Reskilling a Workforce at Scale
About This Episode
Helen Sussex, the Director of Global Learning Design and Creation at CGI, discusses how CGI has navigated reskilling, upskilling, and futureproofing its workforce amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
The views expressed by guests are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Skillsoft.
Michelle BB 00:00:07 Welcome to The Edge, a Skillsoft podcast for leaders and learners alike to engage in thought provoking conversations and open dialogue on the topics of learning and growth in the workplace. Our guest today is Helen Sussex, director of global learning design and creation for CGI an end-to-end consulting company that delivers a full spectrum of services to help clients become digital enterprises. We are so fortunate that Helen also serves on the Skillsoft executive advisory board, which brings together various perspectives and tremendous expertise from across leading brands to help move and propel the learning space forward. So, first off, I just want to say that it's been an absolute pleasure to get to know Helen both professionally and personally. She is a woman whom I greatly admire, and it's been a while since we've connected. In fact, the last time Helen and I were together, we had breakfast in, uh, I think Boston in January, and it was lovely, a little chilly, but I definitely enjoyed catching up with you. It was an absolute pleasure then, and it is an absolute pleasure to have you as my guest today. Welcome Helen Sussex. No,
Helen00:01:17 Thank you very much. And it's a, it's a pleasure to be here and yes, I, I remember that breakfast very well in, in, in Boston and as somebody who loves to travel, I really wish I was dead today, but, um, now you go, these things happen, don't they? And it's a lot hotter today than it was that day or that day.
Michelle BB 00:01:36 I know. I know. So look, before we begin, I want to thank you, Helen and CGI for your partnership as a highly valued Skillsoft customer, we've been thrilled to be part of your journey to launch C a CGI academia, a company-wide online learning program that leverages Skillsoft Percipio. If I understand correctly, it launched fully this past April. And if that's the case, Helen, I think rather than me talking about it, I'm going to let you share some, some of your thoughts on the success, but maybe by way of background, let's start by discussing worldwide learning at CGI. I mean, look, you are one of the largest it and business consulting services firms in the world. You ensure that your members maintain modern skill sets and that's mission critical to you. So talk to me a little bit about CGIs approach to learning and what makes you so different. Hm.
Helen 00:02:24 Well, I mean, as you say, CGI is a global it services and solutions company. Um, we are very, very business focused and I know that might sound a bit crazy cause everybody's business focused, but that's how that is the, the Nique thing about CGI. Everything is built to support the business at the front line, um, and upwards. So the way that learning is organized, presented and supported here is very much at the business at the front of the business. So the business, the budgets, we have learning teams who act as, as business partners within each of our strategic business units. Um, and we can be therefore very agile in the way that we, you know, twist and turn, um, how we position our learning, what learning we position because we're responding to the business need and that can be different in the different SBUs at different times.
Helen00:03:24 So the way that my team works is we provide sort of like core global solutions that are the foundation, the basis on which the, uh, the learning teams in each of RSP use can then rest their solutions that they offer locally. If you, if you see what I mean. So, um, we tried to provide about 80% of the, sort of the, the basic global learning needs through the online platform. Um, and when I say basic, I don't mean simple, you know, but it's just the core stuff that we know that we're gonna need. And then at the business level that they then top that up with the local requirements and the local needs. Yep.
Michelle BB 00:04:01 So thank you for that. I think, um, it's a, it's a good overview. And, you know, w when you talk about CGI academia, you, you hit a major milestone earlier this spring with the launch. Can you talk a little bit about this initiative because it's been a couple of years in the making. Yes,
Helen 00:04:18 Yes, yes, it has. When we've been long time users of Skillsoft on time partners, uh, with Skillsoft and getting on for 20 years, I think, um, and we've had the skill port platform, um, in CGI, um, for, for most of that time. And, and so we it's, so it's a core part of our global offerings to, to the business, but we, we knew a few years ago that the platform SkillPort was starting to get show its age a bit. Um, we also needed to update the content a bit to be more in line with the needs of the, uh, the needs of the organization and particularly the speed at which the technologies are changing. I mean, I've been in it for more than 30 years. I'm not going to say how many but a very long time. Um, and it just continues to completely blow me away, just how fast things are moving now.
