In recent discussions with the CIOs of several large enterprises, all but one told me that the typical learning timeframe for a new hire on the company's system was between two and three years. Even when IT graduates come in with straight As, great references, and stacks of courses that directly pertain to a company's IT environment, it still takes time to acclimate these individuals to how the company runs its systems.
IT managers try to get around these long learning curves by hiring seasoned professionals from other organizations who already understand the many different ways that technology can be applied, and how an enterprise would typically want to implement it. Unfortunately, individuals with these skill levels are in short supply, and corporate HR certainly doesn't have the background to assist in technology education.
The alternative is to develop your own training and internship program within IT, with the goal of developing the skills and the know-how in employees that will enable them to be productive and impactful in key areas.
How do you start an internship program?
One way to do it is to identify the skills and aptitudes of new IT hires and to assign these employees to experienced mentors who can guide them through the everyday work that they have the ability to master. For example, if you have a new hire with a background in database, he or she would be assigned to a senior database analyst or to even possibly the DBA himself/herself.
It doesn't stop there. Work projects and goals should be clearly defined. In other words, you don't just send a new person off to virtualize a database, hoping that a highly compensated mentor who may or may not place high priority on his/her mentoring tasks will guide this individual when help is needed. Accountabilities and timeframes should be established for both the trainee and the mentor, and the progress of the project should be evaluated in performance reviews. In addition, each project should be a ladder into new work until the trainee reaches the skill level needed to be on his/her own.
Another way to go about internships is to partner directly with colleges, technical schools, and universities in your area where you can influence curriculum so it coincides with areas where your company needs skilled workers—and to actually invite students to intern on active company IT projects (with a duration of three to six weeks) for which they receive credit in their school programs. The upside of partnering with an outside educational institution is that the institution can take on some of the training and mentoring responsibilities, and you also have a first-hand work audition of a student who potentially could be a valuable employee.
Many large enterprises have internship programs—but there is also an opportunity for small and mid-sized companies to do this.
The point to remember is that you should not take on an internship program until you have staff who can commit the time to actively working with new employees on very specific projects that are designed to develop into very specific job responsibilities that trainees are targeted for. This is the environment that you should be facilitating as an IT manager. If you don't, you will only lose the time that you think you are saving by not mentoring and developing employees when these new individuals stumble around for months or even years.
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Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.