Creating a culture of learning: a conversation with Slalom
AWS Training and Certification’s Steve Hall interviewed Rebecca Gentile, Global Alliance Enablement Director at Slalom.
Introduction to Slalom
Slalom is a modern consulting firm focused on strategy, technology, and business transformation. With offices in 35 cities around the world, they enable organizations to truly operate a global scale, with a local touch.
Slalom has completed more than 1,200 projects across more than 375 unique customers using Amazon Web Services (AWS). In the last four years alone, Slalom has added more than 1,600 AWS Certifications and established itself as a Premier Consulting Partner in the AWS Partner Network (APN).
Not only have they leveraged AWS Training and Certification offerings throughout our partnership, but they have expanded upon them with their own training programs. In this interview, we spoke with Rebecca Gentile, the Global Alliance Enablement Director at Slalom, to discuss their history with AWS Training and Certification, how they are currently leveraging AWS Partner Training offerings to navigate these unprecedented times, and their outlook on the future of employee skills development.
Steve Hall (AWS): How has Slalom leveraged AWS Training and Certification as an AWS Partner?
Rebecca Gentile (Slalom): I’ve been in this role at Slalom for four years, and with Slalom for 10 years in total. A large focus for our team is doubling down on AWS Training and Certification investments.
When we started on this journey, we had a total of 32 AWS Certified professionals across the whole business and had not achieved APN Premier status. We now have over 1,600 AWS Certified professionals, which is the result of multiple efforts and programs from both AWS and Slalom.
We started with internal awareness campaigns and internal change management channels, called Ambassadors, to make sure our markets were aware of what is available, providing the foundational AWS Partner Accreditations and letting people know how to get started. We began these motions before the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner was an option. This newer certification has allowed us to target more audiences within Slalom including our sales teams and business advisory services teams.
To engage our employees and incentivize them to continue their learning journeys, we created fun challenges and have ongoing learning campaigns. At Slalom, we reward our people who earn the five Associate and Professional AWS Certifications with, what we call, a Cloudiator distinction. As a Cloudiator they receive a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) style belt and yes, this award is meant to be over the top!
We recently created a new award for anyone who earns all six AWS Specialty Certifications called a Specialiczar Medallion. Gaining more than one AWS Certification allows our people to self-recognize and say, “Yes, I’m investing my time in this because I care, and I want others to know I’m keeping up with my skills.” It also tells our clients that we care enough to keep up with their ever-changing needs and remain ingrained in what AWS has to offer for our clients.
We now have 30 Cloudiators and have two people in Slalom who have earned all 12 AWS Certifications. That has become another new challenge to earn both the Cloudiator Belt and the Specialiczar Medallion to gain the title of Cloudius Maximus.
Steve Hall (AWS): Wow, that’s amazing! Let’s switch gears a bit. Can you explain Slalom’s cohort-style learning model and how it has impacted your internal professional development efforts?
Rebecca Gentile (Slalom): We continue to scale learning by encouraging people who have gone through AWS Partner Training and Certification courses to give back through cohort-style learning groups. The community-based learning approach gives individuals ownership over their learning while participating in a study group with fellow employees and includes additional support from those leading the cohorts along their learning journey.
To support different learning styles, these cohorts leverage a variety of on-demand and virtual, instructor-led courses, workshops, hands-on learning, and self-paced learning resources. Our people have questions specific to Slalom, such as customer stories and their roles on AWS projects, which has allowed us to bridge the gap between AWS Training and Certification materials, Slalom best practices, and learning from our subject matter experts internally. We have found this approach to be especially helpful during these times where people are working remote.
A specific example of how we’ve connected like-minded cohorts is an internal program at Slalom we call the Ambassadors Program. Our Ambassador Program provides a framework to facilitate collaboration, learning best practices, and roll out AWS Training and Certification programs across all of Slalom’s markets, sales, and delivery teams. Our Ambassadors lead AWS Certification study cohorts and stay connected with the AWS team to outline what is available, continue to increase their team’s AWS Certification numbers, and grow our cloud skills to help our clients in the cloud ecosystem.
