Your backbone consists of one primary domain controller, two backup domain controllers, one Exchange server, and one file server, all running Windows NT. This high-powered network also has a collection of business software including Microsoft Office, Outlook 97, and a few graphic programs. After the smoke settles from many hard-fought budget battles to put together this infrastructure, it’s time to educate your users on how to use these resources. The problem is, if there’s no money left in the budget, how can you afford training? The question most of us face is this: How can we afford not to get training?

Let’s make a deal
There are many ways to educate your users about your system, but what’s the most cost-effective way to do it? Some IT managers outsource all end-user training, and others decide to take the burden on in-house. In my case, it was simple. I manage a modest 250-node network within Clear Channel Broadcasting, with users from eight radio stations and one news network. Money is very hard to come by, and this forces me to be creative in finding other ways to get the things I need to operate.

Fortunately, in my situation, I have the option of trading and bartering with our advertisers. If we have a computer training company as an advertising client, then I have an opportunity to get what I need. In fact, when it comes to talking money with training companies, I quote the mantra I hear from my manager: “Why buy when you can barter?”

Cash or credit—or air time?
I realize that we all can’t work for media companies and swap a month of 30-second commercial spots for a month of Office 97 training. So be creative. Most networks cost a bundle to put together, but that doesn’t mean the training to use the network has to be as expensive. Here are a couple of ideas that might help:

  • Create an internship. Is there a junior college or university in your area that offers certification classes in network management? Contact the instructors and find out if they’d be willing to use your company so they and their students can get some “real world” experience by visiting and working in your shop. Who knows? The interns of today could turn out to be your quality employees of tomorrow.
  • Offer a trade. Don’t forget that computer trainers are people too. They like to go on vacations, eat at restaurants, and go to movies, plays, and sporting events. If you’re a travel company that needs computer support, offer some free or discounted travel packages in exchange for training. Does your company own box seats at the local sporting center? Season tickets for the local theater? Think outside of the cash box.
  • Offer an endorsement. Sometimes, a training company will bend over backwards to get your business just so they can tell the world you’re their client. If your company is well known—locally or internationally—offer to work with the training company exclusively and to recommend or endorse them publicly.

Just ask
As you talk to training folks, ask if they’ll do a free or reduced-price class just to get their feet in your corporate door. Get a relationship started. There are many things computer educators will trade their time for, but you have to ask. You may be surprised at how quickly some companies will jump at the chance to exchange some training if they think they’re getting something really cool—not necessarily of great value—in exchange.

Of the many responsibilities that come with being an IT manager, resourcefulness with the training budget is a necessity. Stretching the bottom line is always a daunting task, but training is just as necessary as the network itself.

Matthew Mercurio is a regular contributor to TechRepublic.