Training is a topic I hold near and dear to my heart. Here are some of my thoughts about how a company will succeed or fail based on the training (and thereby the competence) of their technical staff.
My team members decide what they need to learn to better support our needs, then set aside a couple of hours each week, during work hours, to do training. This is informal, undirected time that benefits the company a lot!
Companies miss out when they don't allocate formal time and funds to help ensure that their employees have professional training. It doesn't matter whether those needs involve learning internal safety procedures, corporate IT security policies, basic or advanced switching/routing/firewalling, setting up V-Motion or VoIP or Storage LUNs, or just learning to smile while talking to customers on the phone.
Companies that don't budget time and money to train their staff risk not having the right staff to
- Answer questions quickly
- Do great designing
- Provide excellent implementations
- Troubleshoot problems efficiently and effectively.
It may surprise or dismay you, but training is more effective when it's done off site. Being at a training facility in person--not remotely or via eLearning--gets you more bang for your training dollars. It may look more expensive and inconvenient than participating in recorded or online/remote training sessions, but that perception is deceiving.
Relying solely on distance learning has unique costs and drawbacks:
- Technical problems
- Hearing audio
- Sharing screens
- Losing training time while waiting for the instructor to troubleshoot others' technical problems
- Missing out on the pre-class, lunchtime, and post-class conversations and meetings. I've learned a lot from sharing information with students during these "off class" times. I've made some personal connections that have helped me get a lot more out of the training, long after the sessions are over. Those opportunities are lost when a class is attended online.
- Remote eLearning sessions conducted onsite are ineffective due to work interruptions. Work doesn't stop when you are attending training sessions in your cube. The help desk calls our desk phones when we are needed, and our cell phones when we're not at our desks. Work doesn't stop when you are attending training sessions at your desk. People stop by for help without notice (we call these "drive-bys"), expecting us to interrupt our online training session to deal with their issues whenever they stop by our cubes. Hours or days of training are lost this way.
- Remote or recorded training sessions are often dry and time-consuming. We don't need to sit through introductions and explanations of training settings, yet that's what some companies include in their online training offerings. These sessions end up becoming cut-rate solutions for people or companies who can't afford to do training the right way. Actual hands-on, real-time, face-time experiences are richer in training fulfillment. They are critical to getting the most out of every training dollar. Plus, getting out of the office helps encourage active participation during training, and results in a refreshed employee coming back to work. Training is no vacation (especially when taking a regimen of 12 to 14-hour classes for four or five days straight), but a change of environment is a welcome pick-me-up.
Relying on people to seek their own training using their own time and money is often a mistake
You can end up with people who either can't serve your company's needs or are burned out and frustrated. They'll look for a company that properly supports them with in-house training, and you'll potentially lose whatever expense you budgeted to train them, as well as losing the time wasted during their learning curve when they were a new employee.
To avoid this, establish a corporate policy that protects your investment.
- If a person leaves within twelve months of receiving training at the company's expense, they must reimburse the company for travel costs, meals, hotel, and tuition.
- If a person leaves between twelve months and twenty-four months after receiving training at the company's expense, they must only reimburse the company the cost of the tuition, not the travel, hotel, or meals.
- Once a person has been with the company for some arbitrary longer length of time (7-8 years or so), they don't have to reimburse any training costs when they leave, no matter how soon after training they take off. Your human resources team should be able to provide statistics about the likelihood of a person staying with the company after X years. Use their figures, or you can omit this option.
If you don't fund enough training for your people, you won't have the needed tools for the job when you need them. Your company will not prosper as well as it should. Those underappreciated employees will either inadvertently slow down your progress, or they'll take their services to a company that appreciates them. They'll see their value when the new company reinvests in those employees by sending them to great training programs.
How much does training cost?
The real question is, "How much does it cost to have untrained people on staff?"
If your people can't do the job because they haven't been trained, they'll make mistakes and provide poor recommendations. You won't be able to trust them. You'll have to contract out for advanced services that bring in a hired gun to solve one issue one time. Once the expert leaves, you still have needs that your staff can't fill. Worse, you don't have impartial internal experts to advise you about the directions and solutions you should implement.
