Variety, the spice of life

Once upon a time selecting a training method was simple - you either went to a formal class or studied from a book.

Once upon a time selecting a training method was simple - you either went to a formal class or studied from a book.

Nowadays there is a wide variety of training options. So how do you choose which one is the best? The IT managers I spoke to this week believe you can't generalise - it's very much "horses for courses".

Computer-based training (CBT) and Web-based training are now common ways to learn new skills.

The upside is you can go at your own pace, and choose the time when you want to study.

On the downside, it can sometimes be hard to track where you're at and you miss the interaction you get in a classroom.

Inland Revenue national manager information technology Tony Lester says staff in his organisation have access to 1000 technical computer-based training courses through, CBT Systems - now known as Smartforce.

The courses are set up on two stand-alone PCs, but the demand has been so high the courses are soon to be made available on Inland Revenue's intranet so people can access them from their own PCs.

The courses range from the technical (training staff to become Novell or Microsoft certified for example) through to self-development and management.

Despite the latest technology, good old-fashioned instructor-led training in a classroom is still very popular for many IT workers. The pros are obvious - interaction with class members and a tutor on the spot to provide assistance. On the downside, it isn't always possible to find the time to join a formal class.

Lester says Inland Revenue puts a lot of emphasis on instructor-led training for new people.

Over the past three years its run three induction processes where 26 people from other parts of the business have been trained to come into the IT area.

A training course was designed specifically for Inland Revenue with the help of Maxim Recruitment and Whitireia Community Polytechnic

The course starts off with much of the high-level content you would expect to find in the Certificate of Business Computing. The staff members then do more practical training, with a major emphasis in Cobol programming because Inland Revenue is a Cobol shop.

In addition, the organisation also has an arrangement with Champagne Consultants Ltd, which tailored project management and software testing courses for Inland Revenue.

Lester says the classroom environment gives people the opportunity to raise issues, but he points out not everyone feels comfortable with that.

For those who would rather talk one-on-one the company also has a buddy system so people can go to their buddy or their manager for help.

An in-house mentoring approach is something Fletcher Challenge Energy's IS manager Peter Muggleston agrees with. Although his company will arrange classroom courses as they are needed, he believes on-the-job training is still the most effective way to learn.

"If it's instructor led training you still need to have quite a lot of workshop components or hands-on stuff, otherwise it just goes in one ear and out the other."

He says mentoring works as long as the skills exist in-house and he adds that with new technologies that's not always the case.

Lester also encourages staff to learn by reading periodicals and technical books. He also encourages the use of the Internet.

"A lot of my people do spend time on the Internet, just looking at what's happening in other organisations of our size from a technology perspective. I encourage our people to utilise their time to use the tools they've got in front of them."

He also encourages use of the organisation's intranet which contains its complete standards methodology (how it runs projects for example).

"So if you're a new person coming on to a project, in addition to peer support, you've also got a central point where you can go to and pull down all the templates that you require for how you run projects."

Whatever training method you embrace Lester says its vital staff each have personal development training plans.

At Inland Revenue, staff members' skills are identified, along with any gaps, and staff and their team leaders/managers create a career training plan.

He says that you can't just "walk in and get a training solution off the shelf. It doesn't work like that. You've got to build a proper training development plan."

Email Kirstin Mills.

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