Upskilling is a delicate balance of time, money and will

Upskilling is a delicate balance of time, money and will

Being charged with employee training is a sure-fi re way to elicit a groan from managers. People are unique, have different needs, circumstances and issues. It’s diffi cult to fi nd one training solution that fi ts all staff and works for each individual. 

 

There are, however, some basic issues that affect most employees when confronted with the prospect of training

Firstly, there is the expectation that training will be both tedious and intrusive on at least a portion of their personal time. No one is thrilled at the prospect of coming in on weekends, travelling to third-party locations or sacrifi cing their lunch breaks for training.

Secondly, long-standing employees become set in their ways, and might feel that enforced training silently accuses them of not knowing how to do their jobs properly. The ‘I know best’ factor can also play a role, with staff rejecting new ideas that would change the way they do a job that has become second nature.

There’s also the question of how training is handled, as staff don’t want to sit through long presentations and lectures in a classroom environment, making them feel they are back at school.

Training, in my opinion, is too time-consuming. In addition, most of the courses offered today are cost-prohibitive, and most employees are not interested in paying back company loans over two years to cover the training.

Trevor Stevens, Ruckus Wireless

Training Guide 2014 chats to employees across a range of companies and industry sectors, to get a grip on what their issues with training are, and how best to resolve them.

The time factor

“For me, the biggest challenge is making the time to attend to the sharpening of the sword,” says Simon Carpenter, chief customer officer at SAP Africa. “As an individual in a world where you’re only as good as your current IP, it becomes essential to invest time in keeping yourself up-to-date, and this requires prioritising in a diligent fashion.”

Entelect’s team lead Nico Mulder agrees that finding the time is a hassle: “It’s difficult to find time during work hours to do research and stay up-to-date with the latest tech trends. Being a team lead, you are required to interface with your team and client on a daily basis. This takes time away from coding and really getting stuck in.” He adds that Entelect’s Technology Accelerator programme provides users with the time, resources and mentors to drive their own projects with the use of the latest technologies available. “It creates the space to play, where before you had to create the space/time yourself.”

People don’t have time to be away from work for three to five days, not to mention two weeks, for training. Those days are gone, adds Wayne Venter from Ruckus Wireless.

Trevor Stevens, also from Ruckus Wireless agrees: “Training, in my opinion, is too timeconsuming. In addition, most of the courses offered today are cost-prohibitive, and most employees are not interested in paying back company loans over two years to cover the training.”

Stevens believes that the only way a vendor can offer an attractive alternative is to offer reasonably-priced online training modules to their partners. “Ruckus Wireless is very good at this, as we offer our partners the online Ruckus university training courses covering both sales and technical courses. Exams are paid for at Pearson at an affordable rate.”

Too much or too little?

Dumisani Sibanda, senior software engineer at Entelect, says he finds it very challenging when it comes to making a decision on what certifications one should choose. “There’s a challenge of upskilling for those in consulting, based on the demand from the market. For example, a specific hot and off-the-shelf product might not be the best business intelligence (BI) dashboard tool, yet corporates are buying into it. So as an IT professional, you’re forced to develop yourself.”

For Michael Stichling, tech lead at Entelect, the many frameworks and tools that make the rounds in online tech communities are a challenge for him: “Often, these frameworks have different nuances and caveats, which only manifest themselves with heavy and prolonged use. Identifying these issues early on in the adoption process is the hardest part for me. Not only do some of the frameworks and tools have issues in their implementation, but often they disappear as quickly as they appear.”

Venter adds that training content is often too generic, as most training courses today are mostly a representation of the user and installation manuals. “Trainers don’t allow for deviation from the course material or individual scenario training. Training is given on the previous or older version of code,and training material and courses generally are nine months to even a year behind the widelyavailable software releases.”

An employee from Dariel, who chose to remain anonymous, agrees that rapidly changing technology is a challenge:
“Technologies that we may have been briefed or examined on while studying may no longer be in demand, or perhaps don’t even have support from their vendors anymore. As a result, we need to continuously learn just to keep up.”

