The Evolving World of Tech-Pro Training

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Training isn’t just about skills development—it’s about retention.

This is especially true in tech, where technologies and programming languages constantly evolve into new (and often more complex) forms. While some tech employers balk at the idea of training employees in new skills, more and more see that, in a tight labor market, training is an important way to keep the best employees on board.

“Training is a key retention tool,” Nick Russell, associate director at the Work Foundation, recently told ComputerWeekly. “It is part of the employee’s psychological contract of employment—enduring that they get the opportunity to develop and improve their skills.”

In 2013, corporate spending on learning and development grew by 15 percent overall, according to the HR consulting firm Bersin by Deloitte. Technology companies spent an average of $1,847 per learner, among the highest amount of any industry sector. “Tech firms (like Motorola Solutions, Adobe, IBM, and Xerox) have made large investments for training their teams to evolve from product sellers to solution and industry experts,” the company said. “Other companies in the tech space (like EMC and Cisco) have transformed their engineering teams to focus on new products in consumer electronics, Big Data, telecommunications, and cybersecurity.”

Changes in Approach

Technology is changing how employers offer training, according to Pat Galagan, executive editor of the Alexandria, Va.-based Association for Talent Development. Instructor-led sessions, which accounted for nearly 64 percent of training programs in 2008, represented less than 55 percent in 2013, and that number continues to shrink. In its place are educational programs delivered online and through mobile devices, including lessons taught via webinars and videos.

Those trends illustrate the training industry’s thrust toward “delivering content in formats that are consumable and desired, when the user wants it,” added Jason MacMurray, vice president of customer success at learning platform provider Mindflash, based in Palo Alto, Calif. “The tools are getting more advanced and more focused on user engagement.”

Targeted Learning

But delivery represents only one aspect of the industry’s shift. Micro-learning, where users can focus on very narrow aspects of a subject, and contextual learning, where they can take brief lessons or practice simulations, are increasingly in use.

For example, a programmer who needs to brush up on JavaScript menu and navigation scripts can access components of a lesson dedicated to those topics, rather than attend a series of classroom sessions dedicated to JavaScript as a whole. The result, said Galagan, is increased flexibility in how learners access information, as well as “more self-determination and customization.” Training, in short, becomes more relevant to what people do.

“It’s not just about just one method of delivery and training. It’s blended,” MacMurray added. “When it comes to writing code, you always want to improve. So, here you can push out the latest information.” That way the course always remains up-to-date.

Gamification is another approach that’s gaining ground, though not necessarily in nuts-and-bolts areas such as software development and engineering. Gal Rimon, CEO and founder of the gamification platform provider GameEffective in Charlotte, N.C., sees such techniques used in Help Desk and QA training, as well as in the actual work of quality assurance itself.

While applying gamification to software-development training might be a challenge, with enough forethought you can potentially gamify any sort of educational experience. Aside from making learning more engaging, Rimon noted, gamification is an effective way to develop team-based training approaches where departments can compete among themselves or other groups.

Attractive Options

Aside from its value as a retention tool, technology and the new approaches to design and implementation make training more flexible, more targeted, more relevant to a particular job, and thus, in an all-around way, more useful.

These new learning technologies also offer real cost advantages. Whereas training sessions once required transporting a number of people to a single location, then housing them and feeding them, today’s mix of options allows employees to go through sessions at the office or at home, thus providing cost-savings, more effective learning, and more engagement between the organization and its workers.

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