5 keys for successful IT training programs

IT training is a valuable tool businesses can use both to improve operations and provide an additional benefit to IT staff. How can IT managers make sure training is effective in meeting both of those goals?

IT professionals are in high demand right now, and that means many companies are struggling to hire tech staff with the right skills the organization needs. In fact, 93% of companies say there’s a gap between the skills their IT departments have and the skills they should have, according to a survey from the Computer Technology Industry Association.

And 80% of respondents say that’s hurting productivity, customer service and engagement, IT security, and other areas. In response, many companies have been increasing the IT training they offer staff to help close those skills gaps without hiring new employees.

IT pros also see a great value in training. Technology is a quickly changing field and it’s often a struggle to keep up and stay relevant. That’s one reason why, despite having a healthier job market than most other groups of workers, 93% of IT pros say they’re stressed about their jobs, according to a ComputerWorld survey from last year.

Specifically, 26% of the 4,300 IT professionals surveyed said they’re worried about keeping their skills up to date and remaining valuable to employers. Another 15% said finding a new job that’s appropriate for the skills they currently have is a major concern.

One solution employers can provide to help ease that stress: additional training.

Nearly all IT pros (94%) surveyed recently by IT training firm TrainSignal say that ongoing learning is essential for career advancement. Helping tech employees learn gives companies a key benefit to offer current and potential employees, while improving operations.

Of course, one key for businesses is making sure they give IT pros the type of training they want and that is effective in help employees develop new skills. Here are some keys to keep in mind when implementing an IT training program:

1. Scenario-based, real-life IT training

For training to be effective, it needs to mimic as much as possible the real-life situations in which IT pros will apply their knowledge, says TrainSignal’s founder and CEO Scott Skinger. Too many training programs simply list the steps that must be taken to complete a process, he says.

For example, instead of listing the steps for setting up an Exchange server, IT training should give those lessons come kind of context, including details about the hypothetical company in which the work is being done, why the server is being set up, etc.

2. Hands-on experience

Likewise, with any training it’s important to not only tell trainees how to do something, but also to let them get as much actual hands-on experience as possible.

In IT, that’s becoming easier to do thanks to virtualization, Skinger says. Organizations get set up virtual machines for IT staff to use as test environments where they can carry out tasks without impacting the company’s operations.

3. IT skills employees value

Of course, one of the benefits of offering IT training is that it helps companies close skills gaps without needing to hire new staff. But to get the maximum benefits, it’s important to also offer the training that IT pros value.

Fortunately those two categories typically overlap, as employees want to learn the skills that make them more valuable to organizations. While areas such as Cisco and Microsoft products are still in great demand, IT pros also value training in areas such as virtualization, cloud computing, Big Data and other skills that are in high demand right now.

4. Flatforms IT pros want

In general, IT pros prefer top receive training materials they can refer back to and work through at their own pace. Among the 2,400 IT employees surveyed by TrainSignal, 69% said they refer back to training materials at least once a month, and 68% said they prefer online or DVD training to classroom sessions.

However, not everyone learns in the same way. It’s important for IT managers to find out what their own staff want out of an IT training program and look for platforms that meet those needs.

5. Job rotation — inside and outside IT

One way IT managers can give their staff a chance to learn new things and get valuable hands-on experience is to have employees rotate jobs for the chance to work in a variety of areas.

And that doesn’t have to happen only inside the IT department. General business skills are becoming more important for IT pros, and many employees would value the opportunity to shadow an employee in another department. As another benefit, that would also help IT better understand the rest of the organization.

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