Economy Shifts Focus From Business to Technical Skills

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According to a recent study by Watson Wyatt, 23 percent of training programs across all industries have been reduced or completely eliminated. Another 18 percent are expected to be further diminished this year. This is troubling news for IT, given that the industry relies heavily on education and credentials for success.

“[CIOs are] cutting across the board,” said Dennis Kilian, senior vice president of sales for Safari Books Online, which provides e-learning content for technical professionals and organizations. “They’re literally just coming in and saying, ‘We paid you that much last year [for your service], and it doesn’t matter what you say or do, we have less budget this year.’”

In response to these cuts, IT managers are reducing soft skills training, as recently documented by Josh Bersin of Bersin & Associates. Soft skills include communication and presentation skills that are valuable in the workplace, especially for those in leadership roles.

“I think that people see soft skills as something that’s readily available and may be more commoditized,” Kilian said. “It’s not the idea that [IT organizations] don’t need the soft skills or that they aren’t important, but that you can shop around and you can get [them] for less.”

One example of getting soft skills for less is through referring employees to books or other inexpensive resources for brushing up on their business savvy. What’s more critical in this current economy is ensuring the technical skills are up to par, Kilian said.

“[Companies are thinking], ‘If I’ve just lost 30 percent of my IT group, I’ve just lost people that have some legacy knowledge in programming skills or some Web development skills and those types of things,’” he said. “And I think that rises to the top. They say, ‘I have to replace those skills in order to be able to continue to function in these areas. [I] really have to replace those competencies first.’”

In addition, since job cuts leave fewer people for whom companies must buy learning materials, some costs are taken care of inherently since fewer licenses are needed for services.

Another way organizations can make up for training budget losses is to invest in e-learning modules and supplement it with in-house activities, Kilian said. For example, a company might track skills inventories and do assessments in-house, which is not available with an on-demand e-learning solution such as Safari Books.

“Those kinds of things are still there, still required, and they have to be delivered in some form,” Kilian said.

When it comes down to it, though, Kilian said IT training expenditures are all about the bottom line.

“[Organizations are saying], ‘We’re going to spend the money where we think we’re going to get the biggest return,’” he said.

And soft skills aren’t where the money’s at.

– Mpolakowski, meaganp@certmag.com

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Meagan Polakowski

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