Lessons in IT training for techies

When a technology company finds itself in need of a primer on multi-protocol layered switching, where does it turn? If the company is Aliant Telecom of St. John, N.B., it enlists the services of Global Knowledge Inc., an international IT training company.

Aliant Telecom is the telecommunications

arm of Aliant Inc., an IT services company with more than 10,500 employees and $2.5 billion in revenue. The company builds and manages networks for enterprise customers in Atlantic Canada and around the world.

Yet even with all of its internal expertise — a highly trained IT staff of 35 — Aliant regularly calls on Global Knowledge when product managers and engineers in its IT department need certification or training in an area outside of Aliant’s expertise.

Its approach to training can best be described as a just-in-time education.

“”We match our training needs to what the customer has on their networks,”” says Roger Lee, senior operations manager of Aliant Telecom’s managed network

services division. In some cases this means Aliant ramps up skills while submitting a request for proposal where those particular skills will be required. For example, if its bidding on a contract to manage a virtual private network, but doesn’t have that expertise inhouse, it will send its network engineers off for training.

“”We do a business case to determine what the opportunity is driving us to get the training and we calculate the revenue related to it,”” says Lee.

Often, corporate training is a reaction to an immediate need, she says, IDC Canada’s manager of skills development research.

“”That’s a strategy that goes along with any technology company,”” says Kaufman, “”doing training on technologies they know their customers are going to need. But we’re not seeing a lot of companies doing that today.””

That’s because companies aren’t spending as much on training as they have in the past. At the end of 2001, Canadian companies had spent $886 million on corporate training. That number is expected to dip dramatically.

“”This year, it will be slower by a fair amount, and I don’t expect 2003 to be a lot different,”” says Kaufman.

Aliant, it seems, is an exception to that rule. In the past year, its managed network services division alone spent $150,000 on training for 25 IT support people.

Its latest venture with Global Knowledge entailed training 15 network engineers, product managers and support people on multi-protocol layered switching, a standard for routing packets over the Internet.

Global Knowledge is an international IT training company that offers a wide range of courses and certifications on everything from Lotus Domino to advanced project management to ultimate Web hacking. Its reputation has earned it repeat business with large Canadian banks, as well as Telus, Bell Canada and Aliant Telecom, which has enlisted Aliant as its “”preferred”” training partner.

“”The most important thing for a technical person is getting hands-on training because putting something into practice is critical,”” says Lee. “”Their instructors bring in computer terminals and other equipment. If we have training on routers, they bring in the actual routers. They’ll mock up trouble on a network and have the students troubleshoot it.””

Beyond multi-protocol layer switching, other hot areas in IT training include convergence, wireless, storage attached networks and security.

“”We’ve seen a 25 to 40 per cent increase in security courses post 9/11,”” says Richard Gordon, Global Knowledge Canada’s vice-president and managing director, adding most companies aren’t providing enough training for the IT professionals.

“”The average amount of training for IT professionals is about five days a year,”” he says. “”This is not nearly enough.””

A study released earlier this year by IDC Canada and the Information Technology Association of Canada confirms more than 60 per cent of IT workers in Ontario feel they’re not getting enough training to keep pace with the changes in technology.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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