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I have been having this question for quite sometime: How much do companies need or should value training, especially in an IT Company.

  • Should there be training for everything?
  • How does everyone feel training is important in an IT organization?
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I can't remember where I first read this (it has been a while) and I wish I could find the original so I could do an exact quote, but here is a rough paraphrase:

  • Training has costs: costs in cash, opportunity costs from the time spent, etc.
  • Training has risks: risks of people leaving after gaining training, risks of people slowing down as they try new things, risks of new gold plating after people learn new things, etc.
  • Training has benefits: increased efficiencies, better quality, more satisfied employees, etc.

The company should pay for all costs of training when the benefits clearly and emphatically outweigh the costs and the potential risks. For example, sending technical sales people to classes about the products that they sell (very low risks, probably low costs, and likely good benefits).

The company should subsidize cost of training when the benefits appear to outweigh the costs and potential risks. For example, sending developers to classes about a new version of the IDE they use every day (some costs, some risk, and maybe some benefits).

The company should not subsidize training when the benefits appear to be less than the costs and potential risks. For example, sending a junior developer to classes about a technology that is not currently in use at the company and not planned to be used in the next 12-18 months (some costs, some risks, and low benefit).

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It always puzzles me that companies recruit the very best graduates who have a minimum of 17 years of education and then expect all future learning to be on the job. We need to constantly learn and the best companies invest in their employees.

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When a group of people in an organization is required to build up knowledge around a certain subject, a dilemma often arises - whether a training would be the most effective approach or books/manuals reading would be enough.

I think it really depends on the subject. The most effective approach, when learning technical areas, is a combination of both. My past experience shows that starting with reading overview materials, then arranging a training and then getting into more comprehensive books reading is quite effective.

The advantage of having a training is that a subject matter expert is available for the team to learn the terminology, develop a common ground around the subject, and most importantly - be there for the team to answer questions. The latter is harder when you build your knowledge only on reading.

There are other types of subjects, such as soft skills related subjects, where training is required because it contains exercises and workshops that you cannot replace with reading.

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Training is fundamental to make sure everyone is on the same page in a service organization.

Some people need technical training, others training on the specific processes that their job requires.

Training also encompasses learning the "soft" skills of an organization like its culture or attitude towards creativity.

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Some companies have a policy of putting everyone through training every year, as it demonstrates commitment to the employee's development. This is good for some employees, who like to be exposed to training even when it may not be directly relevant to their current jobs, but it does not suit every member of every team. Some are competent at what they do, and have no desire to undergo additional training, so why bother?

One of the best models for training that I have seen was some years ago when I worked in a company that operated the British Computer Society Professional Development Scheme, which used an Industry Structure Model to define required skills and competencies for staff to be effective (now replaced by SFIA Plus). At that time, training requirements were considered from three perspectives:

  • What the Scheme required for professional development to allow the member of staff to progress;
  • What the company wanted the member of staff to be doing within the next twelve months, considered alongside the skills that the employee already had;
  • What personal development the individual was interested in.

Taking these three dimensions together, you could build up a model for each individual, and if necessary, decide what was affordable, and how to prioritise it all. I still try to consider these three aspects, and find that sometimes an employee requires a substantial investment in training, while others don't need very much at all. Sometimes I don't have the budget to pay for everything that is indicated: that's where prioritisation comes in, and people then have the option to do anything extra in their own time, at their own expense.

Your original questions asked whether there should be training for everything: I would say that if the organisation expects someone to learn a new skill, the best way to provide it is to provide high quality training. The alternatives could be far more expensive in terms of poor productivity and ineffective (or even incorrect) decision making. Better to pay once and have the confidence that your employees are competent. This also answers your second question: how important training should be.

None of this removes the personal responsibility for staff to keep up to date with industry trends and developments, or to tell you if they feel that they need additional help.

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