Planning IT training in 2012
Cuts in IT training have coincided with a trend towards self-education. Photo: Louise Kennerley
Encouraging IT staff to keep their skills current is a win/win for companies and workers alike – but in lean economic times training and professional development can be easy targets for the red pen brigade.
Post GFC, cuts to training spend have been sharp. Most companies view training as a cost, rather than profit, centre and between 2009 and 2010 median IT training budgets dropped from around one per cent of total IT budget to 0.5 per cent, according to Gartner CIO analyst John Roberts.
Gartner estimates that companies are currently spending around $1100 on training per IT employee; less than the cost of many short courses and seminars.
On the flipside, many firms continue to experience difficulty finding and keeping workers with hot technical skills, such as Oracle, SAP, service-oriented architecture, virtualisation, Microsoft.NET and SharePoint.
Some organisations, particularly in the public sector, mandate the minimum number of training days employees are entitled to receive each year but in others it's ad hoc, with proactive staffers receiving the lion's share of the learning dollars.
More than a training ground
Companies that do invest in their workers need to ensure they get value for money and are not just skilling staff up and out into better paying jobs elsewhere, Intelligent Business Research Services analyst Alan Hansell said.
Microsoft certification, for example, can make an employee significantly more marketable.
"Management needs to tread a fine line – between keeping staff's skills current but also keeping them on the books," Hansell said.
Diversity of systems meant senior managers needed to develop a wide base of understanding, if they were to manage the training requirements of operational staff effectively, he added.
Companies hard hit by the economic slowdown have typically tried to cut their discretionary training spend, with expensive off-site conferences and seminars the first thing to go. If not eliminated entirely, they are reserved for senior staff only.
Non-discretionary training – getting staff up to speed with new enterprise software or the latest mobile platform, for example – tends to be delivered regardless.
Online learning has proved a boon for businesses that want to ensure staff keep learning but don't care to wear the productivity loss that comes from them doing so during the working week.
"Self-paced training is making people squeeze the course work in, during their own time," Hansell said.
Some firms sweeten the deal by offering staff the incentive of a bonus upon completion.
For those in management, professional development is increasingly occurring externally out of hours, too, via university post-graduate courses; the fees for which may be reimbursed by employers as subjects are passed.
"As people rise up the ranks they become more autonomous about what training they do," Hansell said. "It becomes about promote-ability and keeping yourself current."
Senior staffers typically favour 'soft training', in the form of a conference or seminar, rather than a course designed to teach a specific set of technical skills.
At pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline's Australian office, IT workers typically spend around a week a year doing out-of-office training, in addition to internal, HR-run courses and workshops.
Glaxo IT demand and shared services manager Robbie Attard said his team of 25 were expected to be proactive about finding courses and seminars which met their professional development needs.
"There's not a lot of discretionary spend on training," Attard said. "We have probably tightened up – but not squeezed – what we will pay for."
The company also expects staff to account for the time and money invested in them, by sharing their newly acquired knowledge with other team members.
In 2012, training will focus on optimising the benefits of mobile technology, across Glaxo's field sales force, and commercial and manufacturing divisions, Attard added.