IT training under the axe

26 Oct 2002

In the wake of the economic turbulence of 2001, training budgets were among the first to be cut as an increasing number of companies tightened their belts. The message coming from the training community today, however, seems to be that demand is growing but that Irish corporates want more for their money in the current climate.

Traditionally, training has been seen as a good means of cheaply increasing the skills available within a company at the same time as offering employees an incentive to stick around. At one stage, ongoing employee training was taken for granted as part of any progressive company’s human resource activities. Times have changed and for the average company budgets are more strictly controlled.

“Training is still viewed as being very important, but companies are more prudent about how they spend their budgets. Overall they want value for money, but they still need to spend on training,” said Brendan Thompson, sales director of training specialist Unlimited.

“Even companies tightening their belts are still investing in training. If they have had redundancies then they want to keep the people they still have motivated and to give them opportunities within the organisation, because there might be no room for them to move up the management ladder.”

Not everyone can be promoted and there can only be one managing director, but that doesn’t mean that good staff members don’t still need to see a career path in front of them. “Lateral development becomes more rather than less important in times of trouble. While there has been a downturn, training is not dead in the water,” said Thompson.

Unlimited says that from an earnings and projections perspective, it is in exactly the same place as it was this time last year. “You have to be careful about talking up situations that aren’t as bad as is being made out,” he added.

While Unlimited has found it has to work harder to maintain the same levels of business it enjoyed a year or two ago, the business still exists. The company recently launched a new training initiative as the first authorised vendor for the IC3 (Internet and Computing Core Certification) global certification standard. Designed to compete with the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL), the IC3 certificate aims to be more focused and to appeal to a broader cross section of people.

“The idea is that you can do the IC3 and not waste time covering material that you have no interest in or time for, and then further specialise to meet specific requirements,” said Thompson.

Meanwhile, other training providers are finding other changes in the market place. Web Intellect, a firm of internet training and web development specialists, said that the internet training sector is maturing as new software appears that brings previously high-end skills within the reach of a wider audience.

“It used to be the case that database integration and other stables of the corporate internet world were hugely expensive and difficult to implement, but the new breeds of software, such as Macromedia’s new products, make these functions much easier to carry out. As a result, companies are skilling up their in-house staff to cut costs,” said Web Intellect’s managing director, Suzanne Danker.

“Another major trend we are increasingly seeing is with companies that previously employed outside consultants and agencies to do their web design and development work. These companies are sending their internal staff out to be trained and are dispensing with the outside agencies, because it’s much cheaper.”

Web Intellect was set up in April 2001, “two months before the Nasdaq crashed,” said Danker. For the first six months of the company’s existence, training budgets were cut across most industries. In recent months, several of the company’s competitors have gone out of business. While this is good news for those companies still afloat, it is a bad signal for the industry.

“Things have picked up in recent months, even allowing for the usual summer slump, but levels of demand for training have undeniably slumped massively in the last two years,” she continued. “In light of the euro changeover and general economic downturn, we have had to revise our costs down. It’s the same all over. Anyone who didn’t want to do this paid the price and the reality is that companies were being overcharged for training anyway. We have deliberately stayed small and have become increasingly specialised with our offerings. We offer a lot of onsite training and we have got involved with the enterprise boards and chambers of commerce, which run ongoing e-business training initiatives.”

Onsite training is attractive to corporate clients because it is less expensive than the external option and also means less expense claims from employees. The reason many smaller training companies have disappeared is that they seem to have mostly survived on walk-in business from individuals. According to Danker, much of this business has dried up. “The individuals we get paying for their own training are usually people that have been made redundant and have cash available to re-skill themselves. Other than this, staff from large companies and government bodies mainly fill our courses, because Joe Public can’t afford the rates,” she concluded.