As the saying goes, an organization is only as good as its people. But for an organization to remain strong, people need the opportunity to constantly upgrade their skills. This is especially true in IT. Yesterday's IT best practices can quickly become as outdated as dial-up Internet in today's wireless world, and as businesses grow and technology evolves at an accelerated pace, the need for cutting-edge IT management and technical skills continues to increase.
But in times of economic uncertainty and limited resources, employers may be tempted to cut or even eliminate training budgets. While this may appear to make economic sense on the surface, organizations need to understand the importance of ensuring that their IT staff get the appropriate training and that training is just as important in bad economic times.
The goal is to help skilled workers adapt to new technologies and changing business objectives. It’s all about giving them the tools to better manage the IT headcount and ultimately improve the bottom line.

Why training can’t be overlooked
The long-term ramifications of reduced training budgets can be detrimental, as the IT team is essentially placed in a position where it’s forced to take on complex IT issues without the knowledge or expertise to actually carry out this task.
At many organizations, even in the best of times, only minimal IT training is provided– just enough to ensure that team members are kept up to speed on the tasks directly related to their work assignments. Others provide no training at all, relying only on the skills and knowledge staff members acquired in school or at previous employers to get the job done.
These organizations put themselves at risk. Well-trained employees are better prepared to decipher routine but challenging problems in less time and with fewer technical glitches than their counterparts who lack sufficient training. Certainly we’ve all seen how expensive “technical glitches” can be.
And training doesn't have to be expensive. Firms worried about costs can start by looking inwards. This could involve, for example, holding regular workshops or mentoring initiatives that allow more senior and experienced team members to effectively collaborate and share knowledge with less-skilled people. This will help boost their technical prowess and result in increased staff productivity as well, offsetting the investment.
The bottom line is that a management team that makes training a priority sends a message that the organization cares about the professional development of staff, and that IT training is an intrinsic component of the organizational structure.

Training best practices
It is important to note that not all training programs are created equal. In order to gain a significant competitive edge in today’s marketplace, the successful firms will be the ones that distinguish IT training as an essential and quantifiable investment rather than a drain on the budget. To ensure ROI, it pays to follow some best practices.
First, be sure to take into account the previous experience of your existing team. Firms need to leverage this invaluable knowledge when developing training programs. If nothing else, taking advantage of this experience will give newer or more junior workers the opportunity to further develop real world and practical knowledge and expertise. This can boost their overall job satisfaction and lessen employee turnover.
In order to maximize effectiveness and practicality, in-house training should also be supplemented with third-party reference materials and self-service support tools, including Web-based online resources. This is key to ensuring people learn new skills that are most relevant to their work, which will ultimately improve the company’s bottom line.
When looking to develop a training strategy, companies should carefully consider overall cost of training and the expected outcome. It should go without saying that a well-trained IT team not only is more productive and efficient by gaining more real world experience, but in a field of constantly changing technology and systems, the solutions they build will be more robust. This directly maps to reduced company downtime, system efficiency and overall company productivity. IT teams that embark on projects with insufficient training end up learning the only other method available, by “trial and error”. This will typically cost substantially more than the training would in the first place.
Remember, at the end of the day it’s about more than just training – it’s also about providing the opportunities for your workers to gain valuable real world experience and making them happier and more productive in the process.

Brian Bourne is president of IT consulting firm CMS Consulting, Inc. and co-founder of SecTor, Canada’s premiere Security Education Conference held annually in Toronto. Bourne is also the co-founder and current executive of the TASK, the Toronto Area Security Klatch (www.task.to), which has grown to what is now the second largest user group in Canada.