Support techs and all other IT pros remain relevant by acquiring new skills. Can employers be counted on to help their people grow?


The management team at my last job cared a lot about keeping positive morale in the workplace. Our managers’ attention to the health and happiness of the staff made that office a very nice place to work.

Periodically the staff was asked to chime in with ideas for making the workplace better. Once we’d gotten responses like free pizza lunches, daily naps, and four-day work week out of the way, the thing all employees could agree on was usually “more professional development.” Professional development was a term that got bandied about the office a lot, because it’s often used in conjunction with the training teachers receive, and we did research on public education. Some other accurate synonyms might be “career development” or “job training.” You get the idea.

Professional development was something everybody wanted because—let’s be honest—we all assumed that it would lead to more earning power down the road. My thinking about professional development goes like this: If an employee becomes more skilled, she is more valuable to her employer. This benefits both the employer and the employee. Employer gets productivity, employee gets career advancement. Yay, everybody wins! I don’t think I’m unique in thinking this is how things should work.

When our department began discussing our policy on professional development, there was not much argument over the opportunities that our academic researchers should have. A consensus was also quickly reached on the options for training available to the administrative support staff. As an IT department and voting block of one, however, any options for professional development I might have were less forthcoming. There was no context for what type of opportunities should be available for an IT person.

I offered some suggestions of things that appealed to me (you can see some of these in the poll below). I ran into a road block when I tried to get funding or support for my some of my ideas, though. My supervisor did not believe that any new technical skills I might develop would be an asset to the organization. From his perspective, as long as I could do what my job required, any further skills I might gain would only make me more expensive or more likely to look for work elsewhere. Any chance that he would subsidize gold-plated items like conference fees, travel expenses, or certification vouchers was off of the table.

It didn’t take many rejected career development proposals for me to see the writing on the wall. I was disappointed at the time, but I can understand why things happened that way. My workplace, as nice as it was, didn’t see the new IT skills I wanted as worthy of an investment. I was filling my role well enough, so the professional development didn’t have a value proposition. Career growth will always appeal to the employee, that’s how one advances. The trick to getting an employer to support your development is by aligning his needs with your desired training. Otherwise, you might be on your own.