What Does the Future Hold for the IT Learning…?

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In many ways, all of us who hold IT certifications have interacted with the IT learning industry in one way or another. Perhaps we attended a classroom learning or e-learning event to gain the required skills before taking a certification exam. Or perhaps we interacted with vendors and sponsors, such as Microsoft, Cisco, CompTIA and others, to acquire our certifications. In one way, shape or form, we all have touched, benefited or been challenged by the IT learning industry.

The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) recently hosted a Colloquium in Naples, Fla., which brought together training executives and prominent leaders from the global technology learning industry. The purpose of this event was to discuss what these individuals believed would be the major trends, challenges and opportunities for the IT learning and certification industry. As a delegate in this event, I was asked to prepare answers to questions regarding the future of this industry, and I thought some of these answers might be of particular interest to CertMag’s readers.

The first question posed to me was, “What is your prediction on where the industry is headed throughout 2004?” I believe that the rebound of the IT learning industry will be slow in the first part of this year. This prediction has been substantiated in industry publications and research market analysis reports, such as IDC’s “Worldwide and U.S. IT Education and Training Services Forecast and Analysis.” However, I also think the industry will begin to pick up in the second half of the year and more so as we head into 2005. The largest potential roadblock is the general state of the IT industry as a whole. There are clear signs that we are back on track to rapid growth, but will that growth translate into more jobs and more development in our industry?

I recently wrote about the phenomenon of the outsourcing of IT jobs to other parts of the world outside the U.S. economy. That trend, coupled with the fact that organizations have now learned the art of doing more with less, has not yet convinced me that a rebound in our overall economy will necessarily result in a massive growth of IT jobs or the skilling of incumbent workers. I also believe that the negative perception of IT certification is a potential roadblock to growth. We continue to hear significant criticism of IT certification only being about the acquisition of knowledge and not about the use of skills and experience. We need to do a better job of training, testing, certifying and supporting our learners to use their skills and credentials if we are to reverse this inaccurate perception of IT certification.

I was also asked to reflect upon what I see as the major priorities of the industry for 2004. I believe that for all of the learning providers and certification providers in our industry, growth in revenue in all key market segments remains the main priority. The past two to three years have been the most brutal for our industry, and we are not out of the woods yet. You can expect most learning and certification companies to remain extremely focused on revenue for the balance of this year. There also will be increased focus on the reskilling of the salespeople in the IT learning industry. They need to speak less about certification tracks and more about the needs of the learners and their organizations, and then create unique solutions to meet those needs.

Finally, I was asked to comment on what really concerns me about our industry. In other words, what are the things that, positively or negatively, keep me awake at night? Obviously, the effect of the offshoring of U.S. jobs in key entry-level and developer positions keeps me awake at night. The rebound in economic growth failing to flow through to real job growth, and subsequently to training expenditure, keeps me awake at night. The continued price commoditization of asynchronous e-learning and the impact it will have on our ability to continue to develop and deploy rich and meaningful content keeps me awake at night. However, I believe that the opportunity for synchronous e-learning, or live learning delivered over the Web, to become a mainstream learning method creates a significant upside for our entire industry, and this is what puts me back to sleep.

So, as we head through the balance of 2004 and look into 2005, let’s see how well I have done in calling my shots for the opportunities and the challenges of the IT learning industry.

Martin Bean is the chief operating officer for New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, the world’s largest independent IT training company.


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