How can employers help their talent to upskill?
Gemma Rafferty, senior database designer, Liberty IT. Image: Liberty IT

How can employers help their talent to upskill?

9 Apr 2018429 Views

It’s not enough for employers to simply say they want to help you upskill. They have to take action.

How often do you hear about the opportunity to upskill in job interviews? Most times when this is brought up, the recruiter or employer will genuinely mean it.

But it’s not enough to want to upskill your staff – employers have to think of how exactly they can help their workers do that.

Luckily, plenty of employers out there are getting it right. We spoke to Gemma Rafferty, a senior database designer at Liberty IT, about her career to date and current role.

“I always enjoyed doing math and solving puzzles,” said Rafferty. She studied computer science at Trinity College Dublin before working in consulting, which gave her exposure to the external IT expertise that companies need, such as data and business intelligence. “Since coming to Liberty IT, I have continued along the data route.”

Outside of her main role, Rafferty has also participated in Liberty IT’s Byte of Code, an initiative that gives all employees, regardless of their background and technical experience, exposure to the code and development tools being used within Liberty Mutual.

“Byte of Code had around 25 participants, but this was part of a much larger effort. In total, 200 Liberty employees across eight locations in Ireland and the US took part,” said Rafferty.

The initiative was structured as three hour-long sessions consisting of a lesson and practical exercises. The final week saw coding challenges that pulled together all the skills that had been previously learned.

‘It took away some of the fear of new things and empowered me to make suggestions within my own team, to make some changes using these new technologies’

Rafferty said the course she took part in focused on microservices and cloud computing. “We learned to build and modify services in AWS, and create an automated test that could pull it all together into a CI/CD pipeline,” she explained.

“The goal of the course was not to become experts in the tools, but to make connections with people elsewhere in the business while at the same time increasing awareness and improving confidence.”

Employers who effectively upskill their employees will get much more value from their staff. It helps people to develop skills and experience that may not be immediately relevant to their current projects, but could become incredibly useful down the line.

“The overview gave me context of where and what the tools were being used for throughout the company. The programme demystified the buzzwords (which is all too common in IT) and gave me more confidence to consider getting involved in new projects,” said Rafferty.

“It took away some of the fear of new things and change, and empowered me to make suggestions within my own team, to make some changes using these new technologies.”

‘There is a misconception that the IT world moves so fast, it is impossible to keep up’

Rafferty believes coding and computer science is something primary-school students should be introduced to because STEM subjects can offer so many options for future careers.

“The range of jobs available in STEM is both its advantage, in that you can move around within your career, but is a disadvantage when trying to explain to someone considering the career at a young age because of the broad scope and lack of definition of the generic role of IT. It can appear confusing or elusive, especially to younger children.”

As a STEM ambassador, Rafferty visits local schools and attends events to encourage young people to consider STEM subjects. “There is a misconception that the IT world moves so fast, it is impossible to keep up, and this can turn people off even trying,” she said. “I try to explain that if you learn the fundamentals, it gives a framework to solve many problems in a wide range of areas.”

Rafferty also said that even she had misconceptions about IT careers. “I could never have foreseen the flexibility that often accompanies a job in IT,” she said. “Having a work-life balance was important to me, especially after I had kids.

“I consider myself lucky that Liberty IT has a policy of working with employees’ personal needs to find the best fit for both company and employee, so that we can both thrive.”

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny is the Careers Editor at, although she prefers to be known as Careers Overlord. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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