Has your training become a casualty of belt-tightening measures?

When money is tight, training is the first thing to go. But for IT workers, that should never be the case. Community editor Jerry Loza looks at why businesses should avoid training cutbacks.

“The first thing to go is the training.” That’s a phrase I’ve heard for as long as I can remember. I have since come to believe it as fact. The economy is in a downturn, and I’m sure you’re already seeing signs of it. When the money gets tight, training budgets get cut to the bone. Training departments close. All of the talk of the importance of ongoing training is forgotten.

Training gets the short end of the stick for many reasons, ranging from training departments failing to show a return on the company’s investment to the difficulties and complexities of changing job-related behaviors. And let’s face it: In many cases, it may just be that decision makers don’t think training is important. However, as active participants in an industry that changes with every tick of the clock, you know that training is more of a business necessity than a personal luxury.

The first question is, “Are you getting the training you need to do your job better?” Even if you’re working on legacy code, could the quality or quantity of your work be improved through additional training? As budgets get cut, the attitude often becomes, “We’ve gotten by this long without the training, we can continue to do without it.” Of course, the training could provide the increased efficiency that management seeks in the first place.

The second question is, “Are you getting the training you need to do your job at all?” Have you found yourself on a new project—something requiring almost a complete retooling of your skills—without getting the training you needed to do your job? Take a simple assignment, such as “Convert everything in this mainframe to run on this DOS PC.” (Actually, I’m just kidding…. It would be a Windows PC.) Would you get the serious retooling you need, or would you be sent to a one-week Power Builder or Visual Basic class and be expected to return and train the rest of the team?

And here’s the final question: “Are you getting the training you need to stay current in the industry?” This may sound like, “Are you getting the training you need to leave your current job?” but it’s not. Missing out on training for technologies that will eventually be in place at your organization opens the way for a horde of consultants to swoop in like locusts. Even that’s okay—but the training mission is missed again when budget cuts prevent proper knowledge transfer from the consultants to the employees. The priority is to get the product out; get the project done; we’ll learn the system (from the consultants) later. However, “later” usually never happens.

When the economy goes south, that’s exactly when companies should be looking for ways to be more productive. They should be developing strategies for getting more from their people (and I don’t mean mandatory overtime). Training, like oil on precision gears, keeps the machinery of developers working smoothly. It is an investment that can pay dividends beyond the immediate boost in performance, through increased loyalty and reduced staff turnover. Training should be considered too valuable to cut.

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