When it comes to company policies on training and certification, it’s clear that not all are created equal. At one firm you might receive an all-expenses-paid trip to a top-notch training center; at another company, you have to slug it out for six weeks in the off-hours to study for an exam.

We talked to some TechRepublic readers who are working toward certification or have recently passed their exams. We learned that when it comes to assisting employees with certification, companies’ policies range from exceedingly stingy to extraordinarily generous.

Cutting through the red tape
Tricia Davidson, a desktop support technician with Norwest Mortgage, has jumped through many hoops to attain MCSE certification. Her company offers college tuition reimbursement and a training budget to cover the costs of classes that don’t have college credit associated with them. But, while both benefits appear decent on paper, Davidson said she had to cut through miles of red tape to get reimbursed.

“The problem with these benefits is that they are both at the discretion of the manager,” she said. “Unfortunately, I was unable to convince my manager to pay for even part of my MCSE training. So it came down to self-study or going into at least $5,000 in debt in order to get my certification.”

Luckily, Davidson found a co-worker whose boss had purchased the full Transcender test package, and she paired that with in-house computer-based training and a corporate subscription to Microsoft TechNet. She also purchased her own study guides from Sybex Publishing. While hers wasn’t the quickest route, she has found success.

“It has definitely taken me longer than someone who is attending formal MCSE classes, but so far I’ve passed the Net Ess and TCP/IP exams,” Davidson said. “I also uncovered a company benefit that did finally work to my advantage: as long as I passed each test, they reimbursed the cost of the exam.”

Thanks for nothing
“Dan” (who didn’t want to use his real name) said his employer doesn’t pay for any of his training, though he has taken Excel, Word, Outlook, and Access applications classes through his company’s membership at New Horizons Computer Learning Centers. While his company has no training department, Dan was able to garner valuable information from co-workers and consultants with MCSE certification. He also purchased a number of study guides at his own expense, including New Riders,Osborne,Microsoft Press, and Self Test Software’s test engines.

Dan even developed alternative study methods.

“From the money I have saved by not paying the thousands of dollars for an ‘NT’ school, I have purchased hard drives, network cards, and other equipment to set up my own lab at home,” he said. “This has given me a lot of invaluable experience as I have had to work through problems on my own, learning where to find the information.”

Other IT professionals report that failing companies will often offer training incentives to employees if they stay on board. “John,” an operations team leader at a large company that is going through bankruptcy proceedings, said his employers are offering MCSE and MCSD training during working hours.

“This is quite an incentive for people looking to increase their knowledge and overall value,” John said. “The company pays for all materials related to the course, but there are no incentives for actually passing the exams and attaining certification.”

On the down side, he said, the company offers no in-house training. “Computer-based training is available upon managerial approval,” John added, “but there is no corporate effort to stimulate skill-building otherwise.”

“Shroeder,” an independent contractor who lives in British Columbia, said most companies in Canada aren’t on the “help with training” bandwagon.

“If you are in a visually important role—which rarely includes the people who need it—you get the training,” he said.

Andy, a production manager at an Atlanta film-processing lab, also found his employer reluctant to pay for training.

“All certification classes, books, and exams have to be paid out of my own pocket,” Andy said. “I guess [my boss] figures that I may outgrow my present position and look for new challenges and more money. I am afraid he is right.”

Dan agreed. “Maybe the employer feels if they educate us too much, then we will take our skills learned at his expense to another employer with better compensation and benefits,” he said.

Company generosity speeds up training process
Instead of reimbursing workers for certification, some employers offer them a plethora of study aids. Ward Edwards, a senior programmer/analyst with The Franklin, said his company maintains a library of CBT courses and books that helped him study for certification exams. The company also has a policy that allows employees to take CBT courses if they are offered by a vendor with which the company has a contract.

Michael, an information systems director for a small network-consulting firm, hit the training jackpot with his company. No training policy existed when he approached his employers about attending an MCSE boot camp, and his request was granted.

“The company paid for my training in full, including air, hotel, meals, books, class costs, and exams, which totaled about $5,000,” Michael said. The only catch was that “they asked me to sign a letter stating that if I left prior to a specific date I would be asked to return the costs of the course.”

Others note that their employers are bending over backwards to help them with certification. Chris Rizzo, a lead technician with Hartford Computer Group, Inc., said his company’s training material is kept in an in-house library, where workers have access to materials at all times. The firm pays for exam prep classes.

“One nice bonus is that they will give us two shots to pass any test,” he said. “They will pay for the first attempt and then for the test that you pass. So, if we fail, we at least know that the company will pay if we pass on the second try.”

Rizzo added that even the purchase of additional study material is negotiable in most cases, especially if the certification is needed by the company. “[Hartford] has a very strong interest in getting people certified, so they, in general, give us a lot of support in getting certifications,” he said.

The boss should help
It appears the majority of IT professionals feel their employers should be more willing to help workers get certified.

“I think employers should pay for all training and certification that relate to your current job and career path as well as a portion of any training that could be used in other areas of IT within your company, in case you wish to change career paths,” said Edwards.

Many companies are hurting themselves by refusing to help their employees with training, others point out.

“An employer needs to approach tuition reimbursement and training budgets with the company in mind,” Davidson said. “The computer industry is constantly in flux, and the only way an organization will be able to retain experienced and talented employees is to open the purse strings and help them educate themselves.”

The employee, however, should have some stake in the training, she added.

“I don’t believe an employer should pay for all training costs, because it’s a joint effort,” Davidson said. “I’ve seen and heard of too many instances of employees taking their newfound education and running to another organization. But if both pitch in…then it becomes a win-win situation.”
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