How Cisco is Addressing the Widening Skills Gap

This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala, Author at eWEEK.

Technology is evolving faster than ever, and those willing to continually learn new skills will have a leg up on those that don’t invest in themselves.

Today’s companies have difficulty acquiring the right talent, as evidenced by ManpowerGroup’s 2023 Talent Shortage Survey, where 77 percent of organizations stated that it’s challenging to find skilled workers.

As a result, 71 percent of these organizations are focusing on upskilling the current workforce to meet their digital transformation needs. I’ve been covering IT trends for a long time, and talent evolution is something businesses have always had to deal with. But innovation is happening so much faster today, creating an accelerated need for skills transitions.

Cisco is among the leading tech companies making significant strides to address the skills gap, particularly in the cybersecurity and network automation sectors. Recognizing that there’s no universal solution, Cisco has adopted a comprehensive approach that spans the entirety of the learning spectrum.

“This means that no matter where someone comes in—whether they’re tech curious, trying to enter the job market, or whether they’re in the job market already—we’re making this entire learning continuum available to keep up with new technologies,” said Par Merat, VP of Cisco Learning and Certifications, during a recent analyst update on bridging the skills gap.

Cisco’s approach is multifaceted. The company works with education partners, including its learning partner ecosystem and academies. Notably, in the U.S., Cisco’s outreach extends to an impressive 45 percent of community colleges. There’s also a direct-to-learner model, allowing individuals to engage with and access their resources.

Moreover, Cisco has partnered with learning as a service (LaaS) providers like Coursera and has forged ties with government agencies. Cisco enhances this learning approach with certifications, ensuring individuals can acquire the necessary skills.

Cisco Networking Academy: The Linchpin

Spearheading Cisco’s vision for an inclusive digital future is the Cisco Networking Academy. Since its inception in 1997, it has impacted over 20 million individuals. “NetAcad” functions as a conduit between learning and job readiness. Cisco has set an ambitious goal to provide digital and cybersecurity skills training to 25 million people over the next 10 years as part of the Networking Academy program.

“We prepare individuals for careers in areas of networking, cybersecurity, and other IT roles,” said Laura Quintana, VP and General Manager of the Cisco Networking Academy. “We support countries worldwide and help them accelerate their digital agendas by addressing the skills gap. When measuring student outcomes, 3.57 million people have attributed their participation in the academy to obtaining a new job.”

Ensuring the program remains cutting-edge, the academy integrates technologies that blend traditional learning with immersive experiences, such as gamified modules, interactive sessions, and artificial intelligence (AI). One of the academy’s standout programs is the junior cybersecurity analyst pathway, offering 120 hours of in-depth training in cybersecurity.

Certifications: The Cisco Stamp of Quality

Once an individual secures a job in the tech field, the learning process doesn’t stop there. Cisco also provides accessible and certification-based training to empower professionals in their careers. Over the past three decades, the company has issued more than 4.3 million certifications.

A distinguishing feature is Cisco’s recognition as industry, rather than product, certifications. These certifications have received accreditations from renowned bodies like the American National Standards (ANSI) and the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST). Cisco continually revises and adapts its certification content, reflecting the evolving job market, a recent example being the introduction of multicloud certifications.

Cisco U: The Pinnacle of Digital Training

Cisco introduced a new platform called Cisco U, emphasizing a modernized approach to digital training. The inception of this platform was a collaborative effort with the Cisco community, aiming to strike a balance between proficiency and efficiency in learning. The platform is anchored around three foundational tenets: guidance, community, and depth.

Cisco U stands out for its use of AI and machine learning (ML) to recommend specific learning paths by offering assessments that guide individuals. This ensures people access only the most relevant content for the skills they’re trying to acquire. The platform delves deep into Cisco-specific topics while also branching out to cover newer, interdisciplinary areas.

Community engagement is an essential aspect of Cisco U. Previously, the community discussions were separate from learning resources, causing a disconnect. Now, Cisco U brings these discussions directly into the learning experience. It’s a new integrated approach that fosters “vibrant conversations, tips, and informal mentoring,” Merat said.

Case Study: How North Dakota Is Bridging the Skills Gap

North Dakota, with its predominantly rural setting, faces significant challenges in technological advancement, workforce transitions, and shifts in agricultural practices. To address these, the state has taken several key steps to promote digital equity among its citizens with the help of “Skills for All,” a Cisco program that offers free online tech courses.

Recognizing the importance of comprehensive technological education, North Dakota has integrated Cisco’s educational offerings across all its institutions, ranging from pre-kindergarten all the way to Ph.D. programs. This ensures that students receive a thorough grounding in technology regardless of their academic level.

Additionally, there’s a strong push towards promoting remote work and developing skills to stay relevant in the tech landscape. Part of the vision is to expand broadband access throughout the state, ensuring that every citizen can take advantage of modern technologies like cloud connectivity and AI.

On the educational front, North Dakota launched an initiative called PK-20W, which stands for pre-kindergarten through Ph.D. and the workforce. The initiative emphasizes the importance of continuous upskilling and reskilling, offering avenues for career progression without the constant requirement of higher formal degrees.

This vision has been further cemented by recent legislation that mandates cybersecurity education as a requirement for high school graduation. Cisco plays a crucial role in PK-20W, providing resources and support, which many of the state’s educational institutions have adopted.

Upskilling the Current Workforce

Beyond just education, there’s a pressing need to adapt the current workforce’s skills, especially in the IT sector. As technologies like AI and cloud computing become more central to operations, IT professionals must be adequately trained to handle the challenges they bring. Cisco’s programs have been instrumental in offering structured training to IT staff and ensuring they remain updated in their roles.

“The digital landscape is going to continue to move forward, and we’ve got to prepare ourselves to be at the cusp of that technological change,” said Kuldip Mohanty, North Dakota Office of the Governor’s chief information officer. “That’s where the Cisco Networking Academy continues to be our strongest foundation. This collaboration extends beyond technology. It’s about fostering a culture of innovation, learning, and adaptability.”

North Dakota’s vision is technological inclusivity, where every citizen is equipped and empowered to navigate the digital age. The partnership with Cisco stands at the heart of this vision, fostering a culture of continuous learning and ensuring that the state has a skilled workforce for the future.

The topic of reskilling is something I talk to almost all IT professionals about. There are many ways to keep one’s skills current, but leveraging vendor-driven programs like Cisco offers is an excellent way to ensure the training received is current and in line with present and future technology trends.

Technology is evolving faster than ever, and those willing to continually learn new skills will have a leg up on those that don’t invest in themselves.

Author: Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.