Take Pro-active Approach To Training

IT workers have to stay current but the question is, who do you turn to when it comes time to hit the books?

By Rebecca Maxwell

As high-tech careers shift with the ever-changing list of what’s hot and what’s not, keeping up-to-date has become a path paved only by continuous training.

“You don’t just graduate today and assume it’s smooth sailing,” said Kathy Herties, manager of the career consulting practice with management consultant firm KPMG in Ottawa.

“The second you finish a course you start to become outdated. So you need to have a continual commitment to lifelong learning…and lifelong learning takes on a whole new definition within the high-tech sector.”

When it comes to training, Herties offers this advice: “I would run my own career as though it were a company.” That means being pro-active about how, where and what type of training an individual requires, and taking two important steps.

“[First] you develop a mission statement in terms of what you need out of a career…and then stick with that statement until there is some reason to change it,” she recommended.

“Secondly, as a company, I would set aside a portion of my salary and develop a training budget for myself.”

Take a percentage of your annual income and invest that in training, Herties suggested. While many corporations will sponsor training for employees, it is important that individuals look out for their own training needs, getting a minimum of two weeks training per year.

One way to do that is through vendor certification. “You have to have some level of recognition for a certain level of knowledge and that is what the vendor certifications do,” Herties said. “That’s what they provide – a benchmark, a standard of achievement that you do have this core set of competencies.”

Saqib Hassan, director of corporate development for Toronto-based Learning Curve Consultants, said vendor training also brings with it a guarantee of qualified, certified trainers and certain specifications for classroom configuration.

Elizebeth Moyer, Skills 2000 program manager for Microsoft Canada Co. in Mississauga, Ont., said Microsoft, which offers training through Certified Training Education Centres, Academic Authorized Training Providers and its Skills 2000 program, offers built-in quality control through Microsoft-controlled exams and instructors.

“I think it’s important to have a vendor-specific type of designation just so people know how to do a comparison,” Moyer said.

“If you just have a diploma how do you judge that from school A vs. school B? We have a starting point where you can do a comparison no matter where you are in the world, which is a huge advantage to an employer.”

That said, there is also a drawback to vendor training, Herties said. “The training is focused on the application and not necessarily on what the best solution is for your client,” she said. “If you are going to go to a vendor then you’ve got to lay out your own training path and your own training plan based on what areas you want to specialize in.”

Microsoft’s Moyer said before choosing a training path it is essential to consider personal career goals.

“You have to look at where you come from…look to where you want to work and look at what kind of technology they are using. It’s going to be a big benefit if you can come in with certification in what they already use in the company,” she explained.

Deb Stephens, Canadian HP education manager at Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont., also believes personal career goals are key. In fact, she said HP recently changed its curriculum to recognize the importance of the individual rather than the technology.

“Our curriculum is designed to teach those students how to be successful in a specific IT job role vs. specific products,” Stephens explained.

In addition to vendor certification, training can also be obtained through third parties such as schools or training companies. According to Herties, with this method “the training tends to be more general so it does give you exposure to a number of different flavours.”

Al Nasturzio, regional vice-president of the Information Technology Institute (ITI) in Toronto, which offers a full-time, nine-month post-graduate diploma, agreed.

“Specific training on a particular product limits you to that one product, so Microsoft certification means you’re certified for that Microsoft product and that’s it,” Nasturzio said.

“The difference between us and that kind [of training] is they’re providing training on a particular product; what we’re providing is IT education, which is a little wider in scope. You’re getting exposure to different tools like Visual Basic and Java and Oracle,” Nasturzio said.

Additionally, a program such as ITI’s also offers collaborative training and some of the softer skills now highly sought after by employers, Nasturzio said.

What it comes down to, said Learning Curve’s Hassan, is that “no one course or one path is really going to give you everything you need. Learning IT is an on-going process…the challenge is to get the training with some hands-on experience.”