’s had at the highest level.

Alexia Pedersen (12m 15s):
And then it’s understanding what you need. So, I suppose, you know, an analysis in the business and there’s a lot of tools out there of course that can help with that. But understanding what the skills are that are needed. But also where are your people today? What’s the gap that exist and how are you going to move the needle from where they are to where you want them to be? And then of course, well, so O’Reilly, we talk a lot about the culture of learning. You know, that’s huge. Making sure that you can feel people are motivated and that they’re being invested in. And that makes them feel good and that they’re going to want to learn, and they can take ownership for their learning, and have curiosity for learning.

Alexia Pedersen (12m 56s):
So it is not just the company but the individuals taking responsibility for that themselves as well and making that learning relevant. So, I think that’s huge is what’s in it for them? What’s the benefit to them and making sure that those learning initiatives can be successful. The other aspect, I suppose, just to finish off on that point is, you know, people do learn in different ways and it’s really easy to make assumptions that everyone might want the same approach. But some people want to learn off a mobile, some people want an audio book or audio experience, others might want a live experience. Others just need like a coding lab to get practicing. And I think, you know, having flexibility of learning is huge in the workplace.

Alexia Pedersen (13m 38s):
When we think about digital skills, getting that to be successful, it’s thinking about, yeah, flexibility of learning, meeting learners where they are. What’s going to work for them to make sure that they can feel passionate and successful about gaining that new information. And then it’s going in and also problem solving, because it’s all very well you learn something, but then what? Then you go on a live project or you start to implement it and you really need the practice and the hands-on sort of practical approach. So yeah, it’s a very comprehensive sort of 360 in the organization. But I think top down, as I mentioned at the beginning is probably the best place to start and going from there.

Matt Alder (14m 21s):
What really interests me about kind of the emerging understanding of skills in business is how it really crosses traditional HR silos, like talent acquisition, talent management, learning and development. Do you see the relationships between those, perhaps traditionally separate functions evolving are silos breaking down inside employers as they kind of look more holistically at skills and how they have the right skills in the business?

Alexia Pedersen (14m 48s):
Yeah, it’s interesting isn’t it. I think in some organizations some of that is being broken down more in particularly I suppose where you’ve got the technology investment coming from tech. So what I mean by that is the first area that needs investment in learning might be in the technology space and they’re paying for it. So it’s aligning and having a connection between the technology group and then your traditional L&D group and making sure that those two worlds are collaborating and yeah, the silos are being broken down. Because we often see at O’Reilly, you know, an investment typically will come within the technology group to start with and it’s successful and they build a best practice, and it might grow across the organization as other departments also want to embrace digital skills.

Alexia Pedersen (15m 40s):
So I find it very interesting that sort of traditional approach of L&D and learning used to be sort of its own entity. But I think with some of these skills now starting in tech, but being recognized as everybody needing them. You know, knowledge workers in general need to embrace new digital skills. Those barriers are being broken down. But yeah, it is different from one organization to the next of course. And I think if they can, I suppose the lesson to be learned is good collaboration between the different teams and departments and what’s needed. But certainly, yeah, I think with tech being at the forefront now of running some of those critical innovation projects that are going on, we see a much closer alignment towards L&D.

Alexia Pedersen (16m 29s):
And then obviously with talent acquisition it’s interesting because one option is obviously to hire in, but also I think, you know, we are recognizing that you don’t have that ability. There’s not enough talent out there. People are struggling to hire the right talent. So, it’s about upskilling internally and talent acquisition within the business. And so how do we make that happen? And that’s again, about collaboration within departments to make sure people know their skillsets and are available then to move on to different projects when they become available.

Matt Alder (17m 0s):
And is that something you are seeing happening more and more because it’s something that lots of companies have been talking about for quite a few years, but sometimes the practicalities of it seem quite different. Do you think that’s changing and people are putting kind of more importance on upskilling, and reskilling, and understanding what talent’s already in the business?

Alexia Pedersen (17m 20s):
Yeah, I definitely think there’s a lot of really good work going on around that. We’re helping loads of organizations around that sort of talent mobility where you’ve got non-technical employees on a journey and they’ll access, you know, O’Reilly content to become a software developer a front-end engineer, and taking people from A to B and it might be in a non-technical role, which I think is wonderful. You know, another one would be accountants have huge ability to move into the data science world, data engineering. You know, they’ve got the maths, they’ve got the statistics, and it’s moving them into where those jobs are in today’s world and so much of that can be around, yeah, the data science space.

Alexia Pedersen (18m 6s):
So we definitely see that. We see a lot of companies looking at moving talent internally by getting them with the new skills, getting them on a path from A to B so that they can be ready for the new roles within the organization. I think that’s definitely coming. Yeah, we’re seeing a lot more of that for sure and supporting people on that journey. That the challenge of course is, you know, it’s everyone’s learning ecosystems different. So, you know, one person’s background is different to the next. And I think there you, that’s where you need to have that personalized approach that not everybody will be on that same learning journey.

