Many of you think that a home networking lab is invaluable for honing IT skills and preparing for certification exams, judging by response to a previous article.

One member brought up an interesting point, however: setting up a lab can be an expensive undertaking. Even if you can gather the hardware you need from online auctions, yard sales, or friends, the software you need is far from cheap. So how much responsibility can you expect your company to bear for helping finance home labs that ultimately benefit the employer as well as the employee? It’s not just a question of helping employees pay for their hobbies, but also of compensating workers for the time they spend at home training and resolving the company’s network-related issues.

Many TechRepublic members offered arguments on both sides of the fence. Some said that it’s the responsibility of the individuals themselves to pay for their own training, equipment and software; others argued that companies ought to do more to help compensate employees who take on this kind of initiative.

Whose responsibility is career development?
Why would employees think their companies should compensate them for their home networking lab works, anyway? Member Rick_from_BC said that the employer should foot the bill for some of the costs of labs used to work out problems encountered with the setup at work.

“At the very least,” Rick_from_BC said, “he should get overtime or time off for some of his work.”

Rick_from_BC pointed out that the company benefits directly from what the employee does in the home lab in the form of issues solved as well as having a more knowledgeable employee. “The direct application of his new skills to the job,” Rick_from_BC said, “is a benefit to the company, and the company should reciprocate.”

Not everyone agrees with this proposition, though. Control Systems Engineer Eric Feight argues that it’s the employee’s responsibility to foot the bill for his own training and any extra work he does outside the office.

“The skills you gain are yours to keep forever,” Feight said. “They increase your bottom line as well as the [bottom line of the] company you’re working for.”

Feight’s argument is simply that since you’re benefiting from whatever you learn, it’s not necessarily the company’s responsibility to pay for your advancement.

Another member also agreed with this position, saying that while companies should provide some training to facilitate certifications, the financial responsibility for career advancement rests squarely with the employee.

“The company’s main concern,” the member stated, “is that we get the job done, and while they may provide some tools for us via training, we need to take the initiative

Investing in employees
One way companies retain employees is by giving them opportunities to improve themselves through training or certifications. The company that’s willing to pay employees for the work they do in their home labs is investing wisely in the best resources it has. Many of you seem to agree that companies that don’t pay for home projects are likely to see more turnover than ones that do.

Rocky mountain geek, for example, never considered the idea of being paid for his home network testing because his work is also his hobby. But he concluded that “an employer with any brains at all would recognize the initiative involved and pay for some training classes or risk losing the employee to someone who will.”

Some employers appear to believe in this idea.

Craig Longhurst, said that because of the important role his home networking has played in helping him on the job, the government agency he works for was willing to compensate him accordingly. Longhurst said that when he reported his expenditures on the home network, his manager agreed that the office should bear the financial burden of installing and running the system Longhurst was testing.Longhurst equated his work with what a network consultant might do, adding that his office was essentially investing in the knowledge he gains from the home lab.He also emphasized that “sometimes you need to make opportunities out of what’s around you, rather than waiting for them to be handed to you.”

And Longhurst’s office isn’t alone in its position on the issue. IS manager Jeff Corser of Andrew Corporation said his company is doing more to help its employees obtain training and certifications. Because of lean economic times, Corser said, staff reductions have resulted in freed-up hardware and software that employees are now using as training resources. The company also gives employees four hours off a week so they can pursue study activities at home.

Corser said he also pays for the certification exams and that employees who obtain the certifications are proof that his system works to the mutual benefit of his company and the employees.

“Bottom line,” he said, “[is that] tight budgets just require a new way of looking at problems and finding solutions….It benefits the company as much as the employee, helps retain employees at the same time, and helps keep everyone prepared for the business rebound we all hope for.”

Though many continue to feel that it’s up to the employee to foot the bill for whatever training they obtain, many companies are obviously taking note of the issue and beginning to compensate employees in various ways for the training they obtain from and testing they perform on their home networks.