IT consultancies should always work to fill knowledge gaps and improve the skills of their engineers, technicians, and administrators. Here are some techniques that might work well in your consulting firm.
Require continued education
Consultancies can assist staff in growing skills by requiring continuing education. The firm can identify accredited training institutions and require that employees complete training on specific technologies annually, bi-annually, or quarterly, depending upon an engineer's skill set and the organization's needs. For instance, an employee who previously worked for firms that standardized on SQL Server 2005 might need to attend training on SQL Server 2008 if many of your firms' clients employ that platform.
These continuing education requirements can be built in to an employee's annual performance review to ensure the training efforts are tracked.
Encourage industry certifications
If a staffer is weak on Cisco technologies (maybe her previous employer leveraged SonicWALL equipment instead), the employee could be required to study for and obtain Cisco certification. If a staffer didn't have to troubleshoot hardware issues at her previous job, she might benefit from earning CompTIA A+ certification; whereas a staffer who at his last employer always delegated desktop issues to a support desk in order to focus on server issues would benefit from earning a Microsoft client operating system certification.
Assist technology adoption
One of the simplest ways to encourage an engineer lacking knowledge about a specific platform is to have him use that technology. For instance, if the engineer has never had to configure SonicWALLs or support iPads, and it turns out your organization receives numerous requests for those services, the firm should provide the employee with both. I recommend having the employee start to use an iPad, as well as use the SonicWALL at home and configure a VPN connection to the consultancy's network. This will help the employee become much more familiar and proficient with both technologies.
Leverage vendor training
A number of vendors encourage consultancies to certify staff on the sale, use, and support of the vendors' technologies. Web-based tutorials, Webinars, online classes, formal on-site instruction, and custom training classes are often offered by vendors to help resellers sell and support their products. These are excellent opportunities for getting employees up to speed quickly on new product lines, platforms, and technologies.
Rethink trade shows
With a tighter economy, it may be more difficult to justify the travel and out-of-office expenses that are incurred when attending regional and national trade shows. You should check to ensure the trade show's instructional tracks will familiarize your employees with new products, provide educational opportunities for the support and administration of platforms, and help resellers better sell and support the products and services the vendors produce and the consultants sell.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.