"We spend an average of three years with our new hires in a comprehensive IT training program that acquaints them with the technical requirements of our business," said the IT executive of a major stock brokerage firm. The reasons are obvious. Stock trading is a highly specialized business, and so are stock trading systems. This is the kind of precision, high-quality processing that simply can't be taught in the hypothetical lab assignments of academic institutions.
The stock trading company has distinct tracks in its IT training for new hires depending on whether the employees are going into database administration, networks, systems programming, or applications. Its "this is not a drill" approach to training requires that each new hire is assigned a technical mentor in the process of doing coursework. For instance, if you are a database specialist trainee, you might receive your mentoring and coaching from the DBA himself.
With this approach, the training demands on IT are huge. Not only must IT develop its own training curriculum, but it must also guarantee a certain number of highly compensated hours from its most premium subject matter experts so they can coach the newcomers.
Tech training: HR or IT's responsibility?
Training is not an inherently strong skillset in the IT community (which is comprised primarily of hands-on technicians), so the question for many CIOs and Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) is whether technical training like that demanded in IT should be an HR or an IT responsibility.
A UK-based insurer takes an approach that uses more direct engagements from HR. It does this by assigning an HR manager to the IT group to assist with the formal training curriculum and materials development, tracking, and administration that are needed by IT. When it comes to actually teaching and mentoring, IT still performs these functions—but at least the administration and the know-how of how to develop frameworks for curricula and classes is assumed by HR, where there is an abundance of expertise.
In another case, a U.S.-based insurance company has its own dedicated training function that not only develops online and physical classes, but also tracks and administers student enrollments and progress. The teaching is left to IT subject matter experts.
In my experience as a CIO, I found that it worked best for IT to carry responsibility for its own training for a couple of reasons:
- HR is a global training, employee relations, and benefits function and must therefore spread its resources across an entire company, which means that you won't always be able to obtain HR help when you need it.
- HR's course development strength is in the soft skills, like how to manage a project or to how to communicate effectively with people. HR is not prepared to orchestrate projects on databases or big data storage concepts.
The drawbacks to an internal IT training function are:
- You must have commitment from upper management for ongoing funding in the IT budget.
- You have to be willing to sacrifice production hours from some of your most valuable subject matter experts so they can teach and mentor.
- Other departments without internal training functions might get jealous.
Is an internal IT training program worth all of this?
Yes. The key for technical training investments is to deliver trained talent to IT projects so these projects can get done by new staff resources.
If a new hire receives focused training over several months in data mart construction for big data, this training should be able to translate into a real data mart construction assignment so this employee takes pressure off a more senior employee. If you are working your subject matter experts into the training equation, they also should be able to see immediate ROI from their classroom work with new hires.
A must-have either way
Whether IT undertakes its training with a dedicated internal training function or through a collaborative effort with HR, one fact applies to either approach: The CIO must be integrally involved.
The CIO should create a training roadmap over multiple years that closely correlates to her technology and project rollout roadmaps. As for metrics, there should be expected project "infusion" points for trainees to join in productive work so no training goes wasted. This requires relentless administration and followup.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.