Fashion is an ever-changing and evolving business. We update our wardrobe with each season or adjust it to trends that come and go. This continuous change is further accelerated by technological innovations. For example, mobile phones have significantly changed the way people buy fashion or get styling inspiration.
Technologies like AI are opening up an array of possibilities. With AI, customers can get shopping recommendations that are highly personalized, which makes them more relevant. The challenge, and the delight, is to navigate this fast-paced environment, to keep up with technological innovations, and to assess how they can be implemented to benefit our customers. At Zalando, we want to make sure that our employees are empowered to face these tasks. Therefore, we facilitate life-long learning.
Shamin Hassomal, Team Lead Leadership & Learning, and Lara Ruppertz, Lead Tech Academy, explain how and why learning is part of everyday life and every career at Zalando.
What does learning entail at Zalando?
Shamin: Learning is an essential part of our company culture. Any role at Zalando will involve learning. In a way, it is part of the deal, we give our employees the opportunity to learn but we also expect them to embrace these opportunities. Of course, this does not mean that this is solely up to the individual employee. Zalando is committed to supporting learning efforts by offering the space and the resources needed.
Why is learning important to navigate a fast-paced environment?
Shamin: The industry that we operate in changes constantly, which means we have to constantly change as well. Learning certainly includes acquiring knowledge about technological innovations, but it is more than that. We understand learning as a mindset. It is about embracing change and constantly growing your skillset to face new demands and situations.
Talking about technological innovation, how do you ensure you keep up with the latest developments?
Lara: We have trainings in place for our technological experts, but we believe that all employees at Zalando should have the opportunity to learn more about, for example, AI and machine learning. This is why in spring 2018, we launched a training called “Basic Machine Learning.” In this training we teach the core concepts and ideas: What is an algorithm? What is machine learning? How is machine learning used in different industries? The goal of the training is to present employees with new ideas about machine learning and artificial intelligence. So far, over 500 employees have taken part. When participants leave the room, wanting to learn more and explore what Machine Learning and AI could mean for their jobs, we know we have done the right thing.
You mentioned that you offer training for tech experts. Can you be a bit more specific on how you organize tech learning and training at Zalando?
Lara: As a platform company that focuses on becoming the Starting Point for Fashion we have to keep up with technological progress and make sure our employees have access to the knowledge and tools they need. The fast pace of tech innovations adds another layer of complexity. Very often there will be no time to create a formalized training as, by the time that is done, the technology will be outdated. Which is why we needed a scalable learning solution that offers enough flexibility. To formalize and organize these demands we set up the ‘Zalando Tech Academy.’
What is Zalando’s long-term strategy behind committing to learning?
Shamin: At Zalando, we believe in talent mobility and a long term commitment to our employees. The skillset that an employee brings along should not limit them to a certain task or job. Should the demand for a job or the interest of an employee change, we want to offer them the opportunity to upscale their skills and develop into a new area.
What role does the Tech Academy play in upscaling skills?
Lara: Next to offering trainings that give our tech employees (Data Scientists, Product Managers, Engineers and Project Managers) access to the tools and innovations they need to move forward within their role, we also engage in horizontal development. We have a need for Data Scientists, for example, and are now offering professional development training to grow employees into that role. Of course, employees will need to have a technical background and engineering skills to be considered. Still, this is the kind of training that we want to further build out in the near future.