Steve Hall (AWS): How has the demand for online and on-demand training resources changed as we have entered these unprecedented times? How has Slalom addressed it?
Rebecca Gentile (Slalom): There has been an increase in demand for learning in general, with an emphasis on virtual instructor-led training, cohort-style learning, and self-directed training. It has made us focus on what is important – and what our people need. It’s also teaching us how to address the different needs of everyone during this time. We are focused on two things: focusing on empathy for everyone’s unique situation and focusing on the future.
What I mean by empathy for everyone’s unique situation is we all are dealing with this in very different ways. Some are finding they have more time on their hands or they are on the bench for the next two weeks and want to accelerate their learning before a new project coming up.
Others are experiencing an increase in workloads at both work and at home caring for their families. We must lead with empathy and understand what people are going through so we can best help. This could be tailoring learning in a new way, adjusting times for learning, or changing expectations. We even have some markets that are doing this cohort-style learning after their children go to bed with 10:00 p.m. study groups to bring everyone together.
Here at Slalom, we are rolling out new training programs to help people navigate learning and make it simple. We are focusing on the skills of the future, what’s going to be in high demand, and how to prepare for what happens next. The AWS Training and Certification materials are great for someone who is curious and wants to get started or learn about what’s next. As we know, there is a huge skills gap in cloud technology, and this is the time to dig in. My team’s goal is to make that easy and continue to drive connections across Slalom and AWS.
Steve Hall (AWS): Can you share how AWS Training and Certification resources are leveraged in onboarding and reskilling remote workers?
Rebecca Gentile (Slalom): We want to take our existing consultants and continue to allow them to either reskill or upskill. We also want new Slalom employees to have the right level of AWS knowledge, with a Slalom spin on it.
We want to make sure people are connected and that they are feeling connected to others by including AWS and Slalom subject matter expert (SME)-led virtual learning sessions. We have a new internal campaign we call Road to Readiness, which is a simple step-by-step guide for specific roles at Slalom and highlights which AWS Certifications they should pursue.
For example, we may say, “you’ve got your AWS Solution Architect – Associate Certification; have you thought about this new AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty exam?” With this new style of learning, our people can self-direct while they are remote.
We are also rolling out a new AWS Cloud Data Engineering Academy. It is a two-week virtual academy focused on upskilling our current consultants. This could be for someone new to Slalom, or somebody who just wants to learn this new technology. We are leveraging the training resources for both the AWS Certified Solution Architect – Associate and AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty, while also focusing on general tools concepts for our cloud data engineers. This program ends with a capstone project. We are grateful that we can leverage learning resources from AWS Training and Certification, but we are also putting a Slalom spin on it to give a mock-client scenario to bring the learnings to life.
We expect that the work we’re putting in now will have a longer impact. Digital and remote training will continue to be the go-to learning modalities. We want to ensure that we’re helping people who work remotely to continue to learn in the way they want to learn – or with other like-minded learners.
Steve Hall (AWS): What advice would you give to other organizations?
Rebecca Gentile (Slalom): I would reiterate the need to encourage empathy for everyone and focus on the future.
What behaviors and skills do you want people to gain during this time that will support future needs? We want our employees to have a growth mindset, be resilient and support change, and focus on developing their cloud-based skills. We truly believe these three things will be important and provide a big impact.
You can operationalize these efforts by embedding a change management process to your learning goals – executing internal awareness campaigns, putting different challenges in place for people, letting them know what’s available, setting goals and targets around how to grow that. I really think the focus should be on empowering your people by providing the support, tools, platforms, and development opportunities that will encourage a self-directed learning mindset.
Most importantly, keep the needs of learners at the forefront and make it fun.
At Slalom, we have nurtured a culture of learners, builders, and competitors who find a way to win and answer challenges. I do think it comes down to the culture you build. This has given us an opportunity to lean into that and focus on in-demand, specific roles, and hot skills areas – such as focusing on the skills gap around artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), virtual and augmented reality, as they are going to be even more important as we go into the future.
For more information about our training and resources for AWS Partners, visit us at aws.amazon.com/partners/training.