When a shop makes plans to implement new technology, managers often look outside for a consultant to help drive the transition. Sometimes these hired guns are worth the cost, particularly since they already have experience with the technology you are launching.
Doing business with outside consultants also presents challenges. Sometimes the consultant's personality clashes with the full-time staff. In other cases, the outsider’s actual technical skills fall short of the skill set that was advertised.
Before you go outside for expertise, you should consider the benefits of spending the money you had budgeted for a consultant on training your in-house staff to handle not only the project at hand but also others down the road.
Invest in your team to improve morale
Instead of spending a ton of money on costly outside gurus—people who will take their skill sets with them when the project is completed—you should spend your money on training your best and brightest. For example, suppose you’ve made the decision to move to the .NET platform. Before you pick up the phone to start interviewing .NET consulting specialists, round up some funds and send a select group of your developers to .NET classes. Help get your full-timers Microsoft certified. When your people see that you are willing to make a commitment to them, then they might return the favor. After all, who wouldn’t want to stick with an employer who is willing to help foot the bill for additional training?
It’s a retention thing
You may be concerned that you won’t be able to keep the expertise in-house once you’ve paid for it. You can keep your best and brightest team members from jumping ship for greener pastures by providing them with an incentive to stay around. (You’ll pay for the training, the cert tests, or both.) Once trained, your full-time brain trust is still in-house when the six-month project has been completed.
How to stretch your training budget
If your shop is like most development departments, you probably send multiple people for training outside the workplace campus. However, you don’t have to approach it that way. Consider contracting to bring that training function in-house. The break-even is lower than you might think, and there are some hidden benefits. Here's how to stretch your training budget by insourcing.
Save money in the long run
Training programs aren’t cheap, and your company may object to shelling out a big check for training your team. But compare the cost of training with what it costs to keep an external consultant on board for six weeks or six months. Contract developers can easily charge you upwards of $75 per hour. Again, those high-priced skill sets walk out the door with the consultants. Do the math and figure out which is going to be more cost-effective in the long run—getting your people trained or paying the contract talent?
Debunking the myths
You should also be careful not to believe the myths surrounding in-house vs. consultant strategies. Here are a few:
Myth #1: Your folks will learn via training by observation
Don’t be so naive to assume that your full-timers will learn the new platform by watching and working with the outside contractors. Sure, they’ll gain some familiarity and learn a few new tricks. But the consultant is there to do a job, not train your people.
Myth #2: If you train them, they will leave
A lot of managers push back on the idea of training their full-time employees out of fear that, as soon as the employees get training under their belts, they’ll leave the company for better jobs. I personally don’t subscribe to that theory. If a company is willing to train me in .NET in 2003, I figure they’ll want to train me in dot-NEXT in 2004. If people are eager to jump ship after you pay for their training, it’s not going to be for greener pastures; it’s going to be because there are other problems that need to be addressed.
Myth #3: Train them, and they will expect a raise
Okay, maybe this isn’t as big a myth as the first two. Some employees consider that getting trained makes them more valuable employees, so they deserve more money as soon as they finish training. You can nip that notion in the bud pretty quickly. Just point out that when the company pays for training, it’s with money the employees don’t have to spend on themselves.