Your IT department is a few weeks away from installing Windows 2000 on every PC in your company. You’re in charge of training end users. While you’re sure most of your employees can handle the transition, there are about 20 who will need training.

You decide to send your employees to a local training center that’s teaching a course on Microsoft’s new operating system. But when your employees return, they tell you how the center’s computers were down half the day. And even when the instructor was teaching, he was rude, flew through the material, and didn’t answer questions.

Obviously, you won’t use this training center again, but what could you have done to prevent this? We talked to Holly Cherico, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau, and here’s what she advised.
In the first of a two-part series, we’ll tell you what you can do to ensure that you and your employees come away from a training center satisfied. Next week, we’ll tell you what recourse you have when things go wrong.
Be choosy
In the race to keep up with the latest technology, some businesses can rush into training instead of making sure the training center they’ve chosen is a good fit. Remember to exercise the same kind of scrutiny when making any other purchase.

“In the Information Technology field, there is an urge to try and train your workers as quickly as possible, but that doesn’t mean you need to pick a company at the speed of light,” said Holly Cherico, spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau in Arlington, VA.

Check with the BBB
One of the first places you can check to see whether a training center is sound is your local Better Business Bureau. Have complaints been filed against the center? Has the business tried to address them?

Word of mouth
If you’re shopping for a contractor to remodel your kitchen, you’ll probably ask a friend or a colleague who they’ve used. The same rule applies to training centers.

If you’re uncertain of the center’s success, Cherico recommends you contact past clients to see whether they were satisfied. Also, make sure that their experience is recent. If the training center is under new management, it’s not a valid comparison.

Who’s teaching?
The last time you had a great trainer, she spoke of her 10 years in IT and her five years of teaching. But how experienced are the instructors you’re considering? What’s their background? Do they have the right skills to teach your employees?

You should also ask what kind of technology the center is using. Is it better suited for a large group or one-on-one instruction? Is the company’s equipment fairly new, or have you stumbled onto the secret Commodore 64 graveyard?

Get it in writing
Does the company promise “satisfaction guaranteed?” Get whatever promises the center’s salesperson makes over the phone in writing, Cherico said.

You should also make sure you understand the center’s “return policy.” If you’re upset with the quality of service, will they give you your money back or offer you another class?

“There’s no inherent consumer right to obtain a refund or exchange,” Cherico said. “Most legitimate companies want to do the right thing. But obviously, if it’s a schlock operation they couldn’t care less about pleasing their customers.”

Be wary
Unfortunately, not everyone in IT training has the best intentions, and scam artists are always the quickest to take advantage of any new technology.

“They’re going to try and prey on a company’s fears that their workers aren’t trained well enough, or they’re not trained quickly enough,” she said. “I would not be responding to unsolicited e-mail offering me the training opportunity of a lifetime without checking on the reputation of a company.”

Be especially cautious if a center wants all the money for a class up front. If you pay for it in installments, you might have some leverage if you’re not satisfied later.

If you charge all or a portion of a class to a credit card and it ends up being an outright scam, you can argue the point with the credit card company. The credit card company will have to investigate it before you pay it, Cherico said.

You might also check whether the center has a Web site. While a good Web site doesn’t guarantee good instruction, a sloppy one may be a sign of how the training company runs its business.

“If it was not polished, what chance are you going to have getting good instruction from them?” Cherico said.
What do you look for when you or your company signs up for training? Please post a comment below or send us a note.