Training is something that IT has rarely done well, yet it is becoming more urgent as Baby Boomers prepare for retirement and younger IT professionals who hardly speak the same language are entering the workforce.
Those just beginning their IT careers face some significant challenges:
- Seventy percent of mission-critical business applications worldwide are still being run on proprietary systems that most universities (and younger IT professionals) don’t know or teach.
- What universities do know and teach are largely UNIX- and Linux-based computing platforms that stress object-oriented software development and prototyping in languages like Java. Organizations want these skills, but they also want the disciplines of quality assurance, security, and other deployment measures that are not always emphasized in academic curricula.
- University IT grads find themselves in a quandary when it comes to gaining entry into corporate IT environments, because everyone continues to ask for two years of experience, and it’s hard to gain that experience if no one will take a chance on hiring you.
- For years, corporate IT has been focused on large project workloads, and it has had the luxury of relying on an older, established, and highly competent workforce that it has been able to augment with outsourced resources -- at the expense of training new hires.
On the other hand, there are new IT skills in demand -- skills that older IT pros often lack and that many young IT pros learned in school. Realizing the need for both sets of skills, forward-thinking IT organizations are moving to bridge the gap between old and young with new education strategies. For example...
Teaming with universities: More companies are warming to the idea of working hand-in-hand with universities to develop IT curricula that benefit the enterprise and to provide internships to the best and brightest students. Some internships give students an opportunity to earn college credit working on a non-mission-critical project in a corporate environment. For its part, corporate IT gets a glimpse at young prospects for employment and is in an excellent position to hire these students as they graduate.
Outside training certifications: Particularly in network and security areas, IT departments are increasing their investment in employees' education, training, and certification. Such programs benefit the development of both young and older IT professionals.
Self-paced training and goals: Larger IT departments have a dedicated training function that actually develops a "mini university" within the company. The internal university posts various IT jobs and also lists the requirements and the training steps for each position. Aspiring young employees can discuss these jobs with their supervisors, develop training plans, and (in many cases) take online training at their own pace and participate in live projects to build their skills for career advancement.
Mentoring and inserting new members on project teams: Traditionally one of the most difficult training tasks for IT to execute, senior staff experts and project managers are being asked to mentor young hires and to insert them into real-time corporate IT projects. The involvement of these younger employees is highly structured and supervised, as they are both learning and doing. It is the equivalent of an experienced pilot flying alongside a trainee. The mentor pilot is ready to take the helm when needed, and then to release it again when the trainee learns to fly unaccompanied. This is far and away the most effective IT training technique -- but it requires commitment from experienced staff and management to allow the time for this to happen.
Recognizing and removing cultural obstacles: Many IT organizations are struggling internally with cultural shifts between older and younger workers. This is a challenge for IT managers, but with the help of new tools from vendors that blend both old and new technology environments into a common "workbench," these groups are coming together.
There is no textbook training prescription that fits every IT organization, so most CIOs have to assess their organizations' strengths and weaknesses, and then hire and develop talent accordingly. The good news is that training is back as a line item in IT budgets, even in the leanest of times. This alone will pay dividends as IT moves forward in the 21st century.