Training pulls in newbies

When Torbjorn Dimblad considered job offers in 1997, training was upmost on his mind. After all, there wasn't much call from information technology shops for his major in Asian studies.

When Torbjorn Dimblad considered job offers in 1997, training was upmost on his mind.

After all, there wasn't much call from information technology shops for his major in Asian studies.

But he had taken exactly one computer class in college, and he wanted to work in technology. That's why he took a job at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

"The opportunity to spend 10 weeks getting up to speed was a big consideration," says Dimblad.

Starting a first-day employee immediately on two-and-a-half months of training classes may seem accommodating to the point of humour, but leading IT shops aren't laughing.

Such companies have found that to recruit good candidates, retain employees and obtain the highest-quality work, creating training opportunities is as necessary as providing competitive salaries and benefits.

Certainly, Dimblad's background is relatively rare at New York-based PricewaterhouseCoopers. Most new employees have majored in computer science or information management.

Yet all receive extensive training to both learn the company's methodology and to pick up some additional background in business processes.

There's also training in project management and other consulting skills. Much of the learning happens at the firm's primary training centre in Florida. The yearly average cost for all employee training is $US7500.

As a result, the training has become a big draw for potential employees, and not just for those right out of college, according to a technology solutions training capability manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Kathy Macesich.

Not all companies use training aggressively in their recruiting, however. A number of the top 100 say training is more like a required checklist item for potential employees.

Still, even when a company doesn't parade training, employees look hard for it. To remain competitive in IT, people must continue to add new skills and hone old ones. That's why learning opportunities become a must for employee retention at all the top IT shops.

Opening up those opportunities can be difficult with the pressure of daily business.

In response, some companies offer traditional training and supplement it with computer-based training and Web offerings over an intranet. Informal employee education and mentoring have become a major force in training at leading companies.

"We have a goal of 10% of your time to be spent on training," says a division manager at Wal-Mart Stores, Bridgette Deboer.

With per-IT employee training taking an impressive 25 or so days per year, the company might run the risk of being chronically understaffed if all the training were to take place off-site. Although the Arkansas-based retail chain offers such courses, there's also emphasis on more informal methods of training.

"The informal training tends to be a little bit more useful in our situation right now," says a systems programmer at Wal-Mart, Aaron Tunnell. "The formal training is geared more toward ... learning more about the methodologies."

Mentoring programmes and hands-on practise gives Tunnell a chance to try technology at work. "Methodologies are great, but they aren't useful if you can't employ them in your own environment," he says.

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