Posted by: kenwbudd | August 15, 2009

Inexpensive Training for your Employees

We all agree that ongoing education is important because it helps keep technical workers interested, thinking innovatively and motivated.

Unfortunately, training programs and educational conferences can be very pricey and, given the state of many corporate budgets today, such offerings are simply out of their financial reach.

It’s unfortunate that training is always the first thing to fall under the budgetory axe, because if you’re not investing in your people, you and they, are falling behind.

Your workers know this and will remember it too when the good times are back, and they will be back, but at that time, when you need them most, your employees will be packing up to leave.

So, what can an IT executive do? The only thing you can do. Stretch your training budget as far as you can and as best you can, through efficient, yet effective, innovative arrangements.

1. Rotate your employees

Cross-training has long been an important way to help people learn new skills, you can take it a step further by rotating roles and responsibilities using other assignments involving different technologies and projects.

You don’t want people to feel like they’re only working on a care and maintenance basis. So, everyone needs to get the opportunity to be exposed to or work on the new products. This keeps everyone moving into new technology areas, so that they don’t get stale and complacent. Skill stagnation and atrophy is the danger.

It allows people to grow, expand and diversify their skill sets and this kind of training can actually be far more effective than a typical classroom based session. You get to partner with someone who is hands-on with the application, so you can see the reality of what they actually do every day. It also creates a different perspective on issues and problem-solving techniques.

2. Establish Skills Forums

Two or three times a month, your employees can spend their lunch breaks hearing from colleagues who have developed expertise in particular areas.

Getting this innitiative started and off the ground is the biggest hurdle but once you have it going the program should become proactive and popular enough so that participation is truly voluntary. Half the session can be focussed on tech topics, with IT workers presenting and the other half can delve into known issues affecting other departments, with involvement from the employees in those areas. Better still if they can lead the discussions.

This gives us the ability to share more information, not just at a technology level, but also better insight into the business side. All for the cost of a finger buffet lunch.

3. Collaboration with Internal Partners

Don’t ring fence the training that you would use for your business managers. That training is very much less expensive than techie IT training and the technologists are expected to understand what the business units do. They need to learn business analyst skills to understand the business.

Remember, if the company’s accounting department want an application taht will better deal with commercial real estate bankruptcies, the IT workers are required and encouraged to attend. Encourage and co-erce business executives to give presentations to IT employees but specifically tailored for their perspective.

Select and use your best presenters and speaker, no matter where or what they represent. Teach them to talk to a wider audience. If someone in marketing runs the best meetings, tap that person to teach IT how to do the same. They can observe the marketing person in action and then have a follow-up session for questions. The technologists are quite bright, they can be quick to pick things up, normally.

4. Buddy up workers

Encourage IT workers to collaborate and pair up. To teach one another through “buddy learning.”

You can take an RPG coder who really wants to learn .Net, or a SQL coder who wants to be better at Cognos, and partner them up. That way they learn from each other. Again this approach will work equally well in IT and across other departments.

Of course, employees could tap colleagues for one-on-one training on their own, but they need your authorisation, to allow, enable or permit this to happen. They are often very tied up in their daily duties and let the opportunities slip away. Your support and an established structure are critical for the program to succeed. Also some IT types need to be taught how to ‘share’ or ‘play well’ with others.

5. Collaborate with External Partners

Do you meet regularly with other comapnies in your busines sector? Have you established an information exchange forum with them? If not, why not? If you have, then well done. You need to meet regularly with your business counterparts and other local companies to discuss key issues.

The group can be expanded to incorporate any amount of relevant comanies, in your area and can become a pressure group and a support team for change. Also consider exchanging employees on a temporary basis. Build a model of collaboration and sharing with their staff. Sending workers to one another’s companies for brief stints to learn from what’s happening in the rest of the world, will produce and enlightenment within your employees and a big boost to morale.

Of course you can also use this forum to ensure that poaching of key staff members does not occur. Establish some ground rules and ‘gentlefolf’ agreements, at least so that you get some awareness of an employees dis-satisfaction.

6. Create Mentoring opportunities

Mentoring is a staple of career development that all executive coaches will recommend and yet many working professionals find it hard to implement. Meanwhile, formal programs using outside consultants can cost companies a huge slice of their budgets annually. The smart executive can start in-house mentoring sessions for virtually no money.

Pick 5 – 10 of the company’s best leaders from among a group of volunteers to be dubbed mentors. Then ask your employees to sign up to the program, if they are interested in being mentored. Select the 5 – 10 candidates who show the most potential and could be best matched with a mentor.

Conclusion

Make it easy for your employees to learn, grow and develop and show them every encouragement to do so. Establish a technical library with up-to-date materials and online learning facilities. Publicise the schedule. Refresh it regularly and keep it alive. Record training sessions on DVD for people who could not attend.

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