IT training: The price isn’t always right

Many learning and development managers give IT a wide berth, but their input could be crucial when it comes to getting value for money from training.

When it comes to assessing value for money, IT training can prove as difficult to measure as the softer training that takes place in the organisation.

IT training tends to come under the remit of the department itself rather than the learning and development (L&D) function, with many companies – and L&D managers, for that matter – of the opinion that the technical knowledge that IT managers have will enable them to select the best courses for employees working in that sector.

But Natalie Deter, author of the IT Training Market Report 2007, published by research organisation Key Note, says companies are becoming increasingly concerned about the return they get from IT training, with many believing they get poor value for money. As a result, Key Note predicts that prices for IT training products and services are likely to be put under downward pressure until 2011 as buyers focus on value for money and return on investment (ROI).

While price may be the obvious method of rating IT skills offerings, Eddie Kilkelly, managing director of skills provider ILX Group, insists that it is a poor measure, adding that improvement in performance is the only real indicator of value for money.

Richard Chappell, UK managing director of training organisation, Learning Tree International, agrees. “It’s short-sighted to look at evaluating on cost. The danger is that you can sometimes forget the real expense. Managers should not be seduced by a cost comparison between similar-sounding courses. What you have to build into that is the true cost of the training – such as having a technical engineer away from the office for four or five days.”

According to Chappell, companies looking to evaluate value for money in IT training need to first look at the broader costs and then examine what the training is looking to deliver. “Training is often a relatively small investment that’s underpinning a huge one,” he points out. “Getting that investment right is crucial, so the thought of opting for a slightly cheaper option at the training stage would be ludicrous.”

When it comes to assessing training needs, Kilkelly says IT managers need to come up with a highly-targeted model comprising two main things: understanding where the gaps are and the resources they have available to them, which may include on-the-job training and coaching.

“With those two things in place, they can prioritise what the needs are and set performance indicators. Then they can think about the most effective options, considering things such as blended learning. There will be some people who require awareness and others who need to practise new skills immediately. Whenever you’re looking at ROI, having that understanding is crucial.”

Rather than leaving IT training solely to the department, Kilkelly says L&D practitioners can assist in the areas of course facilitation and skills-tracking, which could help the business save money and assess value for money.

David Pardo, of Pardo Fox, which runs IT Skills Research, adds that L&D managers can also lend their support by coming up with a list of preferred suppliers. This would make it relatively easy for IT managers to buy from those training providers, and would mean that any potential discounts were already in place.

For Chappell, L&D’s participation in course follow-up could prove crucial in assessing value for money.

“By doing some of that follow-up, or ensuring there is a process in place that examines and reflects on the training experience, managers would be able to identify skills taken away from the course and look at how they’ve applied back in the workplace. This would enable them to assess the tangible return – and therefore the benefit to the business. If the sector begins to focus on demonstrating the ROI and value for money from training, there will be closer collaboration between IT and L&D.”

Case study: Sussex Health Informatics Service

Demand for additional IT staff training prompted Sussex Health Informatics Service (HIS) to review its services in terms of content, accessibility and value for money.

The L&D team, which had been using 40 individual PRINCE2 – a standard project management method – learning disks from training provider ILX to address the needs of 400 staff, had also begun to notice limitations with its existing line-up.

“Demand for PRINCE2 training rose at the same time as the need to provide generic project and programme management skills to staff,” says Wendy Dearing, senior leader for training, change and process continuity, and head of education training development (EDT) at Sussex HIS.

However, the Education Training Development team felt that their largest issue was that the existing structure did not allow a central view of staff progress. After consultations, the group signed up for ILX’s Best Practice Portal e-learning offering.

It’s a centrally-hosted software platform that provides access to staff in any location with an internet connection. After agreeing on 100 best practice courses in the portal, Sussex HIS signed up for an additional 200 courses three months later.

Sussex HIS says the e-learning courses immediately addressed the issues.

“We were able to gain a central view of staff progress through the portal’s reporting function. Not only did ILX support Sussex HIS in improving the quality of its staff training, but its flexible, online e-learning courses are also projected to save money. Sending our staff on three-day best practice courses used a significant amount of our budget,” says Dearing,

“And we felt that money could be best invested in improving the scope of training that we offered.”

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