Helen00:05:12 So we needed a platform, we needed a solution that would enable our, our, our members as we call our employees to, to have access to the, to the best learning at the right time in the, in the right way. So, so we knew this a couple of years ago, but it was about, you know, waiting for the right time. And, uh, the contract with, um, Skillsoft was up for renewal. Last year. We knew that the Percipio platform was coming close to being ready, um, to meet our needs, you know, the multiple languages and a couple of other pieces. So it sort of all came together. So I started talking about Percipio, talking about our names to my internal stakeholders, my management, the business management starting about two years ago, sort of like paving the way. So at the beginning of last year, we were then able to, to get a, to get a trial of Percipio going, and that just blew away. We had about 300 people, um, trial the platform and they raved about it. Um, we did need, still need to do a comparison with other suppliers, you know, we don't, we didn't just sign the deal without checking out whether there was anything else that could be telling hates. Sorry about that. But
Helen 00:06:27 Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So, and, and because, you know, the platform and the content absolutely. But you know, what we also needed was a platform where we could host our own content. So CGI produces a lot of its own content. In fact, it's probably about, you know, 60, 70% of what my team does is actually build learning, um, for CGI. And, um, so we also needed, uh, a platform that would host our own content. We don't have an LMS, we've never had an LMS. We don't particularly want one. So we, so where many organizations would host their custom content on their NMS, we, we don't have that option. So, so we needed that. So, you know, we had to tick all of those boxes and, and none of the other suppliers could offer what Skillsoft could, which has all three of those things, you know, an amazing platform that just blew everybody away, you know, great content, um, particularly up-to-date modern technology content and rapidly, you know, being, uh, you know, producing new content, um, and then hosting, uh, custom content. So those three things together, I was able then to sort of position it with my management saying, right. You know, here's the only one who's going to supply us all. Yeah. We know that the platform's great, you know, let let's do this
Michelle BB00:07:49 Well. Well, thank you for that. And I think, you know, part of, part of what I don't think people, maybe our listeners understand as well is that customers like you, um, actually, uh, helped to, uh, provide feedback and input into the roadmap. So the things that are imperative to your business, um, we're constantly listening to your needs, Helen and others, right. Um, as part of our design partner program to ensure that, uh, the content and the platform in, in, you know, by which you access that content is meeting the needs of your business, maybe you could just touch on the design partner program a little bit.
Helen00:08:29 Yeah, no, I mean, the design partner program is, is, is fantastic. I mean, CGI have been enthusiastic members. Um, I think since you guys announced that, you know, we're going to build a brand new platform from the bottom up. I mean, the old techie in me got very excited about that move from the bottom up, you know? Um, and when you invited customers to sort of take part in that program and offer feedback, input advice, um, it was, it was such an opportunity to help an organization who wanted to do, you know, wanting to build something great, build something that would actually help our business. Now I know there were other partners as well, and they all have their requirements and we don't get everything exactly a whole way. I know that, but the ability to, to feed into that. So for instance, custom content, we weren't the only one, but I think we were the loudest because lots of other organizations have LMSs.
Helen00:09:25 So there was ourselves and a couple of other organizations in the design partner program and said, no, no, we really want you to host our own content. Um, and that was a big one for us. It's the multi languages as well. Um, is another big deal for us. Um, being able to feed back on the, um, the look and feel and how you, how you handle, um, preferences. Although I think it's changing to skills, it's changed the skills that you call it now. Um, you know, all of these things, parking every aspect of the platform, we got our opportunity to sort of feed in. Um, and sometimes, you know, it was like not a big deal for us. You know, other other people had their voices and other times I might have, you know, put my opinion forward, quite loudly for us yet, but it is, but the opportunity to help shape a platform like this.
Helen00:10:14 And I, you know, I know it's very easy if you, but I love it. I love Percipio. I think it's fantastic. Can it get better? Yes, of course it's still evolving, but I think it's just a, such a fantastic platform and I feel really proud to have been part of its development, to be honest. Um, so when I was presenting it to my management, I was able to point all of this out that it's continuing to evolve, that we have a voice in that evolution and that kind of two-way partnership is something that's actually very important to CGI. So it was a factor in, in going for the platform. Yeah. Well,
Michelle BB00:10:47 You know, that's really interesting that you say that because I think that is, there's a nice parallel here because we know that learning is not a point in time exercise. It has to be continuous and therefore, therefore, as people learn and grow, their needs will change and shift, not just in, not just in terms of their own growth, but as the market needs change. And so, you know, I think learning has to be continuous in order to make an impact both professionally and personally. Can you talk a little bit about the impact of learning and skilling or reskilling, um, and your emphasis on continuous learning? Because I know it's a core value at CGIs. Yes,
Helen00:11:29 It is. Well, I mean, as I mentioned, we, we call our employees, we call them members because it all comes back to the, to the dream, which is part of our constitution that we are as, as you know, as we are owners with members, we are owners of our organization. Um, and, and that kind of, that kind of approach that's at the core of, of how we feel about how, how members and leaders in the organization work together, um, which is that, you know, our members are consultants they're that they're grownups, they, they, they should and do take ownership of their development journey and that development journey, as you say, needs to be continuous, but it needs to be supported because nobody can do that kind of thing on their own. So, you know, the business needs to give them space to do, um, continuous learning, oh, little bit of learning.
