As it is, Hunter says the investment in the non-technical skills of his people has not varied much in the past year. There has also been little movement in Accenture's IT infrastructure over the past 18 months, and so there has been no great need to upscale their general technical skills either. However, this is set to change over the next six to nine months as the company rolls out new infrastructure, which he says will involve a significant investment in training the technologists in the products.
"As part of the project budget for rolling out that platform, we would include the line item for training up our people. So it would be seen as an exception year, but the money required for training would be approved as part of that overall project," Hunter explains.
Back in 1998, a study jointly conducted by Global Knowledge Network and the Australian Graduate School of Management found that many organisations preferred not to train their own personnel, but rather to hire skilled and qualified IT staff. One of the reasons given was that they had an interest in their staff having less, rather than more, mobility that additional skills might give them. Times have certainly changed in terms of the demand for IT skills. However, Hunter thinks that while training is a double-edged sword, it ultimately makes good business sense.
"We've made some fairly large investments in our own people and that's great. You probably do make them very attractive to the market, though, and you have to hope that on balance they see Accenture as the place where they want to stay and where they'll continue to be developed in their careers," Hunter says. "People are attracted to Accenture because we do have the history of a strong focus on training and developing our people. And I think that flows through very much to the internal team as well. It's something I guess we believe in and probably get a lot of good value out of."
To E or Not to E
Executives are now demanding proof that e-learning will also improve employee learning, retention and satisfaction.
E-learning (Internet and technology-based training) may seem like the panacea for hard times given how it is touted as being able to reduce significantly the cost of training, enable people to learn at their own pace and minimise out-of-office disruptions. However, while e-learning and its predecessor, computer-based training, have long played a role in end-user education, opinions vary as to how appropriate it is for IT professionals themselves.
According to a 2002 Gartner Dataquest survey, the use of Internet delivery for IT learning is still low. The results show that of the total volume of training delivered, 58.6 per cent was by classroom-based, instructor-led delivery. Self-directed training by non-Internet means was next at 31 per cent, and Internet-based delivery was the least used method at 10.3 per cent.
Respondents did predict that over the next 12 months they would use less classroom-based, instructor-led training and more Internet-based training, but it should also be noted that IT training in the context of the survey includes both technical training of IT professionals and end-user training.
But companies are also requiring evidence that e-learning will deliver on its promise. "The pressure is on e-learning initiatives to prove their salt before any investment is made," says Julie Kaufman, research manager at IDC Canada. "Enterprises are demanding a business case before the purchase of an LMS [Learning Management System] or any other software or service behind e-learning initiatives."
Greg Carvouni, CIO at the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority, thinks e-learning is very effective and especially good for IT people because they're naturally comfortable with the technology itself. Geoff Hunter, IT director, Accenture, also says he and his staff make extensive use of e-learning and virtual classrooms, among other methods of training. "Because we're technologists in a technology firm, we have access to a lot of very good internal material. So we can jump on those [online] courses when they're relevant for us, but we also recognise that some training just needs to be face to face," Hunter says.
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