Ships Passing in the Day
I recently reviewed research sponsored by CompTIA, Microsoft and Thomson Prometric on the state of IT training in North America. More than 160 training organizations surveyed projected a stronger demand this year for customized on-site training and a nearly equal demand for blended learning—a combination of training methods that can stretch from classroom instruction to simulated labs.
These projections indicate a growing desire for training directed toward solving an employer’s unique set of issues. That is where customization is involved. Blended learning comes into the picture as a means of reducing time away from the job. While employers will continue to send personnel off-site for the traditional three to five days of shrink-wrapped classroom training, it is clear that there will be less reliance on that approach.
Survey respondents also identified the number-one training issue for employers in 2005: the justification for training. This continues a trend of the past several years where the emphasis on the return on investment (ROI) of training has taken a back seat to justification, and highlights a subtle and importance difference between the two. ROI is a financial calculation that says if a specified amount of budget is invested in training, then that amount will be recovered in savings over a specific period of time.
While CompTIA has produced an ROI of training Web calculator tool, determining the business justification is far more complex because it measures both tangible and intangible benefits. For example, training and certifying sales, installation and support personnel may have a positive impact on customer satisfaction and word-of-mouth referral. These “intangibles” are exceedingly difficult to assess in monetary terms, yet they carry significant weight.
Employers continue to look for new and improved ways of reliably linking training to strategic business outcomes. Survey respondents said that employers relied on IT certification for the following:
- To ensure staff are suitably qualified.
- To fulfill the need for specific projects.
- To increase productivity.
- To improve service delivery.
- To give competitive advantage.
Most of these attributes involve performance. Looking back on the study, each significant measure from the employer’s perspective, from training method to the justification of training to certification, was associated with tangible and intangible performance issues.
The survey also identified how IT professionals used certification:
- To obtain an entry-level job in IT.
- To obtain a better/more senior role.
- To maintain/improve job security.
- To increase earnings.
- To stay current within the IT industry.
- To demonstrate a level of achievement.
- To improve status.
Most of these areas are career-related, and that perspective is as it should be. IT certification from its beginnings has been career-focused. Certification is how men and women stand out and obtain that entry-level job. It is how professionals demonstrate that they can take on more responsibility. IT certification demonstrates achievement and improves status.
I believe that IT professionals implicitly know that training and earning a certification helps them do their jobs more effectively—it improves performance on the job. Yet in this tight job market, this implicit understanding may not be enough. It is now incumbent on IT professionals to make a clear and forceful case that certification brings tangible and intangible business benefits that positively impact performance and heighten competitive advantage. They must show that:
- The work will be done faster and with fewer errors.
- Certified professionals share a common understanding of terms and technologies that leads to improved teamwork and results.
- Systems will have higher uptime, and projects will deliver on expectations.
- Customers and suppliers will appreciate working with certified professionals and keep coming back.
Rather than the employer and the certified employee passing like ships in the night–with little in the way of a common understanding of goals and shared direction–it is important that they pass like ships in the day, recognizing and understanding the true measure of what each offers and how each contributes to the success of the organization.
John A. Venator is president and CEO of CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association, the largest global trade association supporting the IT industry. CompTIA has more than 19,000 members in 89 countries.