Training and development professionals are not taking enough interest in IT skills training, argues Jason Wilcox
Traditionally untouched by T&D teams, IT training is often seen as the poor relation to "proper" training. Instead, the task of training IT users is dumped on the IT department.
Asking a techie to train is not always a successful approach. As a task, it comes way down the list below areas such as system maintenance and support.
To overcome this problem we must break down the barriers between IT and T&D. Both have an extremely important role to play in the future development of an organisation – one provides access to the skills needed to move forward, the other the tools to carry out the job.
T&D and IT should not work autonomously. Aspects of IT such as migration to a new suite of applications will have a major impact. Equally, new working practices may dictate future software and hardware requirements.
The lack of interest shown by T&D professionals may explain why in many companies IT training is conducted less well than other forms of training. One of the preferred methods of IT training is the "blanket coverage" approach – sending users on full-day courses from which they will hopefully extract the bits they need. Although this makes the organisation of such events easier, is it really cost-effective and do people get what they want from it?
Another oversight is training needs analysis. T&D professionals spend many hours carrying out TNAs, but this is rarely employed in IT applications. More time needs to be spent finding out what staff need to do their jobs, and tailoring learning to suit.
One solution is modular training – breaking each application into bite-size chunks of no longer than two hours. Similarly, one-to-one interventions have a major part to play. These can be done at the user’s request and at their desk.
As training practitioners we take into account our delegates’ knowledge levels when constructing a session, but this can be very difficult with IT training, as there are many facets to each application. One person’s "intermediate" course can be another person’s "advanced".
Another area where IT training is managed less well than other training is in outsourcing. Many companies are turning to outside training providers when it comes to IT and I do not condemn that. But if your business is heavily reliant on IT skills it may be prudent to have a dedicated member of staff to support them. Ideally, they will know what makes the business tick, and be literate in the applications being used. They should also be an experienced T&D practitioner, and treat it the same as any other subject.
Companies that do outsource their IT training should look for a provider who is sympathetic to their needs, rather than one who can provide "off-the-shelf" packages. It should be sourced using the same procedures you employ when looking for a soft skills provider. Stack it high, sell it cheap may work in some retail markets, but quality is what counts when you are talking about your people.
Jason Wilcox is a training consultant at TrainingNet