In last week’s View from Ground Zero, I predicted that enterprises of all sizes will soon be hiring full-time internal IT trainers, and I gave you some tips for selling yourself as the next manager of IT training in your company. This week, I’m presenting a plan you can use to identify and deliver the right kind of IT training.

Two kinds of training
The only thing worse than providing no training at all is providing the wrong kind of training. Many companies send a group of employees to an offsite training center and assume that the one-day session will turn those employees into “trained” software users. But that kind of training fails to deliver the goods for two reasons:

  • The lessons are too generic. The classes cover rudimentary skills, but don’t address the “real-world” needs of the employees. The lesson plans cover software features, but there’s little time to teach your employees why those features are useful.
  • When the class is over, the training stops. Your employees take home a workbook, but they probably will never see the instructor again. There’s no chance for follow-up instruction (except for additional high-priced training sessions).

I realize these are fairly broad statements to make about the computer training industry (and I know that I’m going to get flamed by some of you who work for reputable providers of high-quality training). But in my experience, the majority of the dollars businesses spend on offsite training are wasted, pure and simple.

I believe the best way to get a return on investment for training dollars is to hire an internal trainer, for two reasons:

  1. The lessons are specific. With internal training classes, the trainer can provide lessons that address the specific skills employees need to do their jobs.
  2. Training goes on after the class is over. With an internal instructor, employees enjoy the comfort of knowing they can follow up with the trainer outside of class. Employees become familiar with the instructor’s teaching style, and the instructor becomes familiar with his or her coworkers’ learning styles.

Teaching TOTS: Task-oriented training sessions
As an internal trainer, I subscribe to the “TOTS” approach to teaching IT skills: “task-oriented training sessions.” Here’s one example: Instead of preparing a lesson entitled “Introduction to Microsoft Word,” I teach “How to create and print business letters using Microsoft Word.”

From the start, we’re working on the task at hand: getting a letter out. We cover how to compose, format, print on letterhead, and address envelopes. When we finish, I say, “Now you know how to use Word to generate a business letter.” Mastering that task is a much more powerful and long-lasting lesson than a generic, nontask-oriented lesson where I would say, “Now you know the basics of how Microsoft Word works.”

Naturally, in a task-oriented training session, you’re going to teach some of the “basics” of Word. But with task-oriented training sessions, your students come away feeling empowered. They can do something that they can apply in their jobs right away.

That’s just one example of a task-oriented training session that helps employees do their jobs. In any company, there are dozens of specific tasks that are best taught in “how-to” sections, including how to change your network password, how to fill out an expense report, how to write an e-mail message, and how to create an e-mail address group.

Identifying training needs
Here are four tips for identifying the kind of training that your company’s employees need:

  • Ask the department managers. The in-house trainer must ask the line-of-business managers what kind of training they think their people need. What tasks, according to the managers, do their teams have trouble performing? The input from these managers—and their buy-in on the training—is vital to the success of the in-house training program. You want the managers to encourage (or require) their reports to attend and complete training.
  • Ask your users. As the in-house trainer, you must find out what kind of training the end users want. You must earn the trust and respect of your coworkers by inviting their input. You have to look over their shoulders without being intrusive. If you gain their confidence, they’ll tell you things like, “I just don’t understand how to create a graph in Excel. Could you do a class on that?”
  • Ask the help desk. If your IT department operates a help desk, you’ll find a gold mine of ideas for task-oriented training sessions in the trouble ticket database. If 10 or 20 people call the help desk each week with the same question, schedule a class that addresses how to solve that problem.
  • Poll your students. Every time you teach a class, give your students a chance to suggest topics for future classes. Set up an e-mail account named “Training requests” and invite everyone in the company to suggest topics for training sessions.

Scheduling training
Ideally, the in-house trainer should offer some kind of training three or four days per week. Training sessions don’t necessarily have to be two- or three-hour classes, either. You can accomplish a lot of quality training during an informal, hour-long “ask-the-expert” lunch or open forum.

For some great suggestions on making sure people attend your training sessions, check out Michelle Hutchinson’s article, “The internal trainer’s perspective: How to design a reinforcement class.”

To share your strategy for identifying and delivering needed IT training, please post a comment below or drop me a note.
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