What It Takes to Be a Contract Trainer

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Are you a really good certified trainer who wants to see the world and who is tired of working full-time for another company? Perhaps contract training is for you. Being a contract trainer has significant advantages, significant drawbacks and a number of clear requirements. Let’s look at the requirements and characteristics as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the job.

First, successful contract trainers have to be good—very good—trainers. They must maintain their certifications and must also maintain their technical knowledge at a very high level, often taking 10 or more certification examinations in a year and investing large amounts of time and money in lab equipment.

They must also adjust their certifications and experience to follow the needs of the market, becoming qualified and certified in new areas of market need. Becoming a contract trainer is not something that one would do just to “make do” until the economy turns around—it’s a conscious choice for an experienced trainer.

Contract trainers must be personable with both students and training-center managers. They must balance the needs of the training center and the needs of the student so that both feel well-served. They must be willing to travel, often living out of a suitcase for several weeks on end.

They must be able to arrange their own “gigs” or be willing to allow a training broker to take a percentage of their earnings. In either case, they need to pay special attention to their contracts and follow up on collections to ensure they are paid for work done. They also have to keep their commitments, and they must arrange for competent subs when they unavoidably have to break those commitments.

Contract trainers must arrange for classroom setups to be done in advance and must arrive in time to ensure they are properly done, or they must do the setups themselves. They cannot blame the training-center management for a poor setup.

Quality of teaching is penultimate. They must have answers to all questions or be able to get them.

So, what’s in it for the contract trainer? Freedom, variety and sometimes money, plain and simple. A contract trainer has tremendous flexibility in terms of scheduling, but like every other contractor, the next paycheck is dependent on market demands as well as on the trainer’s capabilities and track record in the classroom. Ideally, a contract trainer can train two to three weeks a month and make enough money to be “off” the rest of the month. But “off” may mean time for updating certifications or learning a new area, and contractors do not get paid for such preparation.

This is true for the really good trainers, but the really good trainers are also still in high demand and find that they have to work to keep work coming in. And training rates are not as high as they once were. The really good trainers still get reasonably high rates, but there are many more who receive minimal rates.

Variety of time, place and content is another attractive characteristic of being a contract trainer. Some find it challenging and exciting to train in multiple geographic locations on a variety of subjects. Sometimes affordable plane tickets provide the contract trainer with a Saturday-night stay courtesy of the training center, a free tourist opportunity for the trainer. And sometimes the trainer isn’t too tired to take in a few local sights during the evenings after training is done.

But contract trainers are not protected from downturns in the market. The opportunities have been fewer lately. In recent poor economic times, contract trainers were the first to fall out of demand, but training centers are beginning to use contract trainers more and more as they have had to let their full-time trainers go.

Training-center managers are attracted by the absence of long-term commitment they get by utilizing a contract trainer. Thus, opportunities for contract trainers are increasing and will increase for some time, at least until the economy totally rebounds.

In addition, really good contract trainers are also good technicians, which means they can fill in with contract consulting work when training opportunities are scarce.

So contract training has its pluses and minuses. But if you want the freedom of schedule and the variety that such a career affords, give it a try.

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 abeheler@certmag.com.


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