Worker by day, fancy book learner by night

We get a lot of IT-related books and training manuals sent to us here at ComputerWorld. So many, in fact, that we’re running out of places to put them.

So it’s no wonder that, as I glanced at our overflowing bookshelves recently, it occurred to me how impressive it is that anyone ever finds the time to keep current.

Take one of the books, Essential System Administration – sounds like a concept many of our readers should be comfortable with. If you’re not, don’t worry, this book promises to get you up to speed. But only after you manage to wade through all 1,095 pages.

Then there’s the catchy-sounding Hackers Beware. I like the title – who wouldn’t want to strike a little fear into their hearts? You can, but only after you invest 728 pages worth of your time. Or perhaps you want to introduce yourself to Web services. That’ll cost you another 455 pages.

Luckily, becoming a “socially responsible” IT manager only requires 342 pages of reading.

In short, training is easy to talk about, but judging from the size and scope of some of these books, not so easy to do.

Now, frame all the above in the context of a story we ran last issue that concluded IT workers are among the most stressed of all professionals. Besides the hair-pulling task of hours spent talking to, shall we politely say, somewhat less technical-savvy co-workers, another big factor behind all that stress is the drive to keep up to date in the fast changing fields of technology. It also happens to be the one area none of us can do anything about, except maybe find ways to make the learning process more efficient.

Analyst firm Cutter Consortium recently completed a study of corporate IT training programs. What it found is encouraging. According to Cutter, 63 per cent of respondent firms say they maintain a proactive training program designed to keep their IT staff up to date. Good news. But a rather surprising 37 per cent do not.

Cutter says the results show “we’re learning a lot about learning.” Perhaps, but I’m still puzzled as to why any sophisticated, modern company wouldn’t bother giving their IT staff the incentive to stay current in their field. And by that I mean doing more than just reimbursing for books and the odd conference. Maybe they want to inject a little disgruntlement into their tech folks. Or perhaps they enjoy the high turnover that undoubtedly results for this strategy.

On the other hand, every sales team I’ve worked with has attended some form of company-sponsored retreat or seminar. And most managers receive some form of leadership training. It’s not something they’re expected to justify, and certainly not something expected to do entirely on their own time.

It’s almost as if some managers assume the software runs itself, with IT staff there merely to fix the printers and talk about how much smoother life would be if only the business overseers would invest more money in software X, Y or Z.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen surveys which show that training, or the ability to keep current, ranks very high when workers are asked what attracts them to a job in the first place, or keeps them at the one they have now.

There’s always going to be a big onus on IT professionals to provide for themselves, to read the books, take courses and generally stay on top of trends in IT and in the industry in which they work. That’s a given. But employers have their part to play too. By keeping the road to learning well paved, they’re ensuring their company’s reliance on IT doesn’t face too many potholes.

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