Autodesk Foundation supports portfolio organizations with new leadership development training program

Categories: Impact Autodesk Foundation Future of Work Sustainability Perspectives
Tags: learning philanthropy

From climate change to inequality, the Autodesk Foundation supports nonprofits and startups that are creating design and engineering solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. It provides philanthropic support through a blend of funding and training to de-risk innovation and scale industry-transforming solutions.

Yet in recent discussions with our portfolio organizations, we heard the need for a new layer of support: non-technical, leadership training.

Many of these early-stage organizations don’t have the resources to provide the level of career training necessary to develop promising new talent beyond traditional on-the-job training. At Autodesk, we are fortunate to have professional development programs, like the Next Level Program that offers access to BetterUp career coaching. With this model in mind, we saw an opportunity to help address a critical need for our portfolio organizations.

In March 2022, we announced the Tech Lead Development Program (TLDP). A six-month cohort-based program designed to facilitate learning for the most in-demand, non-technical skills of the future.

We developed TLDP with the goal of creating a community focused on scaling impact innovations among rising leaders, spanning industries and regions. The 18 members of the inaugural cohort were nominated and recognized as emerging leaders from within Autodesk Foundation portfolio organizations and hail from the United States, Latin America, Europe, and East Africa.

Group of leadership development program participants

Tech Lead Development Program cohort at Autodesk University (AU) in 2022.

Emphasizing leadership skills

Over the course of the program, the cohort ventured outside the technical skills they were most comfortable with in their roles as architects and engineers, and instead took time to hone their soft skills.

Despite being called “soft,” these skills are anything but superfluous. Industry research like Autodesk and ASME’s recent Future of Manufacturing report, tells us that workers don’t solely need technical skills to thrive over the next decade—they need to be proficient in problem solving, collaboration, and communication. And as leaders, they need to be prepared to succeed in cross-cultural and global contexts.

We focused on helping participants build their skills in three core areas of talent development: leading yourself, leading others, and leading industry.

Beginning with leading yourself, we helped participants build skills necessary for a growth mindset, like self-awareness, adaptability, and resilience. Maintaining a growth mindset is essential for being ready to evolve and keep pace with industry.

Next, we targeted inclusive leadership skills. In our globalized industries, it’s increasingly important to be able to lead a team of individuals who may have diverse lived experiences and identities. This requires development in relationship building, empathy, and authenticity.

This element of the program resonated with the cohort, inspiring Laura MacDonald, Managing Director, from Mortenson Center in Global Engineering. “I realized I do have leadership strengths appreciated by others and [I am] encouraged to continue to strengthen those skills to build a positive work environment,” she shared.

Beyond leading coworkers, it’s important these innovators are ready to lead an industry. Each participant is working toward solving incredibly complex challenges—like building sustainable housing, reducing carbon emissions, and strengthening resilience in low-resource communities. The more we can equip them with skills to convey their learnings and successes, the more the rest of the world can learn from them.

The road to Autodesk University

Leadership development program participant presenting at conference

Members of the cohort presented their Capstone Publications at AU.

At the final stage of the course, the cohort convened at Autodesk University (AU) to formally present on a topic they’re passionate about while highlighting their expertise in leadership. Through these presentations, participants gained real-world experience talking about their innovative work, demonstrating their thought leadership, and practicing public speaking.

Watch presentations from the TLDP cohort at AU, here.

Experiencing their presentations in person provided us with tangible proof of their growth and success over the last six months.

Leadership development cohort participating in a cooking class

While attending AU, cohort members took a cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking.

Encouraging outcomes

After the program concluded, we were delighted to hear positive feedback from participants reflecting on what they learned. Kylie Van Aken, a Quality Manager at Vartega warmly shared, “I feel empowered to know what I can bring to my organization and advocate for my ideas.”

And participants’ supervisors also took notice. We heard glowing remarks from managers like Yihenew Belete, a manager at Splash International, “This program has made our organization more confident in this individual’s leadership, communication, and teamwork, to the point our company is willing to promote her.”

Our survey data following the program helps quantify the strength of the experience. Among participants, 94% strongly agree that the cohort will continue to be a resource and group of collaborators in their future work and 88% say their learnings will help them drive success for their organization.

Further, the participants’ growth was recognized by their employers, with 66% of the cohort reporting they have taken on new responsibilities or have been promoted during or immediately following the program.

But this experience means even more than the data suggests.

After six months of connecting with one another virtually, meeting in-person at AU made it clear just how strong a bond this community has formed. Even now after the program, the group still sends celebrations and career updates in the cohort group chat.

In this space, there’s a powerful feeling that each person will accomplish incredible things and an understanding that everyone will support each other in their collective journey to make a better world for us all.

Learn more about the 2022 cohort and their incredible work here.