Training is not a quick fix

A shortfall of IT workers in the marketplace has sparked a sizeable increase in IT training expenditures, due in part to the attempt to retain and retrain employees.

So much so that a study by International Data Corp.’s IT Training and Education Services research program indicates that the world-wide IT training market is expected to experience a growth rate of approximately 11.1 per cent and will surpass US$28.3 billion by 2002.

But often times, the money spent by companies on staff training is perceived as being “wasted” on something that didn’t work, said John Howe, client manager for Automotive Accounts at Detroit-based General Physics Corp., a performance improvement company.

According to Howe, the problem is that many companies are looking for a quick fix and turn to training as the solution. And quite often, he said, companies are too quickly enamoured by the flashy training brochures and common buzz words like “pushing the envelope” and “enterprise solution.”

“It’s usually the case where the company has a condition they want changed, or a problem, and are looking for the quick solution or the magic potion,” he said.

Before organizations even approach the training selection process, they should look at their own processes to find out where the problem lies.

“The best thing to do is analyze your processes and make sure that if there are systems issues or process issues that have to be corrected, they’re corrected first before training is used,” Howe stressed.

“Usually, if companies don’t do that analysis, they jump to training as a quick fix and spend the money on the training. Because the systems or processes are out of alignment the training is ineffective and the money is wasted.”

Once a manager concludes training is the necessary path, then he or she must analyze which training program suits the requirements. To assist managers in their decision making process, Howe has come up with a training effectiveness evaluation checklist.

Three important issues stand out. “One is assuring the training is aligned with your business objectives and that the training objectives are clear and measurable. Based on that, you evaluate the effectiveness of the training throughout the process. You measure the effectiveness of how the (individual) learned…and more importantly, how it makes a difference to your organization’s bottom line,” Howe said.

If a manager is satisfied that the analysis is effective, then he or she will “have a very high probability of having not only successful training, but a wise expenditure of the training dollar.”

When it comes to training, Jim Standen, manager of general information systems in Information Technologies at the University of Calgary, said there are a number of factors he must consider. Cost is one of the most significant.

“We’re a little different because we’re an educational institution. So the first thing we look at is internal (training) opportunities. Do we have courses within our traditional educational stream or continuing educational stream?” he explained.

“We work in the public sector so cost is a very important factor. We have limited funds to deal with so price performance [is important].”

For this reason, Standen said computer-based training (CBT) is often favoured. “You’ll pay for it once, but use it for multiple employees.”

In addition to being cost-effective, Standen said, “the computer industry likes to do things within the computer industry” and CBT, whether it be the Internet or CD-ROM, is the obvious choice for IT professionals.

In fact, two of the questions Howe said managers should consider are: “Does the training make appropriate use of technology? and “Is the training method appropriate for the client?” If the answer for either is no, then further analysis is probably required.

Managers need to be able to explain why the training was a reasonable business cost. In other words, did you get what you paid for? Were the desired results achieved?

“Managers are stewards of the resources of their organizations and those resources include money, time and the human assets of the organization,” Howe said. “Training is one of several examples where that stewardship should be wisely manifested.”