Leadership

How to choose between a trainer and a subject matter expert

Who is the best person to conduct IT training? Should you hire a trainer or a subject matter expert? Identifying an individual's strengths and weaknesses can help you decide.

It’s a well-traveled discussion in the IT training world: Whom do you want to train your employees, an expert on the topic or an expert in training? There are advantages to either choice, but sometimes the best answer is to promote professional development and help both people become better at their jobs. If you identify and improve the weak spots of both the trainer and the subject matter expert—maybe technical knowledge and training skills, respectively—the decision may be easier to make.

But how do you identify the weak spots? One way is to adopt SWOT analysis, a method often taught in Business 101. In this article we’ll discuss how to use SWOT in the IT world to identify an individual’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

This inclusive approach can also help to bridge the gap that exists in many organizations between the training and IT departments.

While we may not want to admit it, it is true that IT folks do not always have patience for trainers. For example, trainers must accept the fact that some coworkers in the IT department believe:
  • Documentation is often an afterthought.
  • Getting a product to market within tight timeline constraints is difficult enough. The training department only slows implementation.
  • Users can learn new processes and applications on the fly without formal training.
  • They don't need training when they have a help desk.
  • When training is needed, IT professionals should provide it because they developed the product and know it best.

While all of these considerations may be true, it is also true that knowledge and knowledge transfer are not always the same thing.

I have gotten mail from TechRepublic members who feel strongly that IT training should be conducted by trainers, as only trainers can bring training concepts into the learning environment. Other members argue from the other side, saying that IT professionals deal with complex concepts that take years to master. Trainers cannot be expected to learn these concepts overnight.

Use analysis to assess strengths and weaknesses
Neither side has all the answers. Members of both groups have strengths and weaknesses, can identify opportunities for growth, and need to recognize internal and external threats to their success. Conducting a SWOT analysis can help you improve your chances of success.

Below is a comparison table, which looks at a SWOT analysis at two extremes:
  1. Individuals with training experience but limited IT exposure
  2. Individuals with strong IT skills but limited training experience



Keep in mind that this table uses generalities. Of course, there are individuals with 30 years of programming experience who have natural training talents and can offer the best training possible. Similarly, there are trainers who have a knack for IT solutions. This table should be used as a starting point for creating a professional development plan that should be tailored to the individual. No one person will exactly fit this mold.

There should be elements within this template that can help you and your staff find areas for growth.

To use this method to help create personal development plans, you should:
  • Review course evaluations.
  • Ask your staff to conduct a self-analysis using the SWOT method.
  • Use personal observations.

Planning for future training needs
As we progress through the technology age, the gap between the haves and have-nots will grow wider. The value of IT training will increase because it is the only way to bridge that gap. Training managers will continue to face the challenge of hiring and developing talented IT trainers.

We must create a marriage of convenience. IT professionals and training managers must find common ground and build upon it. SWOT analysis is one tool to help meet these challenges.
Do you have a training budget set aside for your trainers? Do they have to work closely with subject-matter experts on a regular basis? Do you encourage them to pursue certifications? Send us your tips for developing good trainers.
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