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Does IT training drive value?

Retirements and a lack of skilled new workers are spurring new CIO interest in retention and training.

Drive Medical Design & Manufacturing is growing like a gangly teenager whose feet have gotten too big for its body. The Port Washington, N.Y.-based supplier of medical equipment was in danger of stumbling, unless IT training was launched to shore up its day-to-day operations.

"We're starting to get stuck in the mud now," William Cerniglia, vice president of IT, said. "We can't throw enough bodies at manual processes [and be able] to do all the things we've agreed to do for our customers."

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Sometime in 2007, Drive Medical plans to launch Drive University, an in-house training initiative with a twofold purpose. First, the aim is to improve productivity by teaching business users to automate everyday tasks, such as how to code numerical formulae in spreadsheets.

A second goal is to fine-tune professional development for Drive Medical's five-person IT staff, specifically by enabling a "train the trainer" approach. Cerniglia said he hopes to hold on to his existing staff members by providing them with training opportunities that improve their marketability.

As part of their professional development, all employees will be required to attend a set number of training classes. Coursework will be formalized as part of employee performance evaluations and tied to pay raises. Employees at the company's Port Washington headquarters will receive training on site, with those at offices in California, Atlanta and Hauppauge, N.Y., participating via videoconferences.

"This training is for everybody in the company. We want to make it a very formal thing, because for it to truly work it has to be part of people's review process," Cerniglia said. "We're working hand in hand with our human resources department on this."

What CIOs want

Training and staff development may hold the key to retaining your best and brightest IT talent, although research suggests too few organizations are giving it adequate attention. According to a 2006 study by the Computing Technology Industry Association, 66% of IT workers believe professional training is poorly supported by their organizations, prompting them to look for new jobs. Conversely, only 22% of those who were satisfied with their training plan to look elsewhere.

This apparent disconnect may be partly attributable to CIOs' changing expectations of IT workers. Although still important, technical skills alone do not guarantee career advancement. Instead, IT leaders are placing increased emphasis on a person's ability to analyze situations, solve problems and build relationships with customers and suppliers.

The next three to five years will produce constant demand by CIOs for technically skilled people who can double as project managers, business analysts and quality assurance specialists, according to Brenda Kerton, an analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Inc. in Toronto.

"These elusive business skills often are the hardest to train for, so CIOs are trying to hire people with those skills," Kerton said.

That won't be easy. For one thing, a looming wave of retirement-eligible baby boomers is expected to create a huge number of vacancies, not to mention loss of institutional memory within organizations. Also, projections indicate that the number of new IT workers entering the job market will not be sufficient to fill the void.

Training to retain

Analysts say those market factors make it imperative for CIOs to invest more in professional development as a retention initiative.

"The thing that training shows them is that you are making an investment in them. Not only can they move up within job families, but it can make them prime candidates for moving into leadership roles," said Andy Walker, a research director at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.'s Executive Programs series.

Training initiatives to curb rising turnover are especially critical in the information security sector, one of IT's hottest fields. Chief information security officers (CISO) are particularly concerned about the brain drain that occurs when valued employees retire or change jobs.

"One thing I've seen is that employees gravitate to companies where they can expand their knowledge and skills, which enhances their ability to do their job as well as reach their career goals," said Howard Schmidt, a former CISO chief information security officer at Microsoft Corp. and eBay Inc.

What employees want

Info-Tech's Kerton said younger workers appear less motivated by money and more by continual learning. Therein lies an opportunity for mentoring.

"This gives CIOs an opportunity to match those motivated by learning with older workers whose experience they are likely to respect," Kerton said.

Despite the emphasis on career plans, money apparently still talks the loudest. If offered a higher-paying job, most employees will make the jump "unless you have a career plan that says to them, 'Here are the benefits you would forgo by moving,'" Walker said.

There also is the risk that, as they acquire new skills, employees become marketable to your competition. Nevertheless, IT training may be its own reward.

Said Cerniglia: "Give people training on how to use basic technology, and they'll be more productive. Period."

Garry Kranz is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Va. He can be reached at

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