Helen 00:12:18 And, you know, their manager needs to help and advise them, but that's very much in the CGI approach. The way that we do member management is that kind of, you know, you're a grownup, um, and skilling. I mean, I just can't, I just feels like I just kept saying the same thing over again, it's changing so fast. We are an it services and solutions company that rapid speed, which everything is changing means that, you know, you have to keep our members understand that they have to keep their skills updated and it can be hard. It can be really hard. You know, if you do a long days work to then have to think about maybe doing half an hour or an hours learning each day, or breaking out time in the week, maybe breaking into your own personal time, it can be tough. But the, the rewards for that con you know, are that continuous development, which means that they can have more and better assignments. Um, they can grow their careers and it's a benefit to CGI. We can, we can reach and deliver more and better solutions to more, more clients. And, and so CGI grows. And so the whole thing is a cycle of growth based on that continuous learning, that continuous development, um, and the, you know, the recent pandemic, just highlighted that even more.
Michelle BB00:13:43 Yeah. So, so let's talk a little bit about the pandemic, if you don't mind. I just had to touch on it because, you know, I think that this, you know, it was interesting because CGI academia was deployed at it sort of this critical time. I mean, I don't, I don't, you know, you'd have to tell us a little bit more about the impact on your business, but it, it holds it operations and projects across a wide variety of industries around the world. And so, you know, as you think about your own business, you're trying to solve for skills gaps. You're trying to provide re-skilling and up-skilling opportunities for your members globally, while also addressing the needs associated with the pandemic. And for those consultants and members who've worked remotely, that might not have been as big a challenge, but I am sure that there are lots of needs that have surfaced that perhaps you didn't anticipate. Can you touch
Helen 00:14:34 On that a bit? Um, I'm not sure that we didn't anticipate, I think probably just got brought forward. I mean, who knew when I picked April the 27th? So it was going to be right in the middle of, of, um, you know, the worst in a hundred years, you know, um, and you're right. You know, w w we projects were stopped, you know, some clients decided, you know, to hold all the activities we had. I mean, one of the things, this is a global company, it was different in different parts of the world. So different parts of CGI were impacted in different ways, but in almost every place, you know, we had people who suddenly found themselves on the bench, um, who, who, who didn't have immediate work. Um, and, and so the focus was on, you know, rather than just a, BGD going to furlough thinking, you know, is there a cross skilling that we can do with some quick up-skilling we can do, based on what they already knew, um, pivot them into a, to a new skillset, get them back, working with a client, a new client, or an existing client filling gaps.
Helen00:15:38 We don't, because CGI always has a large number of vacancies. I think most it services solutions companies do. We've already got large number of vacancies, so that, so how can we help these members pivot very quickly into taking roles that may be, you know, if everything was going along as it normally was, we would have advertised, we would have recruited for them, you know? Um, and, and, you know, so let me just think of some examples. So in the UK, for instance, they, uh, they built, um, some very quick bootcamps, um, based around a combination of, um, aspire journeys, which we already had on SkillPort, and then very quickly we're on, um, uh, uh, CG academia, um, uh, contributions for our own people giving up that time, you know, experts are experts giving up their time to mentor and coach and do some training, um, to very rapidly.
Helen00:16:33 Yeah. Particularly in the, um, the dev ops area. Um, so, so shift people's skillsets into a dev ops lens, whereas maybe previously they were, uh, a fairly standard Testa. And then, you know, what does it take to become a dev ops tester, that sort of thing? Um, actually interestingly in the us, we had, uh, an example where we had, because we do, we don't just do it services and solutions. We also do, um, business process outsourcing as well. So we do have some members around the organization who carry out business related, um, operational tasks that we've taken on from, from our clients. And there was a group in the U S um, who, who found themselves suddenly not needed to work. Um, but working with the, um, with the client in the U S we were able to come up with a training program for them based on content, on, uh, academia that could enable them to go through a fairly rapid, um, training period rather than again, furlough or, you know, or do something, or have them sitting around twiddling their thumbs.
