Outsourcing created a lot of fear within IT departments, but perhaps none as bad as this: that you would end up having to go through the humiliating process of training the outsourcers who would replace you.
This thought crossed my mind today as I co-hosted the second of Microsoft Canada’s Ignite Your Career Webcasts, the title of which was “Internal and external training: Know your options.” Our guests, which included a CIO and a range of consultants, batted around the pros and cons of training off site or within company walls, making the business case for training and measuring the results. There was one question we didn’t address, though. A viewer named John, I believe, asked if there wasn’t a certain amount of job risk in being a trainer amid tough economic times. In not so many words, he was suggesting that by helping to train coworkers you might be training yourself right out of a job.
My response at the end of the Webcast was basically “God, I hope not.” This is an understandable but unsupportable position. I understand it because it’s a lot like the way some journalists operate in major newsrooms. As reporters, we live or die by the sources of information we cultivate – often highly knowledgeable people who give us the inside story that makes coverage compelling. There is a reason, for example, why Woodward and Bernstein didn’t share Deep Throat with the rest of the Washington Post staff during the Watergate scandal. However as sources become more ubiquitous – how do you hide someone who’s blogging or active on Twitter – that may have to change. At IT World we freely share sources because we all know how difficult it is to keep up with technology. We all start from a similar place and so we support each other’s development. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
IT staff are also keepers of highly specialized information, but unless you’re a Cobol programmer I don’t think IT skills alone are going to protect your job. In fact, we’ve seen for a long time that the reverse is true: that people who are effective at project management, process engineering and teamwork become indispensible, no matter how many future leaders they help groom.
If you could train or mentor yourself out of a job, that means you either don’t have much of a skill base to work with, or you haven’t properly communicated the other skills you can bring to the table. Because you can never pass along everything you know. You’re still learning, and never more so than by training other people.
Finally, imagine if you just didn’t bother mentoring or training. You’d hold all the cards in terms of expertise, but you’d also have to do much more of the heavy lifting in terms of work because the rest of the team would be ill-equipped. We can’t afford not to develop each other – individually or as an enterprise.