Taking time for training Featured

9:13am EDT July 16, 2004
What would you say is your company's most valuable IT asset?.

If you are an IT manager, you're probably thinking of the capital that's been invested in the hardware and software your company needs to get things done. That's a good guess, but it's not the answer. I'm thinking about human capital, defined as the value good people bring to good companies.

Your most valuable IT asset is your IT staff. Your company may have spent millions on hardware and software, but it takes the IT staff to implement it, maintain it, update it and navigate through never-ending changes in technology. Your IT staff is your most valuable IT asset, and they should be treated as such.

The benefit you benefit from
Each year, ComputerWorld magazine produces a list of the 100 best places for IT professionals to work. This year's list is out, and it includes benefits and working conditions cited by IT professionals as essential for companies wanting to attract and hold the best IT talent.

Taken by nearly 17,000 IT employees working at the 100 best companies, the survey put health insurance and vacation at the top of the list, followed by investment in technology, flexible schedules and training.

The results show that employees value training almost as highly as hard benefits such as vacation time and health insurance. The best of these best companies have taken these results to heart -- 49 percent plan to increase their training budgets next year.

Even in the best economic times, IT budgets are stretched thin. Training is sacrificed, which is a shame because companies that don't invest in training end up with employees who lack the skills they need to move the company forward. A recent report in a British professional journal reported that London businesses are failing to provide vital training and development.

Of the 130,000 employers in London, less than half have training plans in place and even less have a training budget.

Making the most of it
When your IT budget does provide funds for training, several things can be done to maximize your return on investment. Start by making sure your employees go to training with the highest expectation for success. Request a syllabus so you know what topics will be covered, then make sure your employees have the skills they need to succeed in the classroom.

After employees return from training, guard against "training atrophy." This happens when employees are sent for training, then never get to utilize the knowledge once they return to the workplace. Usually it happens because training is scheduled too far in advance of the projected need.

When there is a large gap between the training and the actual project, schedule practice time weekly or daily so the skills learned can be practiced or reviewed. Because heavy demands are often placed on IT employees to meet deadlines and satisfy impatient end-users, this takes a strong-willed IT manager to implement.

Another way to prevent training atrophy is to plan not only for training but also for timely software upgrades so that training and software upgrades coincide. Ensure that the versions of hardware and software your employees have used during training are the same ones they will use when they return to work. Far too many students have told me that they won't have access to the version of software that we have just spent a week training them to use.

Treat employees' time away as if they were unreachable. Don't bother them with work responsibilities when they are trying to soak up valuable knowledge for your company's benefit. Instruct employees to remember that they are on a mission for your company. They should be prepared to train each day, and get the rest they need to be attentive during the sessions.

IT employees want to provide value to their company, but they also want to feel valued. Investing in the training they need is the best vote of confidence you can give them.

It has immediate benefits for your employees and for your company as you both move forward with an ability to understand, implement and profit from new technologies. Bruce Thompson is manager of education services for BravePoint, a supplier of e-business and enterprise IT solutions to mid-market companies. Reach him at (770) 449-9696, ext. 3034.