Most companies struggle when it comes to finding the right tech talent. Technology being critical to support our strategy and being in the midst of retail digital transformation, we realized that addressing this issue was a top priority for Carrefour Spain. Hence, after dedicating some time to brainstorm about different solutions, one appeared as very promising : The #CODE – Academy! In this article I would like to share with you how selecting and training internal store employees and turning them into technical talents is not only possible but also great and fun.
Of course, this did not happen overnight. Significant effort was required to make it happen, but it was rewarding as it proved to be a great experience for all the Carrefour people involved.
Tech talents are precious assets with specific challenges
Most of us often focus on technology itself before thinking about who will run it. As many companies have witnessed, technical talents (architects, engineers and developers) are pretty scarce nowadays, in a world where the digital revolution has changed everything.
Managing tech talents can be challenging, especially regarding two aspects:
- Engagement – Today, the tech market is liquid and growing, thus turnover is high and commitment to the company tends to be variable depending on the culture, initiatives, strategy… In general, tech talents tend to be excited by specific projects, often missing the broader view of business priorities.
- Business knowledge – Effective tech professionals have deep insights from the business. For instance, a good front-end system engineer knows perfectly the impact on the customer in case of a technical disruption that compromises the service.Unfortunately, a “pure” technical career does not always provide opportunities to acquire this understanding.
After identifying these two challenges, I wanted to have the best developers on my team. Let’s say I already have a handful of tech experts. How to grow this into a committed and business savvy team?
At Carrefour Spain we have a huge asset: More than 40,000 employees working in hypermarkets, supermarkets, proximity stores, cash&carry and e-commerce operations, as well as other businesses.
Why not look for talent within the company? Why not offer our employees the opportunity to evolve, and become tech professionals? The logic behind this idea is simple. By doing this, we could get:
- Highly motivated and committed employees, spotting Carrefourians that are passionate about tech but never had the opportunity to work on it professionally. This could represent an excellent opportunity for professional evolution and learning for them.
- Leverage this workforce to gain first-hand knowledge of retail business operations.
The four conditions to success
Before launching the initiative, we identified four conditions to success:
1. A solid foundation – First, get a core team of highly qualified techies to act as coaches! Their seniority is not only a technical competence, but also involves being able to train, motivate and grow junior talents.
2. Capacity. Do we have enough room for new people? (organization size, headcount, workload) You can’t build a good tech team with 50% juniors, however, you need a minimum to make the effort worthwhile. All this needs to take into account so the numbers can add up.
3. Investment. An openness to invest in “future tech” talents was needed. The first year with a mixed-team (tech + “future-tech” people) is both time-consuming and costly. Newcomers will have to learn a lot before becoming productive in their new job and will need significant support from other experienced team members.
4. Conviction. The whole organization should be persuaded of the mid-term benefits of mixed teams. All the stakeholders should be involved early on, be it the team manager, the HR business partner, the financial controller or the CIO.
I strongly advise to have the green light on these four conditions before starting the process!
The selection process for future tech talents
The selection process is crucial when it comes to setting up a mixed team of both tech and “future-tech” employees. Our main interrogation at that step was whether or not we were going to find store employees that wanted to be part of a first-rate team.
The short answer is… YES. We found many store employees that were appealed by the opportunity and wanted a career change. And, this is how Carrefour’s Spain #CODE – Academy was born!
HR communicated about the initiative and the process to follow to all Carrefour Spain’s employees. About 200 candidates applied. After a few first basic filters were passed, the real selection journey began.
The selection process mainly based on two factors: Academic background and real interest in becoming a tech expert. We found several interesting facts:
- Age was not a relevant factor. People from 19 to 48 years of age wanted to participate in the initiative. We really appreciated finding more senior people having the courage to go for a major career change!
- A remarkable number of people had an academic background related to technological or scientific disciplines, but for different reasons their professional careers had run in other ways.
- Among the people who declared they have a “great interest” in the world of technology a few of them had the initiative to take personal courses (either face-to-face or online) on development, design, UX or systems administration. In some cases, some of these people launched small projects “on the side”. We rated this group as having “real interest”, and we gave it high points in the selection.
- Although all jobs were represented, people working in hypermarkets predominated and, more specifically, appliances and electronics salespersons.
We ended the section with a great pool of talented candidates. This is a sample of the selected candidates:.
After the selection, the final candidates went on to the training process. We asked our own tech teams to lead the training to the new recruits, together with specialists from the HR department. They were delighted to share their experiences with #CODE – Academy recruits and explain how software development work in the real world.
On the training itself, we planned it in two stages:
- A compulsory online training of 60 hours, designed to ensure a minimal starting point before moving into the next stage. This part of the training was performed while the employee was still occupying his / her former job.
- A 10-week face-to-face training, bootcamp-style, which would allow candidates to join the technical team with a deeper understanding of the different tech frameworks and processes..
This was the general scheme:
The training was demanding: We wanted to prepare the new recruits as well as possible for their future job and put them up to operational speed as quickly as possible.
We were positively surprised by the fact that more than 90% of the candidates passed the training. Moreover, you could feel that during the course a true team spirit was developed among them. The more advanced students helped the others to progress, and they all supported each other!
Graduates’ reception: the start to a new professional life in tech!
Last but not least, every manager must keep in mind that celebration time is important. Celebrating creates a sense of achievement, and it is really important to reward ourselves for a well-done job.
The candidates graduated from the #CODE – Academy in a ceremony held at our Carrefour Innovation Center in Madrid. There, the existing team team and Carrefour Spain senior managers formally welcomed them, and celebrated this huge achievement.
They were gradually integrated into our technology teams. Some of them were moving from different Spanish cities to Madrid, so they needed some time to adapt. But this was not the end of the story, it was actually the beginning. We assigned a software development team to each one of them, with a veteran team member as “mentor”, who supervised their integration and growth thereafter.
Two years later
I am very happy to say that two years after starting this initiative, 100% if the employees who completed the course are still with us! All of our new tech talents have been gaining significant experience and autonomy. They are adding a lot of value to the team and they have a bright future ahead.
Let me finish by sharing a piece of advice: Do not underestimate internal talent. People will surprise you if you give them the opportunity! During my time in Carrefour I had the chance to witness amazing examples of personal reinvention. I am extremely proud of the #CODE – Academy graduates and I thank them for their commitment and contribution.
Check our other tech projects on Horizons.