Alexia Pedersen (18m 48s):
They might need a personalized version for them because what one person’s background will be different to the next, and yet you all need to get to becoming software engineer for example. So, yeah, I think it’s exciting. It’s great to see that ability for organizations internally to invest in their people in that way. And yeah, move on to some different projects. And also it is great for talent retention, you know, get people interested in something slightly different to what they’ve been doing.

Matt Alder (19m 19s):
You mentioned ChatGPT in the conversation. What do you think the implications are with the kind of the rapid development in Generative AI? How’s that going to sort of affect the world of skills?

Alexia Pedersen (19m 32s):
Yeah, I mean it’s fascinating, isn’t it? I think we were trying to get our minds around how this will work. And I think in the short, well, I suppose my personal opinion is, I think we’ll get to a place where it’s a bit like having your own sort of superhero, sort of like this PA idea that you could be uber productive. It’s not necessarily always gonna be accurate or replace the work you do. It’s about getting more work done and quite a clever way, bit of a boiler plate and then you’ll work from it. But I think, yeah, it’s fascinating. I mean, in the short term I think it’s just going to explode, isn’t it? I mean Bill Gates I think is well documented in his view that it’s really quite significant.

Alexia Pedersen (20m 15s):
This is a huge, huge innovation that will change the way we do things. Just like the computer did and the mobile phone did. And I was talking to my kids and I was saying, do you know, what I find is the easiest way to explain it to them is, in the old days I watched tv, there was four channels, there was adverts. And when you change the channel, you get off your sofa and you press the button and the whole nation tunes in at eight o’clock for the same program and then you all make a cup of tea in the adverts. And I look at it now. And, you know, we do more tv, it hasn’t changed really. It’s just the fact that it’s easier because we don’t get off the sofa. There’s no adverts. You watch when you want it. And streaming has sort of changed that.

Alexia Pedersen (20m 56s):
And I think for the kids right now they’re using the internet and maybe a Google search for example, but they probably won’t need to. They’ll probably just have this little superhero PA that’s going to do lots of things. But yeah, I kind of find it really fascinating, like so many. And well, we’ll see, we’re not sure where that’s going to go in the long run, but I think in the short term there’s a lot to be embraced around the productivity that it can bring.

Matt Alder (21m 20s):
Yes, I had a similar conversation with my son the other day and he wouldn’t believe me.

Alexia Pedersen (21m 26s):

Matt Alder (21m 26s):
It just seems, it seems so farfetched that that’s how things used to work or didn’t work at the time.

Alexia Pedersen (21m 32s):
I know. Sorry but on that, I think what’s so funny is like, it takes me back to like, you know, Christmas day when everyone tunes into the James Bond film in the afternoon and like the whole country’s watching the same thing. Whereas now we do a very personalized TV experience. And I think that’s my analogy with the ChatGPT, is it will just really bring a lot of personalization to the way we individually work with technology. Yeah. And hopefully put it to the good right things like, you know, health and the environment and these areas that we can really look to improve.

Matt Alder (22m 4s):
So final question for you and a future focus one. How will the most successful companies of the next ten years think about talent?

Alexia Pedersen (22m 14s):
Yeah, it’s a tricky question, isn’t it? Because so much is changing right now. We’re all very much concerned. Good, bad, and you know, different angles on AI. So I think when we look at the future and you know, particularly successful companies and, you know, 10 years from now, wow, it’s hard to say. But I think we are in a period of uncertainty. And certainly, you know, talent will probably look different. I think, you know, some of those boundaries, the way we see skills and job roles, they’ll change and the boundaries to entering those roles will change. So, yeah, I think it’s going to be incredibly important for those big organizations.

Alexia Pedersen (22m 57s):
I think they’re going to adapt and they’re going to be very agile. They’re probably going to continue to invest and want to have the talent that’s needed. So upskilling and training is still very important to the way they look at talent. But I’m sure some of those, yeah, traditional boundaries and expectations are just going to change. Some roles that we see today might not even exist. And it’s interesting cause actually I was reading about PWC have done some research in this area and they’ve sort of categorized talent and the workforce into four different areas based on colors, red, blue, green and, and yellow. I think it is. And it just gets you thinking.

Alexia Pedersen (23m 37s):
I mean, yeah, like with AI, the ability to on be entrepreneurial and move in and have new tech technology going on will be incredible and that will enable new talent to come through and serve customers in a different way. So, yeah, hard to say. I think those big organizations and the way they look at talent, it will be different. I think they’ll continue to probably invest in learning, invest in talent. But it’ll look very different as to what those job roles and job skills are that are required from where we are today. But yeah, certainly a lot of change going on right now. And yeah, we’ll wait and see I guess what that looks like in the future.

Matt Alder (24m 21s):
Lex, thank you very much for talking to me.

Alexia Pedersen (24m 24s):
Yeah, thank you Matt. Very nice to speak to you today. Thanks for having me.

Matt Alder (24m 29s):
My thanks to Lex. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at On that site you can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast, and get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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