On the Training Track

On the Training Track

The skills crisis gets personal

I was prompted to evaluate my skills and training certifications when I saw a position description with our company that seemed eerily similar to my position on a job Web site. I'd ignored skills development over the past few years, having focused on getting my job done instead of training for possible future jobs.

I first looked at what technical skills I should brush up on. The traditional method to skilling up technically usually means ignoring any actual knowledge acquisition and just focusing on passing a certification exam. This was made easier with various brain dump sites publishing the exams for Cisco, Microsoft and others, but it appears Cisco, for one, is cracking down. While it would be embarrassing to fail a certification, it would be catastrophic to cheat and get caught.

There are a number of areas where I need to boost my technical skills. For example, I believe my BlackBerry is capable of sending e-mails, not just displaying them, and that it's possible to phone people other than those who have just phoned me. My initial skills research into this put me off a bit. I discovered that to insert a date, I can press L, press D and then the space bar, which just reminded me of all the fruitless hours I spent looking for Easter eggs on my DVD player in the 1990s.

Apparently the current trend is to move away from traditional technical skills into more general problem determination skills. One consultant suggests companies now need people who have curiosity to investigate issues and solve them. Unfortunately there are no Acquiring Curiosity 101 courses around currently.

I wondered what business skills I should develop. The big thing in the 1990s was to get an MBA, often in some glamorous location like a French chateau in Fontainebleau or at MIT in Boston, which explains their popularity. With my MBA in hand, certainly the CFO and CEO will sit up and take notice of my ideas. If they don't, I'll have the letters to impress CEOs at other companies.

The benefit of an MBA is it shows I've made a major investment in time and energy to the business. The disadvantage is it requires a major investment in time and energy, and I'd rather keep the three or four nights a week that I'm currently not working as non-work time.

The third training area to consider is something outside the IT industry altogether. Former colleagues who have jumped off the SS Enterprise found themselves opening wineries, selling real estate or becoming day traders. I may have left that run a little late, though. With the grape glut depressing prices, house prices dropping and share prices tanking, I realized a mandatory characteristic for any future job is it should not send me broke. Opening a restaurant was a possibility, but ultimately all those late nights had little appeal. Another option was running a cat kennel, which in truth seemed too much like my current job: spending all day surrounded by constantly preening, self-centred creatures doing whatever they please unless they want feeding or a pay rise.

I finally got some much needed career advice, and was told I should leverage my strengths. This was obviously step two, with step one being to work out what strengths I have, which took a lot of effort. I discovered my key strength is procrastination so I put off any further thought about it, and just looked for training courses.

Staying on Course

The challenge was to find the best method of gaining skills. There are formal courses from business groups, private companies and tertiary institutions. Obviously these cost money, which I knew my company would be delighted to pay for under their skills development or, at least, work-life balance programs to which they are very committed (we even had a workshop). The slight flaw in my plan to use the company training budget was the assumption that there was a company training budget. Apparently it was cut back in the 2001 downturn, and never re-established. Everyone's been so busy since then doing the jobs of all the people who left the business that no one noticed.

I looked at cheaper alternatives. Web sites are free, and I learned a lot from Wikipedia, but little that related to training. It's very time consuming, not terribly focused and doesn't look that impressive on a resume.

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