The shortage of IT workers in the industry is being felt in the ranks of many IT schools. The challenge for IT school owners is two-fold: finding instructors and then keeping them.

Read on to find out what training company owners and managers say they are doing to find and keep good people. Then see why it’s so hard to find good instructors and what the future may hold for the training industry.

Finding instructors
In the training trenches, people like Norm Kelson, who is managing director of IT audit and information security training at the U.S. headquarters of MIS Training Institute in Framingham, MA, said finding instructors in the Boston area is a challenge.

“To be a good instructor you have to be technically competent, you have to have the ability to get your point across to people with different learning styles, and you have to be entertaining,” Kelson said. “If you aren’t entertaining, then people are going to shut down, particularly if you are doing more than one day of training—and we do three and four days of training.”

Being in a “niche market” for IT audit and information security, Kelson said his company finds the bulk of its instructors in the consulting ranks. The institute has been particularly adept at recruiting consultants who work as a single practitioner or in a small group.

“They use this as the bread and butter, the mortgage money, and then they are able to do consulting,” Kelson said.

“Most instructors here are independent contractors, because you have special needs,” he said. “If you were teaching the same three or four courses all the time, then you could hire some instructors.”

Because IT training schools typically have so many different course titles, Kelson said, it makes little sense to have experts in specific fields if the courses they would teach are offered sporadically on an as-needed basis.

In smaller cities trying to become e-commerce centers, the problem of finding qualified instructors is compounded by the lack of established industries.

Wesley Schissler, president and director of operations for the Computer Career Centers in Louisville, KY, tells about trying to find an instructor with help desk experience, which he defines as someone with A+ and Microsoft Office Users Specialist (MOUS) certifications.

“I put [an ad] in the newspaper and got a dozen resumes, not one of them had the qualifications that I was looking for,” Schissler said. “These were just people throwing things up against the wall and hoping that something would stick.”

Nationally, there will be pockets where there are more instructors available and it depends on supply and demand for industry, he said. “Evening instructors may be easier to come by because there may be people in industry who wouldn’t mind working two nights a week from 5:30 P.M. to 8:30 P.M.

“I think most schools employ the majority of their instructors on a part-time basis. It depends on how your student enrollment works out, heavy mornings, evenings, or whatever,” Schissler said.

His school is a licensee of Career Blazer Schools of New York City, which has 60 to 65 schools around the country. The school in Atlanta never seems to have any problems finding instructors, he said.

“Because of a lack of instructors, we may not always have an MCSE in the classroom all the time. If we were teaching NT Server 4, we may have one that comes in once a week to help the students with the higher level questions,” Schissler said. “We do keep A+certified people; they are here everyday.”

Instructors often are ‘home-grown’
In a city like Louisville, even for a school like Computer Career Centers that specializes in A+ and MOUS certifications, finding instructors to work full-time at the facility is difficult.

“When we advertise, we usually get one out of 12 that even comes close” to having the qualifications we need, Schissler said. “I’ve never been able to interview three good candidates and then have to make a choice.

“I usually have to grow my own instructors when it comes to MOUS,” he said.

Jim Baumann, director of sales and marketing for the Louisville office of international training schools that operate as New Horizons Computer Learning Centers , said he has the same problem and does have to draw instructors from his graduates also.

“Good instructors are hard to find,” Baumann said. “For someone to be able to communicate to people at a very basic level to those who are very advanced, those people are difficult to find.”

He blames the excellent job market for IT professionals for contributing to the lack of qualified instructors.

“This is a worldwide dilemma,” Baumann said.

Keeping instructors
However difficult it is to find them, Baumann said his company has never had a problem hiring or keeping instructors because it has so many locations scattered throughout the globe and employees can transfer between them.

Having that flexibility to move where they want, or to move where their spouse finds a better job, appeals to many IT professionals who join the training ranks for that very reason, he said.

Even so, Baumann expects there will be some turnover in his teaching staff, usually about every two years.

“We hope people will stay with us a long time,” he said.

To do that, New Horizons encourages its instructors to continue to learn different programs and to take their experience in those programs across different platforms. If they are experts at Microsoft Office products in Windows and NT, they should expand that expertise to the Macintosh platform, Baumann said.

Once an instructor tops out on software titles, they are encouraged to make the transition from software to hardware, he said. They can get A+ certification and then get on a MCSD, MCSE, or Internet track.

Schissler thinks that is good advice and adds that the progression Baumann describes will make the instructor more marketable in the future as the industry shows its disdain for people who get their certifications via short spurts of intense training called “boot camps.”

“Boot camps have swallowed up a lot of the good instructors, but at the same time, industry is saying they don’t like folks who have gone through a boot camp,” Schissler said. “You won’t come out with any practical knowledge that would let you go out on a bench and start working. MCSE is having the same problem. Employers are starting to question the certifications and doing their own tests.

“Right now I think we’re in a transition period and if there were fewer boot camps, we’d see more instructors,” he said.

Why so few? The industry honey pot
The demand for trained IT workers to implement new technologies in business leaves the training industry with about 10 to 15 percent of positions unfilled, estimates Cushing Anderson, senior analyst with IDC’s Interactive Training Services program. Industry competes with training organizations in two ways, the IDC analyst said. They are:

  1. “Those IT professionals with unique skills, or with what we call turbulent skills, skills in which there is market turbulence, are being lured to remain as active professionals, as opposed to becoming trainers.
  2. “Trainers with particular skills are being lured back into industry as consultants, both the IT body shop definition and the true advisor definition.”

In the training trenches, people like Kelson agree with Anderson.

“You’re in full employment now and there is a big push for IT people,” Kelson said. “You’re competing against consulting dollars, you’re competing against training dollars, and because there is such a big need and people are in such a big rush, your pool is limited.”

What’s the future hold?
Research from IDC indicates a shift in percentages from live instruction to both computer-based instruction and Web-based instruction. But even with this shift, expectations are that dollars spent on training will jump from about $2.5 billion in 1999 to $4 billion by 2003. “The net effect is the demand for trainers will remain high,” according to Anderson.

According to Anderson, “live” instruction will continue to flourish even as more e-learning technologies gain acceptance because of two trends in the IT world:

  1. Internal training (instruction by in-house instructors) is moving to external training (instruction conducted at a separate training company).
  2. Traditional information learning technology is moving to live e-learning. E-learning involves an electronic element in the instruction, with or without human support that adds the “live” to live e-learning.

“Brick-and-mortar learning is never going to go away,” Anderson said. “It’s a very effective way of communicating information for many things.”

In fact, Anderson thinks that the IT training world is in a phase he calls “punctuated equilibrium,” which he defines as a period of rapid change followed by a long period of relatively slow change.

“If you believe the change in the environment will continue at ever-increasing rates of discovery, then we will do more experiential learning,” he said. “Because the stuff we want to learn won’t be written in books.”
Does your school have a sure-fire method for finding instructors? Once you find a good instructor, how do you keep him or her? Share your wealth by posting a comment below or by e-mailing your tips and hints to us.