If truth is the first casualty of war, training, it would seem, is the first casualty of an economic downturn. For while the ongoing training of one's IT professionals may seem like an investment in an organisation's future and even a strategic necessity given the pace of technological change, according to Gartner research director Steve Bittinger, education and training services are not a high priority for many organisations. Rather, spending on training is viewed as discretionary, and is consequently the first area to get cut in tough times, Bittinger says.
Other observers note Steve Ross, general manager of IT training company Dimension Data Learning Solutions (DDLS), goes even further: "Training is the most discretionary piece of budget because its impact is not immediately measurable." In fact, according to Ross, the IT training market (the training of IT personnel as opposed to end-user training on systems) has been down 40 per cent over the past 18 months. He concedes that this is partly due to IT turnover and recruitment also having slowed and that there is consequently less need to train, at least in order to maintain existing skills within organisations.
However, Richard Melouney, general manager of Spherion Education Australia, claims that research conducted by Spherion's Saratoga Institute shows lack of training and education opportunities makes employees four times as likely to look for another job within 12 months. "Training provides employees with the opportunity to develop and expand upon their existing skills, which is beneficial not just to the individual, but also to the company," Melouney says.
Scrimping on staff can prove costly in the long run. Employees who feel neglected will be the first ones out the door when opportunities arise elsewhere, leaving you with the headache of finding replacements. IT executives know that taking care of your employees now makes good business sense even in these cash-strapped times.
Training As a Reward
At the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), CIO Greg Carvouni views IT training as a two-way street. He says his staff have no formal training program as such, but for those who make a commitment to the organisation, show a bit of interest in their work and put in a bit of extra effort, the RTA will pick them to send to a course rather than someone else.
"Some training you absolutely must do. Microsoft comes up with a new product every year and our support people all have to know about Outlook [for example]. There are other areas like J2EE, where we've switched from one vendor to another, so naturally you send people on a course to pick up the technology. But some [training] is more advanced and people don't have to have it to do their job, and that's what we use more as a motivator and a reward," Carvouni says.
The RTA also sponsors selected people through formal certification programs, such as Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE), which according to Carvouni, is both a carrot he dangles in front of those already in the organisation and an attraction when hiring IT staff. Again, there is value in it for the staff, for whom it is a formal qualification, and the RTA gets value by getting them to contribute through their work, he says.
Although it varies with different projects, each IT staff member at the RTA typically undertakes between five and 10 days training each year, which Carvouni believes is respectable. However, in addition to technical training courses, which usually take place offsite, the RTA has a leadership program that covers the whole organisation, including IT. This can take the form of short formal courses, sponsorship of MBAs and other part-time courses in people's own time, and job rotation and placement on projects to gain specific experience. There is also a mentoring program for graduate recruits.
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