Q. I am a senior IT manager, and I hope you can help me solve a dilemma. Recently, an employee left my organization to take a different job, and I am not sure what I could have done to persuade him to stay. He worked for me for a few years and had worked in the IT industry for almost 10 years, doing technical work most of the time. He had a degree in Computer Science, was certified as a CNE and MCP, and recently took the CompTIA Project + exam.

He asked me if the company would pay for the classes and the exams that he needed to keep up his various certifications and maybe a few more. I said no because the company can’t afford to pay for every technical employee’s training and education. Not soon after we had this conversation, he took the other job.

What should I have done? Certifications only last for about two to three years and become obsolete soon after. I know that keeping up with training and exams is expensive for employees, but the company can’t underwrite these expenses without any limits. How do I keep good employees without a massive training budget? Any suggestions? I don’t want to lose more good employees.

A. I sympathize, and I don’t blame you for feeling frustrated. In these days of tighter and tighter IT budgets, it’s hard to imagine any company that could write employees a blank check for training. Yet, training and education benefits are perks that attract and keep good IT staff.

You need to take some time to create a plan for how to help retain employees such as the one you described. Talk to your HR department and any other managers who are in the same boat. See if there are any company policies that could help retain terrific employees who are ready to jump ship. If not, you (or the appropriate management group) may need to write some. These might include, for example, the ability to ignore certain policies (such as not paying for any certifications) when the employee at hand is an exceptional value who won’t stay without such perks.

The fact of the matter is that employees with 10 or more years of IT experience doing the same work are due for a change. You may need to help them take the next step in their career by helping them refocus or shift focus. If you let them stay in the same job for years, you end up paying a premium salary when you might not need premium skills in that particular position. Plus, you will also have to urge them to keep their certifications current, but it’s hard to do that unless you are willing to help them cover the cost.

You have two options, as I see it. You could suggest they narrow their focus to one or two technical areas, such as networking. Then, you could help them pick one or two major certifications in the areas that are relevant to the company’s needs. Finally, you wring a training stipend out of your budget to help underwrite the costs of training and certifications that benefit the employee AND the company.

Or, you could recommend that they take their years of experience and parlay them into a project management or management position. This, of course, is part of preparing your staff to take your job, which is always a good idea if you want to move up the management ladder. (If you’re on the top rung, however, this is not such a good idea!)

You probably have room in your company for people to take either path, but for each employee, you will have to decide which path to suggest. The HR department or outside consultants can help you make the decision, based in part on the employee’s interests, work history, or even personality test results.