IT’s long-term training plan

In the wake of ITI‘s collapse, there’s been a lot of talk about the value of technology training. What troubles me, however, is the silence about long-term plans for training IT workers.

How are organizations working to ensure that staff — current and future — will have the necessary skills to keep the business running? Sure, many companies have training budgets, but there’s more to upgrading than offering to reimburse employees who take courses. Staff need flexibility and direction if these incentives are going to work.

What’s the point of offering a training allowance if your IT department is already overworked? Who’s helping staff evaluate what they should be learning — and from whom?

In the United States, IDC predicts that the corporate e-learning market will grow from US$2.3 billion in 2000 to $18 billion in 2005. That’s great news for online education outsourcers, but I haven’t heard much talk about quality assurance.

Companies have to take it on themselves to ensure that their employees have the time and resources to keep their skills up-to-date. That means planning and developing partnerships with trainers, be they public or private, if training can’t be done in-house.

You can’t just buy a few CD-ROMs and hope for the best. And bellyaching about how the education system churns out too many English graduates and not enough e-commerce platform developers ignores deeper structural realities.

For one thing, it’s hard enough to predict what the market will be like in six months, let alone a few years. Tinkering with university curricula to meet short-term skills shortages, for instance, invites academic disaster, as educators would be forced to continually second-guess the market.

This is where community colleges, private institutions and certification programs can play a role. They’re especially well-placed to provide specific skills training in a short time.

Of course, quality varies. Some schools just churn out network admin drones, who have to scramble for dead-end positions that pay about as much as what entry-level trade journalists earn. Other institutions, however, go beyond the nuts and bolts and provide business-oriented training. And according to IDC, that’s where corporate IT learning is heading.

I remember covering ITI’s Toronto opening in 1997. I was impressed by the way people worked together to complete assignments based on workplace scenarios.

What really struck me, though, was the fact that one of Canada’s biggest banks had agreed to take on 40 grads, guaranteeing their employment. ITI followed up the deal with similar arrangements with other employers.

Unfortunately, the school later launched an incredibly insulting ad campaign (radio spots something along the lines of you got your BA and now you’re enjoying life on the beach–as a waiter), before ultimately giving up the ghost. To me, that attitude ran counter to the notion that BAs and IT were actually a good fit.

One school’s troubles aside, partnerships can help reduce the risk for both employers and students. Companies know what they’re getting, and students in turn are provided with some assurance that their diplomas won’t simply become a piece of high-priced wallpaper.

The next step would be to build ongoing arrangements, offering training to employees throughout their careers. For all parties, this could add a little more stability to a volatile market.

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