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10 IT staff development strategies

There's little doubt that today's IT pros need ongoing training to keep up with rapidly developing technologies. But how can IT managers make that happen?

The growth of big data, cloud computing, and other new IT initiatives are prompting IT to either redevelop old talent or to find new blood. When you spend most of your time meeting project schedules and delivering technology solutions to the organization, how do you also ensure that your staff continues to grow with your technology?

Here are 10 things every IT leader can do to ensure a robust and well-trained staff.

1: Include training in the IT strategic plan

Few IT strategic plans include training. What these plans should address (along with the other elements of IT) is which technologies are most likely to come onboard over the next five years and how well IT is educated to deal with these technologies. The gaps in education should be identified, and there should a strategic plan that determines whether corporate IT direction will be to acquire the knowledge or to outsource for it. Some would argue that these items should be in the operational budget only, but I say no. Unless topmost management has visibility of the IT skills gaps and how that could affect the business, IT is going to lose its training argument on the budget cutting floor.

2: Budget for training

I am constantly amazed at how many IT managers fail to set aside dollars for training. IT is changing so rapidly that there is no way everyone can keep up from year to year. Training should be in every IT operational budget every year — without exception.

3: Patch training into actual project objectives

You never want to invest in training that will be underutilized. This makes it imperative to schedule training close to the start of projects that will incorporate the skills learned. Trained graduates can then put their newly developed skills to work right away. The payoff is a maturation of training (through actual work) into viable skill sets for future projects.

4: Use mentors

Classroom training needs to be applied in practice as soon as possible. One way IT departments do this is by assigning a senior on-staff mentor to each trainee. That way, the trainee has someone to go to when he or she works on problems or has questions. Developing these mentor-student teams also builds healthy relationships in IT.

5: Include training in annual personal objectives

Training is everybody's business — the IT executive, who is responsible for the skill sets in his area, the IT managers who run and staff the projects, and staff members, who should be focused on what they need to learn to improve what they do.  IT departments with strong training programs require staff members to sit down with supervisors and write up annual training objectives (and how they will attain them).

6: Negotiate for free training from vendors

Training is expensive, and vendors want your business. One way to optimize IT training dollars is to ink contracts with vendors that also include free training. Many companies focus on just the introductory training that is part of the implementation of the vendor's solution. Savvy IT managers negotiate with vendors for longer-term training timeframes that take IT staff to intermediate and advanced knowledge levels of the vendors' solutions.

7: Include a payback option for company-paid training

There will always be some specialized IT training you will need to buy when you invest into the individual skill sets of your staff. Most likely, the same training is also in demand in other companies. A complaint I frequently hear from IT managers is that they invest in a highly specialized and expensive training certification for an individual, only to see the individual obtain the cert and leave for another company. It's a free workplace, and you can't control others' individual career choices-but you can initiate a training payback plan, where employees sign an agreement, before taking the training, to reimburse the company for its training investment if they leave less than one year after obtaining the training.

8: Don't forget your older employees

Because there is such pressure to get new hires trained in IT so they can be productive, there is a tendency in many IT departments to slack off on training existing employees who already have proven their worth and their loyalty. These employees are proven quantities. Why not give them a shot at learning something new that not only enriches their skills, but delivers great value?

9: Establish an in-house "university"

Many IT departments coordinate in-house training through their HR departments. This is how it works: On your company Intranet, you develop an online portal that allows each employee to manage his or her training. Employees can enter training requests (which supervisors must approve) and track the courses they have already taken. Very sophisticated in-house training systems even allow employees to type in the job they would like to go for and then return the requisites skills needed for that job — along with which courses the employee must take to acquire the needed expertise.

10: Develop training exchanges with end user departments

IT'ers are usually long on technical skills, but short on knowledge of the end business. For end users, the opposite situation holds: They know the end business, but are short on technology know-how. Everyone stands to profit in a cooperative venture between IT and an end user department, with the exchange being end business training for technology training. Sometimes a few brown bag lunches with internal speakers and some live Q&A are enough to get the job done. The exercise also develops great relationships between end business users and IT.

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About

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 o...

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