Feature: Making Technical Training Work for You

The average Windows NT manager views technical training with as much enthusiasm as a trip to the dentist. But like those routine checkups, technical training must be a priority -- even if it hurts a bit and takes a small bite out of your budget.

The good news is that a routine commitment to ongoing NT education -- for yourself and your staff -- can actually pay off in ways you may not have considered.

In an informal survey of various managers, experienced IS workers cited three key reasons for pursuing NT technical training: to meet a need for more formalized training or certification, to increase productivity or on-the-job effectiveness, and to comply with established business requirements.

Most managers and users prefer the interactive nature of instructor-led training delivered in a classroom environment. According to Simba Information, a market analyst organization based in Stamford, Conn., instructor-led training dominates the market, generating revenues of $1.66 billion in 1997. The much smaller technology-based training market, including multimedia-based products, generated revenues of $671 million.

Yet the high cost of live training is leading many managers to consider less costly self-paced training methods such as Internet- or intranet-based, computer-based training (CBT), videotape, and hybrid methods that combine multiple approaches.

Simba expects revenue growth for both types of training in 1998, but at far higher rates for technology-based training. Self-paced training revenues will grow 38 percent to more than $924.2 million. Instructor-led training is expected to generate $1.92 billion, representing a growth rate of only 16 percent.

Is It Live or Video
At the New York State Department of Transportation (Albany, N.Y.), Nancy Wormuth, manager of the customer services group, makes no bones about preferring live training. "I believe that instructor-led is the most effective form of training," she says.

Yet to service an IS organization of 150 users spread throughout 75 locations in New York state, some of which have only dial-in access to the network, Wormuth sometimes compromises.

Classroom training is viable for the engineers at the Albany headquarters. For the organization’s 11 regional offices, which have no onsite trainers, Wormuth buys videotapes. She also uses videotape training for new topics or software for which trained instructors are not readily available.

The disadvantage to videos, she says, is that they offer a more passive form of education. "It can be more difficult to keep everyone’s attention," Wormuth says. "And the video won’t throw an eraser at a student who isn’t paying attention."

Yet in some organizations, there are too few students interested in a topic or insufficient departmental funding to warrant a live training session. One training coordinator for a midwest company opts for videotapes and CBT that employees use with their PCs and data on the corporate network.

Most students use the CBT and videotapes at work on lunch break or after hours, but some take the materials home and work on their personal PCs. "The maiden voyage of most PC users is trial and error. This step can be short-lived with a few hours of training," Wormuth says.

Marching to Certification
For other users and organizations, nothing but live, instructor-led training will do. For example, employees wanting to be certified as Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers (MCSE) may need a classroom-based "boot camp" to get up and running.

Darryl Lawrence, who works in the IS organization for law firm Hardin and Cook Loper Engel and Bergez, LLP (Oakland, Calif.), wanted to get more NT education than his years of hands-on work would allow. Lawrence’s manager suggested a 14-day MCSE boot camp to prepare him for the certification exam.

"I wanted live training, the opportunity to ask questions and to interact with other students," he says. "You can’t ask questions of a video."

After 2 weeks of 12-hour classroom sessions followed by hours of studying each night, including weekends, Lawrence received his MCSE certification. "It was very helpful for me" to learn efficient methods for handling NT issues and problems, he says. "Now I know easier ways to do these things."

At a cost of approximately $8,000 for the boot camps, some NT managers could find the price daunting. "But if you’re looking at other types of professional training," says one recent MCSE graduate currently mulling over several job offers, "this cost is insignificant."

Live, Taped, Self-Paced
Organizations in which self-paced training is impractical are also good candidates for live education. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) demands fully trained personnel, explains First Lieutenant David N. Condell, but most members of the IS organization are too busy to use CBT.

"Our general preference is live, hands-on, instructor-led training," he says. "We prefer to send them to a classroom environment, local or remote, where they can be dedicated and focused on the training. It’s much more productive."

Recognizing the need for reduced cost, the benefit of flexible scheduling and the advantages of instructor-led training, some vendors are offering hybrid training products. One 20-year vendor of classroom training recently began offering instructor-led distance learning in combination with self-study and on-the-job application of the new skills before certification.

Students connect to the distance learning offering via their corporations’ intranet or Internet connections for maximum cost-effectiveness. The live training is scheduled in 60- or 90-minute segments, making it more digestible for students and easier to fit into busy schedules, says Richard Wells, vice president of research and development for Business Processes Inc.

"It doesn’t interrupt the work flow like being out of the office for days can," he states, "and most users are more likely to begin to use it while at work" since they do their learning there as well.

Cost of Competence
Regardless of the delivery mechanism, managers agree that training must be cost-justified at a departmental and often a corporatewide level. The midwest training coordinator pays approximately $300 for a set of videos that are viewed by 15 to 30 people. Compared with courses at local colleges that charge $95 to $225 per class per student, videos are "very cost-effective," says this coordinator.

For live training, some vendors offer financial packages that can bring the cost down. Condell of the USAF recommends one vendor that will provide eight courses for the price of three, if the student takes all eight classes within 12 months. With each course costing approximately $2,000, "that has significant benefits from a financial perspective," he says.

For some organizations, the price tag of training is less important than the overall economic impact of an individual’s competence. By providing education that makes an employee competent at his or her job, an organization increases that worker’s efficiency and productivity, says Andy Sadler, vice president of Competus Consulting for Global Knowledge Network (GKN, Burlington, Mass.). Most managers intuitively understand that they need to make competence a primary issue, but they may need assistance to develop and maintain competence among large numbers of employees.

To meet a business requirement of its partnership with Microsoft Corp., Digital Equipment Corp. (Stowe, Mass.) is in the process of certifying an additional 1,500 engineers to become MCSEs and Microsoft Certified Solution Developers. This training will increase the number of Digital’s certified Microsoft professionals to more than 3,000 worldwide.

Managing this process manually was inefficient, explains Richard Ward, manager of vendor certification programs. Digital enlisted GKN to provide the training for the certification program as well as progress reporting and tracking information through Digital’s Web-based enrollment and tracking system.

GKN helps companies evaluate their business processes and uses a proprietary methodology and an information base to decompose those processes into a list of required skills, knowledge and behaviors. This list can be used as an educational plan that addresses the unique needs of individual employees while supporting the holistic needs of the corporation.

Biting the Bullet
By targeting individual employees in support of the corporate goals, this type of approach eliminates unneeded training, saving money and time. Sadler explains that the GKN methodology can also be scaled down for use in smaller companies, where the number of employees and the need for education is easier to manage.

Regardless of the methodology used or the type of training selected, employee education can result in bottom-line benefits. One vendor likens the phenomenon to the commonly quoted 80/20 rule.

"Most people use only 20 percent of the software capabilities," explains Clint Argyle, president of KeyStone Learning Systems (Provo, Utah). "If you think your employees are productive using this much knowledge, what could they do if they knew twice as much? You could double their productivity" by spending only a fixed amount of money on training, he says.

At Digital, Ward calculates that an untrained employee takes four to six times longer to master topics than a trained worker. "People find very quickly that training someone leads to greater efficiencies in business processing," he says. "It’s far more effective in the long run to take the time and make the investment to train employees appropriately."

Cheryl D. Krivda is a technical journalist specializing in IS topics. Contact her at ckrivda@cmkcom.com.