Do companies like to keep their IT staff stupid? In a recent article for Software Quality Connection Lisa Vaas describes IT managers who oppose providing training for their employees as “pro-stupid.” But according to Vaas, more managers are waking up to the problem.
For example, J. Wolfgang Goerlich, a network operations manager at a financial services firm.”A lot of the times, when I talk to IT managers about why they don’t train, one thing is the concern that if their people get certifications, they won’t be able to retain them. Which is kind of interesting to me,” Goerlich told Vaas. “It’s like saying, ‘I’m concerned that if people know what they’re doing, they’ll leave. And if they don’t know what they’re doing, they’ll stay.’”
But anti-stupid managers face difficulties in getting the budget to train staff. Vaas writes about managers who expect employees to self-train:
Did they really expect his staff to take their nights and weekends and learn skills on their own? Well, yes. Did they really want him to work with a staff of exhausted workers who never see their spouses and kids? Happy happy, joy joy: You’re talking retention nightmare.
Retention is a real issue. IT workers are reported to work 71 hours per week. A survey in 2009 found that job satisfaction among IT workers had plummeted, and another in 2010 found that about 1/3 of respondents were looking for another job.
With so many overworked, dissatisfied workers and a shortage of skilled talent, retention should be a big priority for companies. Companies could also be looking to fill in talent shortages by training more staff.
Much has been made over the fact that despite a supposed shortage of skilled IT workers, there are still many IT workers unable to find jobs. In 2006 Linda Musthaler wrote for Network World:
There’s no shortage of smart, employable IT workers. There is a shortage of flexible employers who are willing to hire people who don’t match an exact, niche profile or have a very specific skill or type of experience. There is a shortage of companies willing to invest in the training and development of enthusiastic and committed employees.
But it’s not as simple as that.
Economist Marko Terviö recently published a paper on the subject of the IT talent shortage. Terviö wrote in the paper’s abstract: “there are too many mediocre workers, whose talent is not high enough to justify them crowding out novice workers with lower expected talent but with more upside potential. The result is an inefficiently low level of output coupled with higher wages for known high talents.”
In a discussion of this paper on the blog Marginal Revolution, one commenter wrote:
The problem is training is expensive, and many software development shops already have to do lots of training on the in-house code and environments even if the new person has the right basic skillsets. Even if you hire a nearly perfect “fit” in terms of language and general skillsets, it’ll take at least a few weeks before a new hire can understand the code well enough to make meaningful development contributions. If they’re “off” by a lot in terms of skillset, bootstrapping them to the level where they can both understand the underlying tech and the product itself could take many months. This may be OK in a large corporation supporting an in-house system, but startups can’t afford the cost in time and money.
Training should be a big priority for companies given the reported shortage of developers and other skilled IT workers. But that shortage actually contributes to the problem. Even when there’s budget for training, many workers don’t have time for training, even on the clock, because companies are so short staffed.
One thing the CompTIA research didn’t note but which many IT managers cite is that they just can’t spare the warm bodies while those people are off getting training. They need them in-house, working on projects, or they need those valuable staff out generating billable hours.
“Right now, we’re just unable to train, because the guys we’ve hired are out billing,” said David Marceau, vice president of Ridgefield One, a Connecticut staffing company that specializes in IT. Ridgefield employs three full-time IT professionals and has another half-dozen IT consultants out working. “As long as they’re out billing, I’ll keep them out. If we ever get them back, I’ll try to line up work as soon as possible,” he said. [...]
His clients aren’t training, either. There’s just no time. This is a typical scenario for Ridgefield: A client has a shop with, say, 50 application developers. It just won a $5 million contract, and the project needs to be completed in six months. “Are you going to send somebody out to a 30-day training course, or spend three days with an agency finding a guy with experience to bring him on?” Marceau asked. “Even if you have the budget, do you have the time?
Goerlich says the key is starting small, with just books and money to pay for certifications, and then show the return for those investments. If you can show that projects are being finished measurably faster thanks to the training behind those certifications, you can get more buy-in for on the clock training programs that cost more and take workers away from project work.
But as Vaas says, managers better be starting somewhere: the competition, including Goerlich, are out there training staff.
Photo by Aldo Gonzalez