There's an uncomfortable truth tech consulting firms must address: IT professionals don't know as much as they think.
In seven years as an IT consultant, I've hired dozens of technology professionals to service hundreds of clients. I've seen first-hand tech pros who have developed impressive expertise in a half dozen or so areas; the trouble is, as a consultant, you must be able to skillfully administer a dozen or more technologies. It's one thing to master server OSs, virus removal, enterprise system deployment, and database administration, but what about when clients require swing migrations, corrupt RAID recovery, point-to-point VPNs with least-cost routing, and so on?
IT consultants must cover vast territories of responsibility, or we don't get paid. When you recruit technology professionals, it's imperative that they are enthusiastic about constantly learning; otherwise, your firm runs the risk of coming up short and having to outsource important projects. Fortunately, your consultancy can take three simple steps to ensure its engineers, technicians, and support professionals grow their skills in effective ways.
1: Continuing education
Colleges, universities, career training centers, and Web-based resources all offer continuing education opportunities. Regular fundamentals reinforcement and periodic structured training covering important skills for which a professional hasn't previously been properly or formally trained pay exponential rewards. Embracing continuous education opportunities helps ensure consultants' skills receive important fundamental reinforcement and fills critical knowledge gaps within a consulting firm.
2: Proprietary certifications
The IT industry incessantly debates the value of certifications, but one thing is certain: You can't debate the effectiveness of a properly trained engineer boasting confidence and expertise with a new software or hardware technology where the individual or consultancy previously possessed no expertise.
Dedicating concentrated time for a technician or engineer to receive formal training and earn certification for new software and hardware products is an important if not critical role within consulting firms. Obviously, there's pressure to maintain high billing rates and dedicating regular work hours specifically for training purposes runs counter to that priority, but it's a decision smart consulting firms must favor. The knowledge and expertise vendor certification programs deliver -- if consultants are willing to take the time and initiative -- can be impressive.
3: Cross training
Consultants do not need to reinvent the wheel. Often, while scrambling to address crises and close troublesome service tickets, consultants forget they really trade on information. Clients don't hire consultants for products, but for knowledge. A consultancy with even six employees will find that several of those employees possess skills and information the others don't. You should leverage cross-training to help more knowledgeable employees transfer their skills to others.
The next time the firm's routing expert travels to a client site to deploy a new firewall with multiple site-to-site VPN connections, why not send another engineer with the expert? The less knowledgeable staff member can take direction from the more experienced technician, ask questions, and see the process first-hand.
By enabling cross training within your organization, you can help knowledge flow from the mind of one engineer to two, three, or more staff members. It's a simple and efficient way of educating staff and growing skillsets.
What methods do you recommend?
Have you found other effective techniques and methods for staff to continuously learn new skills? If so, share your tips in the discussion.Also read on TechRepublic: Get your IT consultancy staff up to speed
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.