PricewaterhouseCoopers, which consults with marketers on growing their digital initiatives and in-house teams among other services, is launching a two-year training program to boost the digital skills of its own employees.

Beginning in January, PwC’s intermediate to advanced skill-building program, called Digital Accelerators, will replace 1,000 participants’ typical work load with digital-heavy client work and projects and weekly classes on everything from cleansing data and blockchain to 3D Printing and drones for two years.

Sarah McEneaney, digital talent leader at PwC and head of the Digital Accelerators program, said that since PwC is not primarily known for its marketing consulting work, its services are having to compete directly with other consultancies and ad agencies for a larger share of clients.

“My job is to future proof our workforce,” said McEneaney. “It just seems table stakes at this point that people should have more technology skills. It’s needed for us to remain competitive and to be responsive for what our clients are also going through.”

It’s also an effort to cut costs for clients. PwC can cut down billable hours on projects when employees finish tasks faster because of what they’ve learned in classes. “Our clients are looking for us to do things more digitally and control the cost of what we’re doing,” said McEneaney.

PwC began its push into digital services in 2014, and is currently working with clients across industries with their user experience, media strategy and more. “Our clients are looking at how they can transform, stay relevant and frankly stay in business and attract employees,” said McEneaney.

In March of this year, PwC opened up an application to all 46,000 of its nationwide employees for participation in the program. Out of that number, 3,500 employees applied for a spot. Although the program is meant to give opportunity for employees to advance within the company, all participants had to sign a two-year contract stating their commitment to the program, which might have been one reason behind the low number of applicants. The consultancy then selected 1,000 employees for the program, said McEneaney.

Of those 1,000 employees, around 100 of them work directly with clients in the marketing consulting space, although it’s difficult to determine just how many employees touch marketing, according to the company. Meanwhile, 16 of these employees work specifically on PwC’s own marketing and sales teams, and aim to digitalize the company’s own marketing efforts.

For every employee participating in the program, their previous responsibilities are stripped away and they are now required to spend upwards of 10 hours a week in Digital Accelerator classes, with the rest of their work week comprised of new digital-intensive projects. It’s not that these employees will not have any client work; their responsibilities will now focus on client work that is digitally-focused. “It’s basically like a new role for them,” said McEneaney.

The curriculum consists of three primary focus areas. The first is data and analytics and will include classes on collecting and cleansing data and blockchain. The second area focuses on automation, including classes on cybersecurity, drones and augmented reality. The third is focused on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Participants will also take coding, user experience and design thinking classes that deal all these topics.

Part of the time, these classes will be led onsite, but the majority of classes will be taught virtually and are group-focused, so an employee in Boston could easily work with an employee in San Francisco if they want to, said McEneaney.

PwC would not say how much it’s spending on the overall program, but did say that training employees with new digital skills is one of the largest single investment areas for the firm this year.

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