Timing is everything for IT contractor training days

Unlike other professions, the computing and IT world evolves at such a fast pace from almost daily technological developments that its practitioners’ skills should be updated constantly.

And unlike full-time staff, the IT profession’s contract workers are normally excluded, implicitly or outright, from the end-user’s internal training and ‘skills development’ schemes.

So, what may help a contractor in an IR35 probe (thanks to self-provision of training fitting with ‘being in business of your own account’), actually puts them at a competitive disadvantage as a technologist.

Still, even if a contractor could develop their IT skills at the workplace without fear of the taxman, the IT training at the UK’s leading IT employers appears far from adequate.

In fact, a Unite survey out last week shows that 62% of payroll techies at the likes of Apple, Ericsson, Logica, Capita and IBM say the IT training on offer fails to keep their skills at the cutting-edge.

HP, also among the IT employers fingered, admits that internal IT training schemes are overly “based on what is being used today, rather than what is strategically required in the future.”

Although not aimed at itself, the charge that in-house IT training is too "reactive" came in a 2010 whitepaper issued by the IT giant, based on the views of 1,000 enterprise IT leaders across 17 countries.

All the more reason to embrace your own privately-run training course, IT contractors might say, albeit not before most consider that they alone must shoulder the upfront investment and ensuing responsibility.

A provider of accredited IT courses reflected: “The overriding focus from IT contractors is on training courses which happen at weekends, purely because they mean less time off-contract.

“When the course dates fall and how they interfere with their ability to earn, is still a live issue. We hear IT contractors bring it up on almost on a daily basis.”

In light of these concerns, IT contractors will likely cheer on so-called ‘VILT’ (Virtual Instructor-Led Training) courses, alongside other ‘cloud-enabled’ or ‘on-demand’ training suites.

However, such remote IT training is more accessible in the Americas and ranks as only the third most used channel for the CIOs polled for HP, way behind their preferred training chancel - “face-to-face.”

And even then, the delivery of IT education in the workplace is often “poor”, in spite of training accounting for a significant chunk (28%) of their total IT budget, the CIOs said.

“[Internal IT] training plans are agreed too late,” says the whitepaper – ‘Why Today’s IT Training Does Not Deliver and How to Fix It.’ “Perhaps as a consequence, too much of this budget remains unspent each year.”

The paper says about 7% of IT staff training budgets go unused at organisations' year-end, a small-sounding percentage yet representing a cool several billion in unspent training funds each year.

“A massive missed opportunity” the report authors scold. Clearly it is for employers, but less so for IT contractors - even if they currently work in the embattled public sector, according to IT training provider.

“Organisations in the public sector were told to clampdown very hard on spending, but they’re approaching their year-end and some have got money left for IT training,” he told CUK yesterday. “They want to use this money while they still can.

“So we are yet to see a dip in the numbers on IT courses for public sector; indeed our public sector team are busier than they were. But don’t expect that to last. It will stop on the eve of the new fiscal year, in March.”

For now however, Prince2 continues to attract experienced IT project workers who want to boost their CVs with a recognised PM qualification, while Change Management (CM) tops the training firm's list of new enquiries.

The growth in CM course subscribers was traced to the recovery of the financial services industry, where insurance firms are demanding the qualification the loudest, in addition to a few housing associations.

Change management’s rise is also down to the current economic climate forcing businesses in all sectors to explore and adopt leaner, more cost-efficient ways to run their internal operations.

“Businesses spanning every industry have been tightening their belts and planning how to implement cost-cutting measures for some time,” according to the American authors of the whitepaper How to Manage Training in Tough Times: 6 Ways to Achieve More with Less, available from Expertus.

“There’s no question that learning organizations everywhere are feeling the pinch, which is creating new challenges for training executives.”

So “even in today’s climate” – or rather because of it – “IT skills are invaluable” for professional people looking for a “long-term future,” says the UK’s National IT Learning Centre boss Charles Oskwarek.

The centre, which currently offers a discount on IT qualifications, provides public sector staff, education-leavers and workers in or facing redundancy with a bursary to help offset the cost of its IT courses.

Speaking this month, Oskwarek said competition for “industry-valued” IT qualifications was set to rise, arguing that a cut in university placements will spur demand for those courses proven to lead to IT jobs.

At one IT training provider this upturn is yet to take shape, as its total intake of course entrants so far this year is on track to match last January’s.

Though in line with the NITLC's outlook, the firm said enquiries are on the up from client companies seeking accreditation for staff who work in-house on ICT or who form part of an internal IT team.

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