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Some Thoughts on Professional IT Training

Level 21

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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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
  • Travel:
    • 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.

20 Comments
Jfrazier
Level 18

Good points here.

Had a boss that wasn't comfortable to sending people off for training or even conferences because he claimed it was an avenue for them to find new jobs...

or some the lack of being sent off for training prodded them into finding new jobs.

sparda963
Level 12

I want to take this and email it to my director and the c-level here at my place.

It is frustrating trying to get the time and money to get any type of training, let along off-site training. It has gotten so bad my manager actually put $5,000 for each person on his team for training in next years budget. The c-level slashed it faster then Jason at Crystal Lake Summer Camp.

When I took this Network Analyst job I was pretty rusty on my networking stuff. I was verbally promised I would be given time and funding to take the ccna certification bootcamp and test. That was almost 2 years ago now.

vinay.by
Level 16

Nice write up

desr
Level 12

I think company paid training is important and it should be part of their employment benefit package. Good employees are hard to find so they should be rewarded with the benefit of training even if it is a paid subscription to Lynda.com, Career Academy or Linkedin Learning. They can be taken at work, on the go, or at home.

It benefits the company as well as the employee in the long run for a minimal amount of money. The company will not lose a while lot of money if the employee decides to leave the company.

ecklerwr1
Level 19

I miss the old days of always going away to another state for training during the year.

bobmarley
Level 15

Thanks, good points!

desr
Level 12

I wish I could.

mtgilmore1
Level 13

I wish I could too........

gfsutherland
Level 14

rschroeder​ all outstanding points and I agree totally 1000%

But there are some other things to consider.

  • Size of organization - The smaller the staff the greater the impact on operational staffing
  • Organization size can and will limit budget.
  • Due to #1 we are forced into the alternatives you suggest. (often on our own time).

In short you are right, but given other issues, your results can and will vary.

rschroeder
Level 21

Absolutely--size and budgetary concerns could limit what any company or person can afford for training.  These thoughts about training apply easiest to large organizations.

But they COULD apply to small shops, and even individuals, if you took a particular mind set.

I've worked in small shops--four people--and training was hard to come by.  But somehow the boss managed to send me off to training every year for five days or ten days, and that really impacted his immediate bottom line.

When I came back from training I'd bring new skills that he leveraged to make new sales & service contracts, and his training expenses paid off immediately.

A 5-day class of technical hands-on training on equipment I'd end up supporting for the next five years cost him $2,000.00.

He'd send me out to support our clients' hardware and charge them $150/hour (portal-to-portal!) for my time, while I only earned $6.50/hour (embarrassing, I know.  I've no excuse.  It was the 1980's, and I was a kid who didn't realized I was being taken advantage of).  I'd put in 15 or 20 hours using these new skills every month, and he just sat back and put the checks in his bank account.

The trick was for him to realize that training me was a good business decision--a good investment.  He had his eye on a niche market that was under-served.  He took a $2000 risk on training me, and I brought him back more than $20,000.00 per year in additional revenue for the next five years. His return on investment was 50:1--not a bad profit ratio.

If your shop can't find value from your training, they won't fund it.  So the trick is to show them how that training will decrease costs, and quickly increase the bottom line.

A lot of this might feel like it's only spin, but it makes a difference to an organization no matter the size of the business.

If you want/need training, and the company won't fund it, what are your options?

  • Pay for it yourself and let it cut into your personal bottom line and your family's ability to pay for your kids' college, take trips, have nice things . . .
  • Pay for it yourself and move to a company that can support you properly. You'll likely get a nice raise since you're bringing in new and valuable skills to them.
  • Do without the training, and let your frustration decrease your performance while you watch your boss spend capital on external support hours to get the job done instead of investing in you and having that skill set in-house for as long as you're employed there
  • Move to a company that understands this and ensures you have the training you need to stay effective and competitive
  • Find a way to show your company how the training is a profit-making exercise.

That's the major hold-up, right?  "Training you and your team is too expensive, we can't afford it, we can't do without the staff during the training . . ."

Find a great way to make Management see the benefits of training instead of the short-term costs.  Read this link and learn how to fund training, new equipment, more staff, better working environments . . .   :A Stratagem For Obtaining Funding For Your Projects

And let me know your successes!

