Bridging the Tech Skills Gap: Should Consultancies Build Their Own Training Academies?

The tech industry faces a significant skills gap, making it more and more difficult for consultancies to find well-trained graduates ready to hit the ground running. Graduate training academies/bootcamps/programmes – whatever you prefer to call them – offer a solution by providing tailored, intensive training that equips new hires with the necessary skills.

However, over the years I’ve had lots of experience in this area and the decision to build these academies in-house is not always straightforward. This blog explores my thoughts on what technical consultancies should think about if considering creating their own graduate training academies, from the associated costs to operational overheads and the time-to-market length. 

Why Does the Skills Gap Exist?

Firstly, let’s address the skills gap. Hiring graduates who possess the practical skills required for consultancy work isn’t easy. Universities often do not provide the hands-on, technical experience and commercial awareness necessary for new graduates to be immediately effective in a consultancy environment – something which is commonly required of them. Technical consultancies need graduates who are not only capable of theoretical knowledge but also comfortable applying this knowledge to real-world problems. Skills in specific tools, technologies, and methodologies are essential but often lacking in recent graduates.

Benefits of In-House Training Academies

In-house academies offer a compelling set of benefits that can appear very attractive to consultancies. Understanding their appeal is important before we explore the potential drawbacks and weigh the options fully.

Customised Training

By creating their own academies, consultancies can tailor the curriculum to their specific needs and methodologies, ensuring that new hires are trained in the exact skills required.

Consistent Quality

In-house academies allow for control over the quality and consistency of training. This ensures that all graduates meet a high standard, which can be difficult to achieve with external training programmes.

Rapid Onboarding

Academies can accelerate the onboarding process, making new hires productive more quickly. This can be especially useful in a fast-paced consultancy environment where time is money.

Remember, all of the above requires time-intensive input, usually from senior consultants, who are already highly utilised and critical to project success with a consultancy’s clients. Instead of draining that important resource, this work can be outsourced to a partner consultancy capable of filtering candidates who are “consultancy-ready”, as they understand the problems that come with hiring into a consultancy, and have the experience to tailor their academy experiences.

Realities of In-House Training Academies

Costs and Long Term ROI

The initial costs of setting up an in-house academy can be high, and even though the long-term benefits might eventually outweigh these costs, it is not necessarily the most time, cost-efficient and client-centric way to achieve success. Here’s a rough breakdown of costs: 

  • Academy Manager: Up to £50k annually for planning, recruitment, and coordination.
  • Consultant Opportunity Cost: Between  £15k and £20k for CV filtering, question writing, and assessment days.
  • HR Support: Up to £3k annually for contracts, onboarding, and ongoing support.
  • IT Support: Up to £4k annually for providing equipment and access setup.
  • Graduate Salaries During Training: Approximately £120k for 10 graduates over 18 weeks.
  • Academy Running Costs: Approximately  £170k for 3 consultants over 15 weeks.
  • Senior Support: Approximately £90k annually for ongoing development.
  • Employee On-Costs: Approximately £80k annually for 10 employees.

Overall, the first-year cost is approximately £600k, with a potential payback period in approximately ten months if graduates are charged out at £500 per day. This can be equivalent to the price of using a partner consultancy, without the additional complications and overheads surrounding HR and Operations. At the same time, many clients of consultancies will be reluctant to release their senior technical consultants to facilitate CV filtering, assessment days and ongoing training unless there is a direct and tangible benefit to them.

Employee Retention

Investing in employees’ development can lead to higher retention rates. Graduates who feel supported and valued are more likely to stay with the company longer. Whether the graduates are hired in-house or through a partner consultancy, the result is the same. This is due to the 12-24 month onboarding approach adopted when partnering with an academy-focused partner consultancy such as Counter whose Academy graduates know which company they are being hired to work with from Day 1, i.e. they know their future employer is “Client X” and will work hard to ensure they are retained at the end of their tenure.

Client Satisfaction

Better-trained consultants lead to higher quality work, resulting in increased client satisfaction and potentially more business – but only if the client isn’t seeing too much time spent on training rather than delivery. For consultancies with a purely in-house solution, it can be tricky to balance the two. Time off projects to train new recruits versus client project delivery means that most of the time, the training will take the hit. 

Building a Company Culture

Shared Values and Goals

Academies are a great way to instil company values and create a sense of community among new hires.  This helps in building a cohesive team that works well together.  Unfortunately most consultancies aren’t set up with such a capability as it’s an expensive and time consuming exercise.  At Counter, since all of our academy graduates are trained with their end consultancy or client in mind from day one, it means they feel part of that company from the beginning – particularly if that company is bought in and is in regular communication with the team before the first day.

Mentorship Opportunities

Pairing new graduates with experienced mentors during the academy fosters a culture of learning and growth. This not only benefits the new hires but also provides leadership opportunities for existing staff. Partner consultancies have greater HR and professional development support as scalable and repeatable academies are a key focus for them.

Several companies have successfully implemented their own academies and seen positive outcomes. For example, large tech firms like Google and Microsoft have internal training programmes that have done well in bridging the skills gap and integrating new hires quickly and efficiently.  However, this blog isn’t aimed at the large multinational  IT providers and consultancies, it’s aimed at everyone else who needs the same level of quality, speed and capability without punitive ramp-up overheads.

Steps to Create a Successful Training Academy

If you are set on creating your own tech training academy within your consultancy, here are some recommendations and areas of consideration: 

  • Identify Needs: Assess the specific skills and knowledge gaps within the consultancy.
  • Develop Curriculum: Create a comprehensive and effective training curriculum that covers both theoretical knowledge and practical skills.
  • Implementation: Set up the logistics of the training academy, from selecting trainers to choosing training materials and tools.
  • Recruit: Find and filter prospective candidates that match your culture and have an understanding of life in a consultancy environment.
  • Operate: Run the academy based on the client’s input, partnering with them throughout to output graduates who are consultancy and client-ready.
  • Onboard: Create a process for onboarding of academy graduates into their new company at the end of training.
  • Continuous Improvement: Regularly update the academy content based on feedback and industry trends to ensure it remains relevant and effective.

Final Thoughts: In-House Training Academy vs. Consultancy Partners

Creating an in-house graduate training academy requires a significant investment of time and resources. The long-term benefits can make it a worthwhile endeavour for technical consultancies, but the alternative of using a consultancy partner is lower in risk, equivalent in cost, has a quicker time-to-market, and little – if any – difference in quality. A consultancy partner is set up to provide customised training, with consistent quality, and the ability to foster a strong company culture by working in partnership with the end consultancy to better equip their new hires to meet the demands of the industry.

Pick Our Brains

Having successfully run in-house academies since 2016 in previous consultancies, I’ve realised that the large overheads of setting up and continuing to operate a training academy on an annual basis are high, and although rewarding, can be replicated by partners who are better placed to do so. The end consultancy can benefit from economies of scale associated with such an operating model, without the pitfalls usually associated with outsourcing.

If you’d like to speak to Counter about how what a partnership could look like, reach out to our Managing Director, Amul today.

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