Reevaluate corporate-funded training when it doesn't meet your needs

When you're a part of a large help desk staff, the training offered to you may be off the mark. Here are some tips for further evaluating recommended training options and lobbying for more effective alternatives.

Company-funded training is usually a great thing for help desk pros. It can boost your confidence and give you new methods for handling difficult situations. But sometimes the training selected by the training manager might not be what you need.

That's why it's important that you investigate the offerings your company's training manager has preselected for you. Doing so can ensure you don't waste your time and the company's money by taking a bum course or one that doesn't fit your needs.

To understand how best to research training offerings, you must first understand how a help desk or training manager chooses training providers and courses. Then, you can further narrow your own selection without duplicating the training manager's efforts. If upon further investigation the course appears it won't suit your needs, learn how to present the information effectively to your supervisor or training manager to get the training you need.

The training manager narrows the choices
Training managers focus on the big picture and usually select cost-effective, reputable training options that meet the needs of most workers. If each worker researched his or her own course with the diligence of a training manager, the cost could run up thousands of dollars in lost productivity and duplicated effort.

Having a training manager do the task is a matter of efficiency. But the process has its flaws. No training manager is going to peg the right course for each help desk worker 100 percent of the time because he or she deals with a large number of people and can't know the exact nuances and training needs of each help desk worker.

To illustrate, one training manager where I worked was charged with finding appropriate programs for 200 employees in a matter of three months. Rayellen Smith, another training director I spoke to at the Audit and Business Advisory Services (ABAS) unit at PriceWaterhouseCoopers in New Jersey, told me her group has to find educational programs for more than 1,800 people each year.

Training managers start their investigations of training options at the top, with clear direction from company executives about future corporate initiatives requiring specific skill sets or workforce enhancements, Smith said.

Once training managers understand the company's needs, they turn the microscope on employees. What do workers need in order to bring them into alignment with company plans? Answers often come from detailed needs assessments that training managers gather from line managers or focus group samples of employees. Then the training manager identifies and assesses training providers, studying and negotiating around a variety of factors, including:
  • Their corporate style.
  • Their vision for learning.
  • Their ability to meet the company's training needs and the provider's experience with curriculum subject matter.
  • Their educational delivery methods (i.e., if it's all lecture, participatory in nature, e-based, or a combination).
  • The cost of courses, including weighted factors such as travel time and expenses.
  • The long-range financial viability of the training vendor.

After this legwork, the training manager selects a list of providers and courses certain to meet the corporation's objectives and the vast majority of workers' needs.

Help desk workers can take it a step further
But is that good enough? Anecdotally, probably not. Anyone who has blindly followed a training manager's recommendations knows that the actual classroom experience can sometimes feel like a waste of time and money. For that reason, it behooves you to examine the course before you enroll, an act that training managers are likely to support. "[Training managers] pick the solution that's going to meet 80 percent of the needs, and that's the best you can do," Smith said.

A simple way to help is to examine course descriptions and bios of professors commonly available on providers' Web sites, with an eye to how the course will bring your own skills in-line with the needs of the corporation and your department. While reviewing the course description, you should also do the following (it all should take you less than an hour):
  • List personal objectives and five things you'd like to get out of the course. "If you've got five things on your list and none of the courses touch on them, then maybe that's the wrong thing," Smith said.
  • Make sure the course won't be either too advanced or too easy for you.
  • Make sure that the duration of the course fits within your schedule. If you have a four-day course, but your schedule allows for only two days, it's a waste to attend half the classes.
  • Examine the bio of the professor to ascertain whether that person has vital real-world experience to impart.

After this initial review, if you still have doubts about the course, call the professor, said Steve Wetherell, president of Hartford, CT-based Global Help Desk Services, Inc., a major training provider for help desk workers. The professor will probably welcome the opportunity to hear the potential student's learning objectives.

"You've got course material and you're teaching it day in and day out," Wetherell said about experienced teachers. "But what makes it valuable for the student is that you've looked them in the eyes and imparted to them [something that's going to help them in their job]." If a conversation with a student helps the professor tailor curriculum to meet the needs of the student and the corporation that's paying for the course, then all the better.

If the course really doesn't fit
If, after reviewing your options, you determine the course really won't help you learn what the company is asking you to learn, then it's time to talk to your manager and/or your training manager. "The best way to present that would be to come back with a list of recommendations and solutions," Smith said. "The last thing that anyone wants to hear is that you've missed the mark."

Instead of being confrontational, prepare to have an open discussion about what the business needs are, what your personal training needs are, how the two mesh, and how you can get those needs met. "Come in with a mind-set that you want to partner with the training manager to come to the right solution—not that you just want to dump it in their lap," Smith said. This is the most productive way to approach the situation. However, in the end, the final agreement may be to forgo the training altogether.

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