The training dilemma

If you are reading this blog it is very likely that you work in IT. IT is a dynamic subject. Today we deploy Windows 7 and tomorrow we will deploy Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10. And we will most probably use System Center Configuration Manager 2012 to do that. That brings up the constant need to keep our skillset always updated.

As a consultant I work with a lot of different companies with different backgrounds and motivations to keep their IT staff on their peak of productivity. Most companies are very relaxed and tend to adopt a new technology only when they are forced to leave the old one behind. There are exceptions, where the client proactively trains the staff and implement new technologies as they become available. There is no right or wrong in this case, just a question of what fits the best the real business needs of the company, as the ultimate go of the IT department is to enable business.

One recurring factor that most companies have is the ability to hire people with the minimum required skillset to perform a task and pay a low salary. There is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is when it comes to training. Some companies need to update their employee skills in order to move forward, but companies usually don’t like the idea of training their staff as they might use the new upgrade to leave the company for a better salary now that they acquired more skills. Why would I pay for a training course, losing a few days of this employee’s time on BAU operations and have to pay more in order to keep him in the team?

The answer is very simple. If you buy a car with a better and more powerful engine the maintenance of that car is higher. But the driving experience is much better. The same applies to your team. Trained IT staff is more motivated and willing to learn more on their free time. Furthermore, if you leave and employee that is not particularly skilled on the task he is responsible with, the cost to remediate potential collateral damage is very high. It is much cheaper to mitigate the problem by providing training.

If you company hires a consultant make sure to make the most of it. Consultant usually spend a long time waiting for tools to run and gathering information. Most consultants are great source of information as they deal with different companies with different backgrounds and are exposed to a lot of different technologies. And they also like the attention. Having people from a client interested on their point of view is a great way to establish a good relationship and get the most of the engagement. Make sure to place the consultant in a place where he can interact with your IT staff.

A few things should be taken into consideration. Never put all the eggs on the same basket. Providing all the training to a few specific members of staff is proven to be a disaster. Diluting the skillset between different staff members will guarantee business continuity and keep everyone motivated. Make sure you compensate a successful training with the appropriate pay raise, no need to over compensate, make sure you pay market rates. Making a training repayment agreement; where if an employee leaves the company in the first 12 months after receiving training he will pay a proportion of the training cost. This decision is very unpopular amongst IT staff, but do it anyway, you have the right to protect your investment! Make sure the training is relevant to the tasks your employee will be performing. Training people on something that will not be used is a waster for money and valuable time. Make sure to keep a skill matrix updated to identify gaps in your team.

In short, training your IT staff brings a fresh approach to your day-to-day tasks, keeps your team motivated and productive. Don’t be fooled by the costs of training and salary compensations derived from the training, and make sure you protect your investment by making the most of consultants time and creating a training repayment agreement.

Now go and train your staff.

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