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T-shaped Upskilling: Making People Your Competitive Advantage

Workera Team

In this article

    Ujwala Chajerla, director of the AI/ML Center of Excellence (COE) at PPG, recently joined Kian to discuss why upskilling is important in his role. He explained that PPG has established the COE to generate value at scale by underpinning key business operations and customer experiences with AI.

    The Power of People

    Many companies are undergoing a digital transformation, that is, building AI teams and technologies that will guide their organization into a data-driven future. Yet, despite the power of these technologies, what is it that sets one company apart from another? According to Ujwala, it’s a company’s people. When making a digital transformation, any company can reference use cases, streamline processes, build platforms, and access data. However, the people, with their knowledge and skills, will determine how effectively those resources are used. No matter how powerful AI can be, the extent to which that power is being put to use for a company depends on the abilities of its people.

    “The unique thing that you can have that will differentiate you in the market is your people” - Ujwal Chejerla

    The fact is, every individual employee has their own skill limitations and knowledge gaps. That’s why PPG has developed a model of product development that utilizes COEs and cross-functional teams to generate value. As Ujwal says, “It’s very difficult to find unicorns—people who know everything. So you work with what you have.” Yet, he also recognizes that “what you have” can grow and develop, given the right amount and kind of attention…and that’s where upskilling comes in. By upskilling, you can take “what you have” and develop teams of people with much greater knowledge bases and abilities, leading to more innovative ideas and efficient problem-solving.

    Deep or Wide?

    Growth doesn’t look the same for everyone, though. Upskilling ought to be guided by the OKRs established by the company, but it should also take into account the unique capacities, goals, and passions of the individual employee. Taking this into consideration, PPG has established a T-shaped career progression system for employees that allows them to either go broad or deep in their skillset. For some career paths, such as those in management, learning horizontally–that is, developing competencies in several domains–will be most advantageous, while those in technical roles will often benefit most by going deep in a single domain or subdomain, which is called vertical learning.

    “We can do better today than yesterday every day” – Ujwal Chejerla

     

    PPG’s T-shaped career progression system is a fascinating application of the more conventional understanding of T-shaped learning, which focuses on the development of the individual. At Workera, we often speak of T-shaped learning on an individual basis: an employee ought to develp a broad base of durable knowledge and skills, while delving deep in areas that are at once more practical in the short term and perishable in the long term. In many cases, horizontal learning can be carried out steadily over time, while vertical learning occurs on an occasional basis in order to accomplish a particular project. PPG’s innovative application of the concept, however, allows members of the team to choose a career path that highlights going deep or wide. Either way, what is certain is this: every successful AI team depends upon growth to remain relevant and creative in this competitive, constantly adapting field.

    “If we look five years from now, I believe there will be an expectation of every executive to be extremely good at developing skills” – Kian Katanforoosh

    At PPG, the development of AI technology has paid off. The implementation of AI has developed operations at PPG (specifically in making products in labs and plants), yet its effects have hardly been relegated to the backend. Digital technology has also allowed PPG to simplify and enhance their customer experience while maximizing organic growth through improved speed to market. Here at Workera, we believe that companies that are willing to transform digitally, and invest in the people that make such a transformation both possible and successful, will experience similar successes.

    Key Takeaways

    • Gaining a competitive advantage through upskilling is essential for executives who are looking to achieve their organization's goals.
    • The goals of the individual as well as the OKRs of the company should be considered when choosing whether to upskill vertically or horizontally.
    • Understanding people and their skills is an executive's greatest strength and upskilling them should be a primary goal. By investing in skill intelligence, executives will be able to create long-term competitive advantages for their organization.

     

     

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