If you can follow the ideas in that link, you might find yourself a better negotiator, and be the recipient of new training dollars.  My finger are crossed for you!

desr
Level 12

I use head phones and listen as I work throughout the day all the users listen to music that way so I listen to courses and get my training time in that way except for the final exams, I take them at home to make sure I don't get interupted.

Bluetooth headphones are a blessing....

rschroeder
Level 21

My InfoSec team talked to me yesterday about Bluetooth attacks they're seeing (as long as you mentioned Bluetooth).

Bluetooth hasn't been a widely publicized target in the past.  Its internal rights and hooks higher up in the hardware and OS, and its ubiquity make it (sadly) perfectly vulnerable and desirable to compromise.

The new BlueBorne exploit packages eight Zero Day vulnerabilities together, and combines them to make a hands-free attack and take-over of any Bluetooth device simple and silent.  In ten seconds any vulnerable device (and I do mean ANY--Apple, Android, and Linux are specifically vulnerable to this) is taken over--without any clicking by their owners.

And then the device goes & infects all the other Bluetooth devices it sees (even if you're not joined to them!).

Once compromised, a remote operator can access far too much on your device, and reconfigure more.  They can see your keystrokes, your audio, your video, read/modify/download your files and your photographs . . .

Billions of devices imperiled by new clickless Bluetooth attack | Ars Technica

https://www.armis.com/blueborne/

New Bluetooth vulnerability can hack a phone in 10 seconds | TechCrunch

jkump
Level 15

Excellent write up !!!!!

I have had too many employers that viewed training as a way to build up and employee and encourage them to move on.  The culture should have been if we invest in you then we reap the returns when the appropriate situation arises and then reward the employee for usage of that knowledge.  I have in 34 years pretty much had to self pay for all my training.  I have only attended 2 classes that work paid for.  Strangely, I even worked at once place that despite the business could not function without IT but that the IT was considered less important than the custodial staff.

gfsutherland
Level 14

Points well taken... I guess after 36 years I've gotten used to fighting this battle (off and on)!

(BTW.... new budget cycle.... following your suggestions!)

byrona
Level 21

I love that you point out the comparison between distance learning versus off-site training.  I was just having a conversation with a co-worker about this today and I pointed out that I prefer off-site training just for the sake that it guarantees that my time will be protected and I won't be interrupted.  Getting protected time for learning is one of the most challenging things I have faced in my career.

desr
Level 12

If anyone is interested I found a free or very minimal expense IT training site:

https://www.cybrary.it/

tallyrich
Level 15

Very good information and thoughts. It seems to me that every company and every manager loves to talk about how important their employees are and how important training is, but generally the time to train is neglected. I've worked for some great companies (including my current employer) and they all have some sort of online training available. But when you stay busy as we do in this industry it's difficult to set aside time in the day to train (without interruption).

tinmann0715
Level 16

IT training, in whatever medium, has always provoked a lively discussion here on Thwack. We tech guys are all huge proponents of training as we live and breathe the value. We have ridden on the coattails of technology the past x+y years and we were smart enough to stay on top of it. That being said, here are my 2 cents on virtual training:

  1. It's cheaper. Save a ton on travel & T&E. Less cost = more training for everyone.
  2. Don't participate in the class in the office. Or if you do, book a conference with doors to seal off the world.
  3. Yes, there is something to be said for networking with your classmates but some of that can be gained through lively chat sessions and provocative dialogue with the instructor. "I get what you're saying, teach. But I would be curious to hear what the rest of the class thinks about giving the user community Local Admin to their laptop."
  4. You'll appreciate when you are done training for the day that you will still be able to go home at night.
  5. And if you don't have a reliable network connection... find someplace else that does.
prowessa
Level 12

Cool. Its very sad if they get trained and leave. you have to start training new ones. Then you have very tough bosses getting only skilled personnel. Then no unskilled person gets the job. I guess that sounds.....................................

michael.kent
Level 13

My favourite quote on this topic is If you think its expensive to hire a professional to do a job, wait until you hire an amateur!

About the Author
I grew up in Forest Lake, Minnesota in the 1960's, enjoying fishing, hunting, photography, bird watching, church, theater, music, mini-boggan, snowmobiling, neighborhood friends, and life in general. I've seen a bit, have had my eyes opened more than once, and tend not to make the same mistakes twice. Reinventing the wheel is not my preference, and if I can benefit from someone else's experience, that's good all the way around. If someone can benefit from my experience, it's why I share on Thwack.