The economy is standing still, and to say that the markets are volatile would be a pretty major understatement. In fact, I hear that the only stock that is on the rise is that of Tums Antacid. With this kind of uncertainty, organizations will either tighten their belts or more closely monitor expenditures and may slash the one thing that always seems to go first when budgets are tight: training.
Unfortunately, training is critical in IT. Without it, our staffs remain stagnant and our organizations fall behind. So, what are some ways in which you can stretch your remaining training budget and make sure that your staff gets the training they need to do the work of the organization?
1. Use computer-based training
Computer-based training has been around awhile, and there are quite a few vendors in this space. At Westminster College this year, I purchased training from TrainSignal for some of my staff who needed to quickly ramp up their skills, and the results have been very good. My new help desk person responsible for deployment watched a Windows 7 Deployment course and can now hang with the best of them. A newly minted DBA has used TrainSignal's SQL courses to learn his new trade. Now, I have to point out that I'm a bit biased; I have created a number of courses for TrainSignal and, with knowledge for how seriously the company takes training, felt that this was a good option for us.
Of course, there are other vendors in this space as well, including CBT Nuggets and Lynda.com. One of my staff members has a subscription to Lynda.com and has reported a high level of satisfaction as well.
Best of all, these options are successful and extremely economical.
2. Train the trainer
Maybe your company has enough money to send one or two people to an in-person course, but you need five or six people to be trained. In cases like this, consider a "train the trainer" approach whereby the people who attend the course are expected to come back and train those who were left behind.
There are some obvious drawbacks to this approach, though. First and foremost, it's assumed that the people going to the training will understand and retain everything they hear. This might work well for courses in which the content is from predefined printed materials and the instructor pretty much followed the outline.
The other drawback is that the people left behind don't get the luxury of asking questions of the instructor. But, in some cases, this is the only way that everyone who needs particular training will get it, and it's not an uncommon approach.
3. Read books
Books — you know, those tomes of knowledge that you can now carry around on a Kindle or an iPad — used to be all the rage. For those who still use them for some of their training, they can be a great resource. Personally, I use books all the time for much of my own learning.
For material that's not specialized, books can be perfect, but they're not for everybody. Many people have a hard time sitting down and reading the dry material and staying engaged.
In general, books are a relatively inexpensive option, but if you're planning to get people trained on something very specialized, such as your customized ERP, this option might be off the table.
4. Partner with other organizations
Do you need somewhat generalized training — perhaps on Office or common server systems like Exchange, SharePoint, or SQL? Training companies like bigger groups of people, so look for other organizations in your area that might need the same kind of training and see if you can negotiate a group rate.
At Westminster College, we're using the same student administrative system as the other college in our small town, and we've successfully shared training costs in the past to save money on both sides.
5. Make use of surplus gear
Although I use books, my favorite learning method is doing. Is your company turning over servers and replacing them at the end of their warranty period? Could you instead distribute that equipment along with, say, a TechNet subscription to those who really need to ramp up their technical knowledge? These folks could then use something like Hyper-V, VMware Workstation, or VirtualBox to stand up a mini-lab in which they could sandbox anything they wanted without fear of breaking anything else.
Even with tightening budgets, the work of the organization has to get done. Training is a critical element in these efforts. These are just five ways that you might stretch your training dollars. Do you have more?
Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.