BBVA’s new upskilling program turns its employees into tech ninjas

BBVA's upskilling program seems to be a runaway success — but what can others learn from the company's efforts?
6 March 2020

What can organizations learn from BBVA’s upskilling program? Source: Shutterstock

Keeping up with the pace of change is hard, making upskilling programs really important.

Businesses, the forward-looking ones that know and value their people and want to retain the knowledge they’re acquired during their time with the company, are therefore offering courses.

Their biggest challenge? To make a real difference, the programs need employees to stay committed for a long period of time, often several months — which is not easy, to say the least.

Learning and development teams often tasked with creating such programs have a lot of experience with what works in theory and how things play out in the practical world. The best ones know that offering simple e-learning modules isn’t enough.

It’s why BBVA’s team decided to think outside the box when it had to create a long-term upskilling program for employees that not only provided them with important technical skills but also engaged with them and kept them hooked onto the course.

Dubbed ‘Ninja’, the European banking giant’s upskilling program introduces employees in marketing, design, and digital sales, among other areas, to programming, advanced analytics, and even machine learning.

Ninja isn’t a new program. It was first created in 2016 and has already provided more than one million hours of training.

Built on the principles of gamification, the program has been upgraded and scaled up several times to become one of the most extensive technology-focused upskilling programs in the industry.

“The need to acquire knowledge and technical skills at the speed at which the organization needs them is not exclusive to technology fields,” said BBVA Global Head of Engineering and Organization Ricardo Forcano.

“Ninja was created to detect, promote and give visibility to BBVA’s technology talent, and now we want it to be a reality for the entire organization. This project is a key catalyst in our transformation as a company.”

According to BBVA’s blogpost, so far, the company has participated in over 1,000 chats, 740 workshops, and 24 hackathons around the world as part of the program. It is also responsible for the publication of 420 scientific articles and more than 1,300 contributions to the opensource community.

In total, Ninja has facilitated 19,000 online training classes or Massive Online Open Courses and 3,500 strategic certifications.

In the coming months, BBVA intends to continue expanding the scope of its upskilling program to support the learning and development goals of more employees.

What can others learn from BBVA’s digital upskilling program?

BBVA’s Ninja program fosters a culture of learning and continuous self-development through gamification.

It encourages employees to proactively identify new skills they would like to pick up in order to evolve in their areas of work, and better contribute to the organization.

According to the institution’s blog post, the program also foments the visibility of the bank’s internal talent who have picked up new skills and shared their learnings with others through talks, workshops, and publications.

“The Ninja project is pioneering in the corporate world because it breaks away from the traditional way to train employees. They are the ones who decide and choose their professional evolution based on their needs,” said BBVA Global Head of Ninja David Hernantes.

“They are in charge of their own development by participating in different activities with our strategic technological partners.”

The way that the program works is simple. Employees choose their own training through the different activities that are available, such as participating in chats, workshops, and hackathons, doing online courses, obtaining certifications or publishing scientific articles.

As they do these activities, the employees receive Ninja points in different skill areas (communication, learning, teamwork, experience, and community) in a fun way, as a reward for their efforts.

Accumulating more points allows them to go on to the next level. In total, there are seven levels.

Since employees must demonstrate interest and actively participate in the sessions, the Ninja upskilling program succeeds in garnering the commitment needed for development and professional growth.

Through the initiative, the company has been able to train staff on engineering skills, user experience, cybersecurity, data science, cloud, and more.

These are exactly the skills other companies are trying to hire for and struggling to find talent — which is a good indicator that the principles adopted by BBVA’s Ninja program are something others must endeavor to emulate.

In the coming months, employees in other organizations will demand upskilling programs of their own. Delivering something that incorporates gamification and fosters commitment while offering a wide portfolio of skills will benefit everyone.