Cost-effective IT training

IT training is gaining a higher profile in the enterprise

It's not easy to sort through the maze of IT training options available today. Classroom training, interactive Webcasts, online tutorials, customized multimedia courseware -- there is so much from which to choose.

The top priority for US$14 billion insurance giant Aflac is to match the type of training to the learner and the content. "We look at what format worked best in the past, as well as the learner's individual preference," says Dena Wilson, talent manager for the U.S.-based company.

The company views training as a key component of employee retention, which is increasingly important as the wave of baby-boomer retirements begins. It takes advantage of all learning media, including instructor-led classroom training, internally developed multimedia courseware, Web-based e-learning options, and just about anything else that might work and fit the content, she says.

It's nice to have the luxury of choice. For most CIOs and training managers, however, cost is the prevailing variable. According to the American Society for Training and Development, U.S. organizations now spend US$109.25 billion annually on all types of training in all formats. That's a pretty hefty number, even when you consider it includes many types of content.

As for IT training, IDC predicted the IT education market would reach nearly US$10 million in the Americas in 2006 and grow to US$11.67 billion by 2010. "The IT-training recovery in the United States has begun, albeit slowly," according to IDC analyst Cushing Anderson. Business decision-makers are reluctant to open the spigot too wide.

Companies traditionally have been reluctant to spend money on training, no matter how clear the need. Happily, the training purse strings have loosened somewhat, as businesses resumed all types of IT investments two years ago, says Peter McStravick, a senior research analyst for learning services at IDC. Value is still top of mind, however.

In recent years, IT training has had a higher profile in the enterprise. "The strategic value of training is more recognized than it used to be," McStravick says. "Now, it's about getting people the information they need to do their jobs better, to help their companies perform better."

As a buffer against the ongoing IT skills shortage and coming mass exodus of baby boomers, savvy companies are willing to spend more on training in support of personal career development. In addition, the number of U.S. positions for network systems analysts and other technical personnel is expected to increase in the next few years, and that will fuel the need for highly targeted, role-based IT training. That said, most companies still focus on obtaining the best possible training option for the lowest possible cost.

One of the least-expensive training alternatives is to go to the source (that is, the technology vendor). Almost all major IT vendors have used their own copious resources to create online tutorials and other resources for people trying to learn how to use their products; and Microsoft, Adobe and others have special technical communities for their most-sophisticated users. All of these are free: It doesn't get much more cost-effective than that.

In addition, the largest vendors have their own book imprints. This is another low-cost way for people to learn, as long as they do the reading and get lots of hands-on, on-the-job practice.

After vendors' online tools and books, basic classroom training is a reasonably priced choice, IDC's McStravick says. "The classroom is a cheap way to deliver almost any kind of content," whether a company needs to bring an instructor in or has one on staff already. Classroom costs go way up if the learners have to travel to a learning center or other off-site location.

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