Helen00:17:38 You know, they went through, um, uh, a training program of some quite considerable, um, you know, so it's those things that were, uh, that were, uh, kind of a bit surprised because in normal business, but, but for the rest of it, I knew that the sorts of content, the sort of the Spire journeys, the, the top end technical content, the business skills, the practice lamps, the, the books, the, um, the live events, I knew that the content on the platform will be very, very useful to us. It, it fits with what we need. Um, it just, we just needed to make it available. And the, the, the, the impact of the pandemic just brought that into a sharper focus more quickly. Um, yeah, I think that's really
Michelle BB00:18:27 Interesting. I mean, and it sounds, I mean, to be, you know, from, from our point of view, I think from anybody listening, it sounds like you've been successful in those examples are, are tremendous where you're able to highlight how you've really skilled, or up-skilled someone to be able to take on something new at a time when that's a really challenging thing. But, you know, one of the other things I, I learned, you know, is that more than half of your organization's members around the world have leveraged CGI academia. They spent, I think, I think 230,000 total hours,
Helen 00:19:06 I ran another report yesterday. It's more than that. Now it's closer to $270,000.
Michelle BB 00:19:13 Oh my gosh. And so then we must be close to a hundred thousand digital badges, then
Helen 00:19:18 126,000.
Michelle BB00:19:21 Oh my gosh. That is amazing. And so, you know, as you take a moment to reflect on that, Helen, you must be incredibly proud of what you've accomplished, but then I have to say, what is next for CGI academia,
Helen00:19:38 To be honest, after spending two years on this in a rather frantic six months, I, I kind of like take a deep breath, um, on that. I mean, yes, it has been, I mean, even, I mean, I plotted and planned this very, very carefully, you know, um, exactly what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. Um, and, and I was fairly sure that it was going to be successful, but I must admit even I've been completely blown away by how successful it's been. It's, it's, it's quite amazing. And I think, um, I'm actually working on the business plans cause our financial year starts in October. So I've actually been working on the business plans for, for next year, along with all my colleagues. And, um, and one of the things I was asked was, you know, are you going to do any more projects you no, no.
Helen 00:20:23 Um, I fi 21 for us starting out Tabor is, is consolidation it's consolidation and adoption. So it's looking at how else we can make academia central to our global learning provision bearing in mind that this is a platform that our businesses then use to, and then add on top too. Um, uh, you know, whatever local things that they need. So one of the things that we've been working on is we have a leadership learning center, um, and we're actually moving that to B, which is based sort of partly it was post partly on skill port and partly in a, in a, in a sort of workspace. Um, and that's moving into academia, we're working with, um, it feels like hundreds, sometimes quite a lot of our colleagues around the organization have taken one look at academia, going, I want my learning on that platform. So we're looking at, so we've got a lot of, lots of learning that we didn't even know existed out there that was being hosted in.
Helen 00:21:24 God knows where, and people want to move it onto the platform. So this becomes the, the call, the home of global learning in CGI and a lot of local learning as well as we can set it up so that, you know, each, each of our strategic business units can see learning that's specific to them as well as, um, as well as the global stuff. Um, so we're, we're working on that and we continue to work with you guys on, you know, the roadmap, you know, things, you know, we're really looking forward to, I dunno, I like to talk about some of the things that are coming down on the roadmap that we're very excited about.
Michelle BB 00:21:57 Well, let's go, go ahead. And then, you know what we'll do if we can't say them, we'll edit it out.
Helen00:22:07 Okay. So some of the things, so, um, uh, manager managers, being able to assign, learning really looking forward to that. Yeah. Um, we're looking really looking forward to the instructor led training the Juul because of course, without an LMS, that's going to give, um, some additional functionality that we've met with that we didn't have before. And I've got a number of units in the, in the organization sort of champion at the bit waiting to, you know, for that to arrive into, to, to get using that. Um, we're looking forward to having a couple more of our languages added to the platform. So that's a Swedish and Finnish, I think they're coming. Um, you know, so it's, you know, now we're now we're, I suppose one way you can look at it is, you know, it's, it's the roadmap, the implementation of the roadmap along with, um, embedding our, um, our own learning more into it.
Helen00:22:58 So it becomes more of a centerpiece for our global learning offering. Um, and then the, uh, you know, the final piece of that is continuing to drive the engagement to drive our change management and communications plan, which was extensive and very much focused for the launch on just making sure that everybody knew the platform existed. I set a target for our comms team that we were working with. And I said, I want, by the end of the year, not a single person in CGI to two, she could say, I don't know that academia exists. Um, and then, so we're pretty much there we think.
