Internal IT academies provide innovative training, learning opportunities

IT training is becoming a priority for CIOs -- as a result, many organizations are investing in internal IT academies to offer specific training and skills improvement to staff members.

There's a new trend emerging in the way IT organizations deliver IT training. Until recently, corporate universities

tended to offer generalized training courses for all employees. The quickening pace of global change, coupled with a short supply of qualified talent, is prompting more organizations to target IT skills development to supply what academic institutions often cannot.

"The skill and knowledge requirements for IT jobs change so frequently that academic institutions have a very difficult time keeping curriculum up to date. As a result, people coming out of schools are not adequately prepared to step into the newer IT job roles," said Sue Todd, president of the Corporate University Xchange, a research organization in Harrisburg, Pa.

IT Training Academy takes off at global company

Like many multinationals, Accenture Ltd. is faced with the challenge of equipping its IT workforce to thrive in an intensely competitive global economy. So the huge systems integrator is taking a novel approach by launching Accenture Solutions Delivery Academy, an in-house initiative to provide special training, examinations and accompanying IT certifications for its legion of software developers and application designers around the world.

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The program is kicking off with help from MIT in Cambridge, Mass. MIT's faculty is developing content for the curriculum and designing examinations that participants must pass to receive the certification. Subject areas include key programming languages such as Java, C++, Microsoft .NET, SAP and COBOL for mainframes.

Officials with Accenture and MIT say it marks a groundbreaking partnership that could signal a new trend in the way organizations deliver IT training. Offering the in-house certification is seen as a way for Hamilton, Bermuda-based Accenture to retain top programmers. The company employs about 152,000 people globally.

"If we're going to excel in this white-hot market for technology talent, we know we have to provide innovative training and learning opportunities" to employees, said Eric Buhrfeind, the Accenture executive responsible for the academy.

The software training will initially be available to about 20,000 Accenture employees, Buhrfeind said. It will focus on Java, C++ and Microsoft .NET at the start; a second certification level is geared for people with two to four years' experience in application design and analysis.

The technology professionals eligible to participate in the program receive about 100 hours of training per employee each year, about 30 hours more than the average for all Accenture employees. Thus far, about 6,500 people have enrolled, with the first batch of graduates expected to receive IT certification following exams in August or September, Buhrfeind said.

"From a programming language perspective, we are not providing a technical certification" that competes with traditional certificate programs offered by leading software companies like Sun Microsystems or Microsoft, Buhrfeind said. Instead, those industry certifications "are the context in which people demonstrate their ability" to be considered for the Training Academy.

Coursework is being devised by MIT's Professional Educations Program, part of its School of Engineering Although MIT will design the coursework, Accenture trainers will deliver the material and get students ready to take the certification exams.

"These are Accenture certifications that allow managers to have confidence in the demonstrated capabilities of people when they staff up projects. It indicates that those people have received certain levels of training and passed the relevant tests," said Steve Lerman, an engineering professor and chairman of MIT's faculty.

Lerman said MIT has developed training initiatives before for private industry, although nothing the magnitude of Accenture's academy. Usually, MIT faculty will design and deliver the training to groups of 30 or 40 people.

"To my knowledge, this is the first time where our role is exclusively advising and helping a corporation develop its own training," Lerman said.

Talent shortage driving investments in training

Accenture's academy-style training initiative is noteworthy because of MIT's involvement, but the concept of corporate universities is not new. Driven by former CEO Jack Welch, General Electric Co. pioneered the concept in the 1970s.

Efforts like Accenture's training academy will probably increase as competition for top IT talent intensifies, experts say. Andy Walker, a research analyst at Gartner Inc., said CIOs are especially concerned with how to plug gaps caused by retirements and outsourcing.

"CIOs are looking to find, or in some cases, create centers of excellence where they know the people [receiving training] are going to be qualified," Walker said.

Other technology organizations are stepping up their investments in IT training. Although not structured as a corporate university or academy, training is viewed as a strategic advantage at networking company Cisco Systems Inc. in San Jose, Calif. Job rotation and other forms of experiential learning are being used to help IT professionals get exposure to business issues, while employees within business units gain an understanding of the role IT plays in business strategy, said Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, senior director of learning at Cisco, which includes Cisco's training and IT certification programs.

"We insist on having IT people do job rotation and some of the broader skills that interface with the business, such as how to develop ROIs," Beliveau-Dunn said.

Likewise, she said, business people often are situated within IT departments to consult with customers and provide advice to IT on the customer's networking needs.

Garry Kranz is a freelance business and technology writer in Richmond, Va. He can be reached at gkranz@ureach.com.


 

This was first published in June 2007

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