Moreover, he says new technologies can take a long time to filter down to the classroom. “For example, many of the grads we recruited are not aware of technologies like LINQ, O/R Mappers, or Dependency Injection.

University theory is taught outside of business, or real-world context.

Anonymous IT professional

LINQ was introduced in 2007 to .NET 3.5, and has had a major impact on the way that code is written. Object relational mappers that are used extensively in the projects I’ve worked on were barely even mentioned during my studies despite being a technology that has been around for a long time – Hibernate was first released in 2001.”

In addition, he says misinformation is indistinguishable from information – without experience. “With so many opinions and ideas circulating the Web, it can be difficult to separate the good ideas from the bad. The only way around this problem is through experience. Junior developers in particular can find themselves sucked into a paradigm doomed to failure because of the mismatch of the paradigm to the problem. This mismatch is perhaps more visible to the senior who has either solved the problem before, or perhaps even made the same mistake. This is why professional engineers, doctors and other professions go through an apprenticeship.”

For him, another challenge is that university theory is taught outside of business, or realworld context. Although the old adage ‘those that can’t do, teach’ is often said in jest, it stands to reason that it would be difficult for a full-time university lecturer to be actively working on cutting-edge projects in the market place, he says. “I worked on a project once where a comment was made that the system had an academically-correct design, but ‘didn’t work’. The problem was that while one area of theory was diligently applied to the design of the project, the theory was not suitable for a particular aspect of the way the business functioned. The result was that this part of the system was slow and needed to be rewritten to be useable.”

He says this can result in junior developers needing guidance to unlearn what they’ve learned. “This kind of problem is typically solved in the engineering world by means of a formal apprenticeship, where graduate engineers need to work under a certified engineer on their journey to becoming a professionally certified engineer.”

What staff do not want

There are some basic issues that affect most employees when confronted with the prospect of training.

There is the expectation that training will be both tedious and intrusive on at least a portion of their personal time. No one is thrilled at the prospect of coming in on weekends, travelling to third-party locations or sacrificing their lunch breaks for training.

Long-standing employees become set in their ways, and might feel that enforced training silently accuses them of not knowing how to do their jobs properly. The ‘I know best’ factor can also play a role, with staff rejecting new ideas that would change the way they do a job that has become second nature.

There’s also the question of how training is handled, as staff do not want to sit through long presentations and lectures in a classroom environment, making them feel they are back at school

Not everything can be covered at university, he adds. “There is often an established practice or known theory for most kinds of business problems, however these are too numerous to be covered while studying at university. This is mostly because many problems can be difficult to understand without a suitable example, and the example itself may take a substantial amount of time to understand. Universities should be (and in my opinion are) training people how to learn the skills they will need in their job, not the skills themselves.”

Finally, he says, human beings have a finite rate at which we can acquire knowledge, and can suffer from information overload. “Learning is exhausting and takes time. We can easily reach a point in our day where there is so much knowledge to take in that we cannot take in any more – trying to do so is actually a waste of time because we are saturated with knowledge. It follows that learning must take place over an extended period of time. This therefore requires commitment to training – one cannot expect to take a week-long crash course to learn everything, as there is too much to learn. It’s better to absorb small amounts of knowledge each day.”

Building blocks to success

Erwil Heath, business operations principal at SAP Africa, believes that training and development are an integral part in every IT professional’s career. “These are the building blocks to success. No shortcuts. Constant and continuous self-improvement and enablement lead to ultimate success. The most dynamic and versatile global industry requires you to stay on the cutting edge of technology and top of your game. Now more than ever, considering that we are moving everything to the cloud.”

Heath says the opportunities to grow and evolve into ‘best run’ individuals are out there, and it is up to the workforce to raise its hands and proactively enrol in development programmes. “The biggest challenge is the pace of change. Change is the only constant. To stay ahead of the ‘change wave’ is both the challenge and opportunity.”

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