Being a training manager has its disadvantages. Malfunctioning computers and software top the list. While training companies employ technicians to repair these problems, this does nothing to repair the damage done to your company’s credibility.

When a computer malfunctions
People generally are understanding but, from their point of view, they are coming to you for training and you can’t even keep your own computers running. This reflects poorly on an instructor, even though he or she cannot be expected to be a trainer and a troubleshooter.

Time is taken away from a class to fix the student’s problem. The instructor’s stride may be broken. Timing IS everything.

An attempt by the instructor to troubleshoot the problem immediately may cause a ripple effect, as more and more people are distracted. The student’s work files may be lost, necessitating a reloading or reconstruction of these files. This can be disastrous in a database, graphics, or typing intensive class.

So what can be done to eliminate or reduce this problem?
An obvious first step is to move the student to another computer. While this obviously keeps things rolling along, often there are no extra computers ready or available.

  • Tell your instructors to perform a quick—and I mean quick—15-second diagnosis to determine whether it is a software or hardware problem and attempt to reboot. NEVER try to reboot more than once. This reminds people of why they hate computers and they will associate that with the instructor and your business.
  • Have the instructor modify the break time and get your techs to repair the problem. Your instructors need to take caution when explaining the malfunction before the break. They should never say, “We’ll have our technicians take care of that by the end of break” unless you have another computer ready to go.
  • Keep all the students’ work files on a server. Not only does this allow students to switch computers in the event of a malfunction, but students who return for various classes enjoy having their own “name” and “password” on your network so they can keep track of their files regardless of class.
  • Acknowledge software problems. All programs have bugs. Your instructors should be made aware of them if possible, and they should pass that information along at the beginning of class. By doing this they subtly absolve themselves and you of responsibility if the bugs occur that day. Some of you will argue that this approach points out the inferior quality of certain software and one should not bite the hand that feeds it. I respond by saying if you’re honest with your customers, they will appreciate it more. You have shown them something that may pop up in their job and how to work around it.

Use Macs
Even if you’re an all PC company, Macs make sense. They can use an application called VirtualPC from Connectix ( ) to emulate the Intel chip set, allowing you to run DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT Workstation, and NT Server one after another, whichever you need. VirtualPC does this by creating a file on the Mac’s hard drive. This file can be up to 2 gigabytes and is whatever version of Windows you need. All applications can be loaded and all parameters configured to whatever server and Internet settings you need. By keeping the files under 500 megabytes, you can keep several backup copies of each Windows OS on the Mac hard drive. If Windows starts to malfunction, simply go to Virtual PC’s preference menu and choose the backup file.

If you or your instructors do not know or wish to know Macs, there are ways to allow VirtualPC to launch at startup, so there is no Mac interface in the background at all. Add a two-button mouse and your customers will never know the difference. In fact, using iMacs for this task helps reduce desktop and cable clutter by providing an all-in-one solution. I know there are several who will disagree with this on the principle of cost, unfamiliarity, and misunderstanding. However, when the students are the priority and your reputation is on the line everyday, these arguments are items to be worked out.

Customers are key, and they are paying you to learn. PC malfunctions can and do hinder the relationship. Your job should not constantly be at the mercy of the technical department. If you never experience problems, that’s great! But for those of us that do, the way you choose to reduce or correct these problems should reflect positively on your business.


Schoun Regan is the director of training at the Mac Group, a research and development, consulting and training firm. You can write to Schoun here.