Michelle BB 00:23:36 Um, but then no, no, I'm sorry. No, you let me know if you want any help there, you know, I'm more than
Helen 00:23:43 Fine, but then now the is to continue to drive the adoption and help our members and our leaders make it at the whole of their continuous learning journeys so that they start with the platform and then figure out what else is needed rather than thinking about what else is needed and having to be reminded that the platform is there. So,
Michelle BB00:24:04 So Helen, this is thank you by the way again, I know I know how hot it is there, and it is truly, it is, it is truly hot, not like when we were in Boston, but I have to ask you this. And, and this is probably going to be the toughest question I will ask you, but, you know, knowing that at some point we will travel again, hopefully, um, sooner than later, whereas the very first place you are excited to go. And what do you intend to do when you get there?
Helen 00:24:32 Well, my travel plans were already, um, it's still on my it's. My husband's 60th birthday on the 3rd of September. Um, we have a Villa in Crete booked and we're taking the whole family cross fingers. It's still on, you know, they still want us, we don't have to quarantine at the other end of the UK. Haven't said we have to quarantine when we come back, which would be a real problem. The flights are still on. So cross fingers in four weeks time, I will be increasing around a swimming pool in November. My husband died, booked up to go to Jordan. So I'm going to fulfill a lifetime's ambition to, um, to see Petra. And in January next January, I fulfilled a another lifetime ambition, which is I'm going to cruise the Nile
Michelle BB 00:25:22 Oh, vicariously through. And people are saying, oh, how could you do this? Aren't you worried?
Helen00:25:30 And I, well, yes, you have to take precautions. You have to manage what you do. You have to be, you know, to keep your social distancing. My husband died boat, you know, we've all got the face masks and everything, but I absolutely refuse to stop it for, let it stop me doing what I want to do. Um, and, and I love to travel my husband and I love to travel. So we're going, unless somebody tells us, you know, you know, cancel it when it says we literally physically can't.
Michelle BB00:26:00 All right. Sounds wonderful, Helen. And look, I want to thank you so much for joining me. This has been fantastic. And frankly, um, I, I wish we could just be sitting across having a cup of coffee and doing this together. Um, and I, and I'm, so I'm eager, uh, to, to be able to meet in person again. And hopefully that will happen soon cause we can't travel at this point, unfortunately, overseas. Um, and to everybody out there, I want to thank you for listening to this week's episode of the edge with Helen Sussex, um, tune in each Friday for new episodes over on our website, skillsoft.com/podcast, or listen in on your podcast platform of choice, Helen, be safe, be well, thank you so much for participating today. Thank you very much, Michelle. It was a pleasure.
About Our Guest
Helen has spent more than 30 years in IT services organizations and 25 years involved in learning in some way. She has done just about every learning role possible, both with IT training suppliers and internal learning organizations at national and global levels. For the last 7 years she has led the CGI Global Learning Design and Creation team, a specialist CoE, where she is responsible for delivering memorable global learning, managing global learning technologies and vendor partnerships and guiding the CGI global learning governance process. In 2017 Skillsoft recognized her as a Talent Development Champion.
About Our Host
As Chief Marketing Officer, Michelle leads a global marketing organization, focused on transforming today’s workforce for tomorrow’s economy. Since joining the company, she has been responsible for Skillsoft’s global marketing strategy, which includes generating awareness, driving preference, and building affinity for Skillsoft. Additionally – and perhaps most importantly – Michelle serves as the company's brand evangelist, helping to build a vibrant community of passionate learners.
With more than 25 years of marketing, branding, and strategy experience, Michelle has made it her personal mission to support the advancement of women in business. Prior to Skillsoft, she served as Chief Marketing Officer of IBM Watson, where she was instrumental in developing the first “Women Leaders in AI” program, which honors women who put AI to work across industries and around the globe. She also served as the global head of marketing for The Weather Company, an IBM Business, helping companies understand how to anticipate, plan for, and ultimately make better decisions – with greater confidence – in the face of weather.
Michelle is a prolific speaker on a range of topics, including the war for talent, digital transformation, and marketing in a post-pandemic world. She covers these topics and more as the host of Skillsoft's podcast, The Edge, now in its second season. She has authored countless papers covering a range of business and marketing topics, was at the center of Skillsoft’s leadership role in DEI through free “Leadercamps,” and has taught two Percipio courses on the Pink Pandemic and Public Speaking.
Michelle is also a founding member of CMO Huddles, a group dedicated to bringing together and empowering highly effective B2B CMOs to share, care, and dare each other to greatness. Michelle holds a Master’s degree from Simmons University and sits on the pro side of the Oxford comma debate.