SAN MATEO (04/03/2000) - These days, employee education is no longer an option for most companies -- it's a business necessity. Rapidly changing technology and a shortage of experienced IT talent has led to a boom in on-the-job training programs, both as a way to stay competitive and as a vital employee-retention tool.
Not surprisingly, company training budgets have soared in recent years. It's not unusual for a company to commit as much as 3 percent of its payroll budget to employee education.
Although training is an enterprisewide concern, companies often have to look to their own IT organizations to find and provide the right technology-driven training programs.
What's best for you?
When led by top-notch instructors who provide one-on-one attention, traditional classroom instructor-led training sessions are still the most powerful way to deliver information and provide immediate feedback. But even at their best, outside seminars can be inconvenient to schedule and disruptive to a workday.
The costs can be considerable: Travel, lodging, meals, and even time away from work can eat away a training budget.
Relevancy is also an issue. Many classroom courses offer very general instructions. Although a "one-size-fits-all" education is fine for beginners, employees at more advanced levels may find the classes a waste of time.
Web-based training can solve many scheduling and customization problems associated with the classroom. By bringing training content in-house and delivering it via the desktop, companies can provide a convenient way for employees to update their skills.
Using "in-house universities," companies can more easily track employee progress. They also can offer proven content from leading publishers, such as Skillsoft and Netg.
Of course, quality comes at a price. Typically, enterprisewide training entails multiyear, multimillion dollar contracts, making it prohibitively expensive to offer content from many providers. Integration is also a consideration. Many training programs require separate management systems or, worse, the installation of client/server hardware to tie content together, increasing demands on IT.
The next wave: Online aggregators
Fortunately, there's a next-generation online solution that may prove to be the most flexible yet. Online training aggregators, such as TrainingNet and Click2Learn, are bringing together content from many publishers in one place -- letting companies outsource all training needs. This breadth and depth lets companies find the topic, price point, bandwidth, and methodology to fit the trainee.
Online aggregators can also offer value-added services such as interactive assessment tools. These allow employees to determine their skill levels and take only the most appropriate courses. In addition, decentralized learner management systems enable managers to enroll entire teams in a particular module and closely track progress.
As with many ASP (application service provider) solutions, aggregators can offer cost savings. Outsourced training means no internal IT requirements; Web delivery avoids installing software across the organization. Best of all, companies "pay as they go," buying only the courses they need rather than taking on an expensive, long-term contract.
Before you buy
Remember, however, that the ASP training market is emerging. The players will change and products will evolve. Fortunately, there's no need to make any long-term commitments today. As long as a company can find the courses and support they need, flexibility should be the watchword moving forward.
James Shepherd and Peter Mellen enjoy shining a light on online training and lead the team at Headlight.com, an online training aggregator that provides access to more than 30 different providers and 1,000 online courses.