Trainer Talk: A Look Into the Crystal Ball

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When we made out the schedule for this year’s topics almost a year ago, we were all hopeful that the economy would be on a certified upswing and the layoff and downturn for IT professionals would be a distant memory. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The economy is still sluggish (although in some markets it is showing signs of rebound), and IT jobs, especially trainer jobs, are still scarce.

So, what’s an IT professional to do? What’s an IT trainer to do? Change jobs? Get another certification? Update current certifications held? Become a security guru? Become a wireless guru?

It depends…

If my students have heard me say this once, they’ve heard it a hundred times: As much as many of us would like it to be, it’s not a binary decision. What you should do to weather the storm depends on your background, training, certifications, employment status, financial need and an array of other factors. Answers to all these questions will help you decide your focus. If you want to stay in IT, though, the one thing you cannot afford to do is nothing. This applies to trainers and non-trainers alike. The economy may not be booming, but the IT field keeps changing, nevertheless.

If you carry certifications, carefully consider their update requirements and decide which ones you think will be in demand in the future. Focus on updating these. For example, both Novell and Microsoft have continuing certification requirements that coincide with version updates, and Cisco requires, in most cases, that you retake exams every few years. Update the certifications that you feel are strategic, and let the others go. You should invest time and money to update certifications that you are certain will help you in the future, and you need to keep your major certifications current.

What certifications should you add to your cadre or use in building your credentials? Security is a hot topic, and so is wireless, but to a lesser degree. The industry representatives I talk with, though, are lukewarm at best about the job prospects for security gurus. They are downright cool with respect to the value of wireless credentials, especially when so many telecommunications employees have been laid off. Thus, training in these areas is not yet booming. These same representatives, though, do say that in a choice between two fairly equal IT professionals, the one with security credentials is likely to have the advantage. So adding a security credential or two could be in order.

If you are an IT trainer who is currently employed, my recommendation is to stick with your current job unless someone comes after you with an offer you cannot refuse. Even then, check out any potential offer with excruciating due diligence before hopping. Otherwise, be the best trainer you can be. Deliver more and request less. Take the opportunity to do hands-on work if you can, and figure out how to keep and shore up your key certifications, perhaps even adding a security credential.

If you are an IT professional considering entering the IT trainer field, my recommendation is not to shy away from it, but now might not be the best time to jump. Yes, the economy is cyclic. Yes, IT training jobs are down, but our society is built on technology. Although some IT support jobs are being taken off shore, a full economy will demand IT workers, and these IT workers will have to be trained. With all this said, I personally would not move to being a trainer just yet. Rather, take the opportunity to get hands-on experience and education, including certifications to shore up your credentials. You may also want to get some teaching experience, perhaps volunteering to co-teach with an IT trainer friend or at a local college or university.

If you are a laid-off IT worker, you obviously need to focus on getting a job before focusing specifically on becoming a trainer. Contrary to the opinions of some, teaching is not something you should do just to tide yourself over until the economy picks up. An unemployed IT worker may, though, want to focus on shoring up his certifications and adding one or two, just as an IT trainer might with the goal of moving over to training in a full economy.

Good teachers teach with true passion, and passion doesn’t come from making do. A good trainer invests significant time and energy to stay ahead of the IT professionals she trains. If you truly want to be an IT trainer, focus now on weathering the storm, and prepare to be a trainer when the economy turns around.

Ann Beheler is executive director/dean of Collin County Community College’s Engineering Technology Division, which houses one of the nine Cisco CCNP academic instructor training centers in the world. E-mail Ann at


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