Executive Feature, Interviews

Stay in School: Why Cisco Wants You to Keep Learning

The tech world has often debated whether young professionals entering the industry need a university degree. If successes like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs didn’t finish college, why should the employees they hire? Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, even incentivizes students to not go to college by funding their projects through the Thiel Fellowship.

Not every tech company, however, is interested in pulling students out of classrooms. Global IT company Cisco has collaborated with universities to ensure curriculum reflects what graduates will need to know when working in tech. Macy Andrews, Senior Director of Human Resources, explains, “Building meaningful engagements between our business leaders and faculty members is core to how we ensure we connect the curriculum at universities and the future talent needs of the industry.”

For Cisco, learning doesn’t stop once you’ve graduated. The company is invested in continuing education for the new and experienced workforce. Andrews and Global Learning & Development Leader Jennifer Dudeck break down how Cisco is becoming a pioneer in encouraging long-lasting learning for its employees, plus they offer advice to experienced employees on how to stand out from Gen Z crowd.

Glassdoor: Millions of students have just graduated and are stepping into their first jobs. In terms of skills and technology, how would you describe the landscape they are entering?

Macy Andrews: Graduates with technology skills are in high-demand, making it an amazing time to join the workforce. Combined with the emergence of the gig economy graduates have the freedom to explore their skills and strengths in new ways and carve their own entrepreneurial paths. There will be even more opportunities looking ahead: it is estimated that in 2020 that there will be 1 million more computing roles than applications to fill them.

What companies are looking for are people who have a love for learning, dedication to achieving great results, and a resiliency to handle challenges. They also seek talent who have the willingness to be market disruptors and drive innovation.

Many organizations foster and encourage students wanting to explore, innovate and use their creativity. For example, at Cisco we have a culture that encourages innovation, no matter where an employee sits in the larger organization. We host innovation challenges to garner great ideas untethered to your role or business unit and have had some great wins as a result.


Glassdoor: Cisco is at the forefront of technology and AI. How do you and your team bridge the potential skills gap between what universities teach and what companies like Cisco need?

Macy Andrews: We have established an Engineer in Residence program at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical (A&T) State University, where a Cisco engineer consults and teaches the cybersecurity course and a core routing and switching curriculum at the school. Leveraging our established Cisco Networking Academy curriculum, we rotate the engineer teaching the course each semester and plan to expand this successful program to other schools.

At some schools (e.g. Howard University) we also support our employees who want to be adjunct professors and teach curriculum in addition to their roles at Cisco.

We have also facilitated faculty workshops, teaching faculty members valuable skill sets used by engineers so they can leverage the knowledge back in their classroom and enable future students to have a greater impact when they join the workforce.

In addition, we also provide real industry experience through internships and student mentoring programs. These programs are essential in ensuring that students from diverse backgrounds and adjacent majors have access to employment opportunities and the visibility needed to expand the tech workforce of the future.

Glassdoor: What are some of the programs Cisco has in place to support employees for sustained education and success in this new digital world?

Jennifer Dudeck: Cisco’s learning strategy focuses on the most critical skills for employees to do their jobs today and in the near future, as well as provide a learning platform that fosters empowerment and curiosity for continuous learning. At Cisco we are implementing strategies and programs that will provide employees clear learning pathways and the curriculum to develop their skills, as well as access to tools and resources across multiple content providers offering countless subjects that support them in their future career opportunities.

Glassdoor: What is reskilling and how does it differ from traditional learning and development programs that companies have offered for years?

Jennifer Dudeck: Reskilling in itself is not unique from what’s always been done with learning. Companies have always had learning and development programs to keep employees current with their skills. The difference today is the magnitude and velocity of change we are all experiencing and the impact on roles and skills. This, in combination with gaps in talent with these needed new skills, has dramatically increased the need to retrain employees. We also know with the fast pace of change, there are new roles and skills that previously didn’t even exist, such as machine learning. This new world that we are in requires something different than what many companies have been driving through incremental learning. There is also a change in terms of how employees want to learn and the ease of having accessibility to resources.

Glassdoor: Are there any specific hallmarks of a company/employer who truly invests in preparing its workforce for the Age of Digital, versus those who simply offer the flashy perks?

Jennifer Dudeck: One thing to look for when looking at companies committed to preparing their workforce is how they are prioritizing how employees will develop those skills and the approach. At Cisco, we are investing in a platform, Degreed, which will provide employees the ability to personalize their development and training. It also provides us with the analytics and intelligence around learning patterns. One can think of Degreed as the Netflix of learning from a personalization perspective and the LinkedIn of learning from a learning intelligence perspective that it can provide.

Glassdoor: Lastly, what advice would you give a mid-career employee about how to pivot to be successful in this new age?

Macy Andrews & Jennifer Dudeck: You have a lot to offer: use your knowledge and experience to be a passionate problem solver.

Be curious, be open to developing your skills through a variety of ways and be willing to break through your comfort zone.

With the emergence of eLearning platforms, continue to build on strengths.

Assess your particular career needs, aspirations and goals. Be clear with yourself and your manager on a plan to achieve a level of success that benefits the business and your ambition.


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