Training & Learning

Digital Upskilling Academies: How Aviva is Closing the Digital Skills Gap With Sarah Allen and Molly Howes

As L&D leaders, many of us have felt the impact of the digital skills gap. As new technologies emerge faster than many workers can keep up with—take AI for example— the share of the UK workforce lacking in basic digital skills may reach as high as two out of every three workers by the end of the decade.

So, how can you and your team design scalable training experiences to help your organization upskill employees at speed, while also impacting crucial business goals? 

In this episode of The Learning and Development Podcast, I speak with Sarah Allen, Head of Learning, and Molly Howes, Foundry Project Lead, about how Aviva is upskilling and reskilling employees in digital skills to future-proof their workforce and ensure the company thrives in the future. 

Read on to hear about how the team at Aviva used a well-defined learning strategy to kick-start a comprehensive digital upskilling program, how they plan to measure the success of their learning interventions, and some tips for your upskilling initiatives.

The 3 pillars of Aviva’s learning strategy

As Sarah explains, Aviva’s business strategy is clear, simple, and based on four strategic objectives: customers, growth, efficiency, and sustainability. 

“When I joined Aviva, I wanted to define a learning strategy that would be aligned to the business strategy and ensure we're focused on achieving great business and customer outcomes,” says Sarah. 

There are three pillars to Aviva’s learning strategy:

  1. Learning for all: A focus to ensure that all employees have access to learning so they can perform at their best and develop their careers.
  2. Learning to keep colleagues and customers safe: To make sure that the development colleagues and customers have to undertake from a regulatory perspective is impactful. 
  3. Learning for the future: To ensure that employees have the skills they need today and in the future.

“These three pillars ground us, help us prioritize what's important, and ensure that what we're doing drives Aviva forward,” Sarah says.

Related: Why You Need Digital Upskilling to Future-Proof Your UK Workforce

The Aviva Foundry: Closing the digital skills gap

Like so many organizations, the big challenge Aviva is facing is closing the digital skills talent pipeline. 

“We know that as a business,” Molly explains, “we need our 22,000 colleagues to have  increased digital skills. We also know that not all of the roles are going to be here in the future as we continue to adapt and meet our customers’ expectations with more digital online journeys.”

In response, Sarah, Molly, and the team set up the Aviva Foundry, their reskilling flagship program. The Foundry consists of the following three core upskilling pathways:

  1. Digital Skills for All: 10 immersion sessions on various topics across the digital landscape, such as artificial intelligence and blockchain. These are one-hour-long virtual learning experiences focused on learning for all 22,000 employees.
  2. Digital Bootcamps: Upskilling learning initiatives split into the software engineering and product sectors.
  3. Digital Mastery Academies: Reskilling journeys that provide learners with a potential new career path and give them what they need going forward at Aviva without the need to go to university for qualifications.

“We have set an internal target of being able to reskill around 200 people into new digital roles for the future,” says Molly. “We’re also looking to increase the digital literacy across the organization and be able to measure the confidence in those digital spaces.”

Driving buy-in and passion for upskilling programs

Sarah explains that strong executive sponsorship drives significant employee buy-in and passion for upskilling at Aviva. 

“When we spoke to our CEO Amanda Blanc about our launch at Norwich City College,” says Sarah, “it was a very short conversation because it was an absolute no-brainer for her. Ben Luckett is our Chief Innovation Officer, and he has also helped with funding, ideas, and innovation. Everybody is fully in, and that helps drive that passion.”

So far, the Foundry initiatives have high levels of passion and buy-in because Sarah, Molly, and the team are working hard to ensure there aren’t any barriers: anyone in the company can apply. 

“But they will have to undergo a fairly rigorous application process,” Sarah adds. “We want to make sure that we have the people with the passion and the growth mindset to help us ensure we can reskill and then redeploy people.”

Related: Growing Your Stakeholder Currency: A 3-Step Framework for Performance Analysis With Expert Judith Hale

Measuring the success of digital upskilling pathways

Sarah and Molly have implemented various measures to ensure they deliver precisely what learners and the business need. 

“With the digital skills for all program,” says Molly, “we put in place curiosity and confidence measures, which are key to understanding if we’re working on the right topics and if people are remaining engaged and actually learning.” 

In the bootcamps and academies, assessments are carried out in the application stage and throughout the program to measure a noticeable shift in skills and mindsets. 

“And in terms of the academies,” Molly explains, “we’ve got a commitment with our recruitment team that if someone has completed the program, they will be guaranteed an interview if one of the roles becomes available. So, we’ll measure how many people are applying for and successfully getting those roles.”

Expert tips for implementing your upskilling journeys 

To help get you and your team started on your own successful upskilling strategy, Sarah and Molly have a couple of tips for you. 

Molly recommends you work closely with your experts and technical teams. “Also, speak to your learners to understand what career paths they want and how they are going to achieve success,” she says. “Make sure it is a collaborative approach across all those teams and people.”

And Sarah says you need to start now. “Don't wait because it’ll be too late,” she says. “We didn't have all the answers before we started, but this was a no-regret activity for me. At no point are we going to regret starting the Foundry.”

“Start with a handful of roles for the digital upskilling academy,” Sarah adds. “Pick five of the most obvious ones or the five proving the hardest to fill and recruit for today.” 

Thanks to Sarah and Molly for sharing their insights and experience with us! Check out our episode with Bonnie Beresford about how measuring business impact drives L&D’s alignment with organizational goals or Laura Paramoure on demystifying behavior change as the key to meaningful performance improvement.

Want more peer insights on transforming workplace learning? Sign up to become a member of the L&D Collective, and check out our other #CLOConnect interviews with top L&D leaders on driving growth and scaling culture through Collaborative Learning. Or you can subscribe (below 👇) to our weekly newsletter to receive our latest posts directly in your inbox.