Companies turn to mentoring programs as training budgets dry up

The recession may have resulted in many companies gutting training budgets but organizations still have a number of cost-effective options to help their employee maintain and improve their skills.

Internal courses, project-specific training, mentoring and job shadowing program are in vogue in many Canadian, according to career and technology experts in the second installment of Microsoft’s Ignite Your Career Webcast series entitled: Internal or External Training – Know Your Options.

The series, presented in collaboration with IT World Canada, features industry specialists who provide insights into IT trends and developments.


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“The truth is, training and travel budgets are one of the first items to get scrutinized when a company considers cost cutting measures,” said Maurizio Laudisa, CIO of LifeLabs Medical Laboratory Services, medical testing firm headquartered in Toronto.


The crunch, Laudisa said, results in curtailed external training opportunities for company employees.

 Many individual IT professionals are “retooling and reengineering” their skills sets with certification training but Barry Gervin, founding partner of ObjectSharp a training and consulting firm based in Toronto sees a general downward shift in traditional training practices.


“Discretionary training budgets have dried up even if it’s something that a company can’t do without,” Gervin said.


Gervin said many clients are not seeking customized training modules specifically designed to meet their operational needs. “We’ll be seeing more firms picking and choosing modules that relate to their immediate needs,” he said.


On-demand online training and modules built around a specific work or project life cycle are also gaining ground, according to Aaron Skonnard, co-founder of Pluralsight LLC, a Hingham, Mass-based a training firm specializing in .Net, cloud computing, service oriented architectures and XML technology.

 Online training allows companies to reduce travel cost and worker downtime, he said.

 Many companies are also opting for onsite training rather than send their employees to an external training facility, says Brian Bourne, president of CMS Consulting Inc., a Microsoft infrastructure and collaboration training and consultancy firm.

 But while main companies and reducing allocation for out-of-town conventions and conferences, these functions do are still essential for certain areas, Bourne said. Conferences might not be a focused as project specific courses but in the context of areas like network security they have certain advantages.

 “Attending a conference where you have the option to discussions on 30 different topics can end up being cheaper than enrolling in multiple courses,” Bourne said.

 The panelists agreed that blending external and internal training methods is an effective cost cutting measure that training ROI.

 Laudisa of LifeLabs says his company uses an extensive mentoring and job shadowing program where more experienced employees take under their wings new hires or employees whishing to progress in their careers.

 These apprenticeship periods typically last from six to 12 months. Laudisa said younger workers get the benefit of learning from subject matter experts while order employees gain a renewed sense of self worth and joy in their jobs.

 “External training and certifications can only go so far. You still need to know how to apply the knowledge in your workplace.” Laudisa said.

Gervin said other firms are also experimenting with having an individual or small team of employees obtain the external training and share their knowledge with the rest of their co-workers.

“There’s benefit in both external and internal training. When trainees bring back to their co-workers what they learned from outside, workers get the benefit of both worlds,” Gervin said.

Whatever a company’s training strategy is, it’s vital that the organization implement it as soon as possible in the year before business conditions affect it.

“We plan for $2,000 to $3,000/head for external training. You need to get that allocated early on in the year because you don’t want to lose it to budget cuts,” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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