You can find many different vendor-certified training solutions at varying price points, but we can talk about some general budget items for a week of off-site training.
- Tuition: ~$3,500 - $6,000 (or more!) for a one-week class at the trainer's facility
- Flight ~$750 (depending on source and destination)
- Car rental ~$300 (again, depends on distance, corporate discounts, etc.)
- Hotel ~$150 per night (roughly)
- Meals ~$125 per day (this is pretty high, but we're just looking at ballpark figures here)
You could spend up to $7,500 for one week of training one person.
Consider discounts and special offers. You may be able to reduce your company's training costs to almost zero, especially if your employees live in the same city that is hosting the training.
- Cisco Learning Credits can pay for all of the Cisco training if you have a good arrangement with your Cisco reseller if you choose a training company that accepts Learning Credits. If you don't have Cisco hardware, approach the vendor or your VAR for free or discounted training.
- Some training centers offer big discounts or two-for-one training (or better) opportunities. It never hurts to ask for incentives and discounts to use their services.
- Some training companies cover all hotel costs when training at their sites!
- Some training programs include breakfast and lunch as part of the overall cost, leaving you to expense only dinners.
- Car rental may not be required if you select a hotel adjacent to the training facility. Walk between them, rely on the hotel's airport shuttle, or use a taxi.
Do not rely solely on Cisco Learning Credits (CLC's)
A CLC is typically worth about $100, and if a class costs $3,500, you need 35 Learning Credits for an employee to have "free" training. Of course, those learning credits are NOT free. Your company either buys them (at a discount) or earns them as an incentive for their business. Perhaps you can sign an agreement with Cisco or your VAR that guarantees you'll spend X dollars on new hardware or services annually, and in return receive some percentage of X to use as learning credits. I've worked with two VARs who do this, and it's much appreciated.
CLCs are never enough to cover all of our training needs. For one thing, they're only good for Cisco training. If you have F5's, CLC's are of no value for their training. Many training companies offer 2-for-1 discounts, or buy-one-get-a-second-at-50%-off, or better. And you can make those dollars go further if you follow a great "Train The Trainer" program. In this, you select a person who has great communication and understanding skills to receive the training. When they return to the company, they train their peers. They're fresh, they have contacts from their class that can be queried for answers to questions, and they may save you the cost of sending people to training.
Relying solely on CLCs means you've either got to spend a lot of capital dollars up front (to build up a bank of CLS's to use in the next twelve month), or you need more budget to cover the training gap. Allocate sufficient funds to ensure your people have the exposure, training, and knowledge to correctly guide your company to a better IT future. I can't emphasize this enough!
Discover your training needs. I have found that each analyst typically needs two weeks of off-site training annually, perhaps more for the first few years, until everyone is up to speed.
Why so much training? Training is necessary for your team to:
- Keep up with versions, bug fixes, better ways of doing things, security vulnerabilities and their solutions.
- Do the highly technical and specialized things that make your network, servers, and applications run the best they can.
- Maintain their skill sets and ensure they're aware of the right options and security solutions to apply to your organization.
- Ensure they can properly design and implement and support every new technology that your company adopts.
- Trust them to provide the right advice to decision makers.
You COULD hire outside contractors to be your occasional technical staff . . . But then you'd be left with unthinking, non-advancing worker drones on your staff, who'll drag you down or leave you in the lurch when they find employers who will believe and invest in them.
Harsh? You bet! But when you understand the risks of having untrained people on staff, you see all the benefits that result from training.
If you have staff who sacrifice their personal expenses and family time (evenings, weekends, and holidays) to train themselves for the company's benefit, cherish them--they're unusual, and won't stay with you long. They're on the fast path to leave you behind. Give them raises and promotions to encourage them to stay, and compensate their training expenses. If you don't, they'll leave for the competition, who'll jump another step ahead of you.
Succeed by reinvesting in your staff, showing them they're appreciated by sending them to training, and they will help your company succeed.