After Hours

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...

12 comments
jeffld
jeffld

[b]1. Include training in the IT strategic plan[/b] Budgeting for training is great, but offer employees a choice to learn a new technology on their own. In the IT field, the really successful employees are able to teach themselves, however I've found that these things should not be forced upon employees. Give the employees a few things to choose from so that they can learn to teach themselves. [b]2. Budget for training[/b] I agree, there should be money in the budget for training. Spend it wisely and make sure it is in line with what the business needs. [b]3. Patch training into actual project objectives[/b] This is great, but half the battle is finding out which direction and which technologies the company wants to use. Take the PHP programing language for example, Do you want to use a framework? which one? Employees need to know which one to invest themselves in so that their own efforts are not wasted. [b]4. Use mentors[/b] This is huge. You never know how little you know about a topic until you try to teach it to someone else. There have been things that I've worked with for years, then when I train someone else on it, their views and perspectives help me to see things in ways that I either always ignored or would never think of. [b]5. Include training in annual personal objectives[/b] You had me up to this point, but on this, [I]I disagree entirely[/I]. I do not believe that employees should feel this kind of pressure because some may rebel. There are way better ways to motivate and measure employees progress. [b]6. Negotiate for free training from vendors[/b] If you have the clout to get the vendors to provide training, that is fantastic. Just don't let the sales guy at the vendor talk you into technology that isn't best for your organization. [b]7. Include a payback option for company-paid training[/b] I don't think this is a good way to "retain talent". This kind of arm twisting will push away talent. [b]8. Don’t forget your older employees[/b] Absolutely. If you have talent, give them the opportunity, but make it their choice. don't shove it down their throats with ultimatums attached. Real or perceived. [b]9 Establish an in-house “university”[/b] This follows along with the mentor point mentioned above, but goes a step further by allowing employees to get training that they enjoy and may be a better aptitude for. [b]10 Develop training exchanges with end user departments[/b] I agree. There should be a partnership between the IT staff and the business end. The IT staff Q&A sessions work great. I've seen Q&A sessions and training sessions used for the business and I've gained a lot from them even as I am in IT.

Pete6677
Pete6677

Pay your employees at least market rate. Denying someone a well-deserved raise will just lead them to take that fancy new training you spent a lot of money on and go work for your competitor.

lovcom
lovcom

I think it great if a company can get training for their employees (developers). But if they don't do this, then it is paramount that the employee get that training him/herself. In my 34 years in the biz, I always took the initiative to get trained if the company refused to do that for me. I think it is career suicide for one to wait for the employer to do it. I know many IT developers that tell me "I don't know java bacause my employer is too cheap to get us training...". The other problem is that many companies are reluctant to pay for training because IT workers come and go frequently. It is hard to hold on to the creme of the crop, and often a company shells out big $$ only to see that employee give notice and use those skills someplace else.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Earmark some of the budget for formal training, then do your best to save the company money and not spend it. Formal and informal training are a small part of learning and development, current thinking is 70% of your learning and development is learning by doing. Post deployment reviews, cross team collaboration, pair programming, sprint retrospective, best practice initiaitives. Spend your time and resources where they'll count. Any employee worth paying is always learning and developing, most firms don't measure that, they just count up the number of letters they have after their name.

mcarr
mcarr

Your list deals with nothing but training - that's only one aspect of development. When pay reviews came up for young developers who came straight to us out of uni, at my old company we would sometimes tell them that in lieu of a pay raise, we'd send them to a faraway conference and give them a week of holiday as well. Learning to deal with people at the conference, figuring out how to travel by themselves, and sitting by the pool in a faraway country all instilled qualities in them that served they and the company very well. Ten points that say train them and no room for one that says consider their personal development, or any other aspect of them as people? Yuck!

mdromano
mdromano

A lack of training is a big problem in the IT industry so I'm happy to see an article written about it. We should keep in mind that many surveys (BCS/ACS) have shown that taking the time off of work is the biggest challenge to staff being adequately trained. So really one of the biggest considerations needs to include allocating a number of days/weeks per year directly to training. This is what separates the good employers from the ones who offer empty promises. Half of the items listed above are just token ideas which are designed to appease to politically correct upper management without resulting in real outcomes.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I can't tell you how many times I've been sent to a class in advance of a new project, only to see it delayed for months beyond my ability to use or even retain the skills (if the project isn't dropped entirely). I've learned to ask, "Can I wait on this class until closer to deployment?"

&ltDTECH;
&ltDTECH;

These are some very helpful techniques for the purpose of moving forward in businesses, also in enabling staff to be up to date with the needed skills for moving forward. Also I think there should be regular meetings to inform staff of such activities, and see whose really interested in developing themselves. This could set a line for promotion of staff and also motivation

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If they do but you are working with something else, train yourself up and contribute. Other than that I agree completely only a complete nitwit would wait for an employer to train them in anything.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Is smiley's on the dash board. Yes formal training plays a part, but if you don't get to use it, it's a total waste of money.

GSG
GSG

In fact, last week, I went to a class all week only to find out that I (and my co-workers) wouldn't be able to take the test until January, and passing is a condition of employment.