Research from multiple sources tells us that information technology (IT) professionals are largely lacking the skills they need to make their organizations competitive. IT leaders are worried — and as a learning leader, you probably are, too. What’s the key to having an IT team that’s ready to take on 2020 and whatever comes next?

Continuous upskilling enables IT professionals to stay up to date on technological innovations and keep their knowledge and abilities fresh. While classroom training is the traditional method for teaching new skills at school and work, your IT team likely doesn’t have the time to leave the office for frequent in-person upskilling. Plus, instructor-led training (ILT) can be expensive, especially if it involves travel.

Fortunately, your IT team is tech-savvy — and so is the training industry. While the virtual classrooms of the past were difficult to manage, expensive to run and unengaging to participate in, modern virtual instructor-led training (VILT) is an effective, efficient way to teach employees, especially when it comes to technical skills.

Here are five tips for using VILT to upskill your IT team:

1. Build the Case for VILT

If your organization is new to VILT, you may need to present a good business case to your executive team to convince them to make the investment. Fortunately, VILT provides a great return on investment, and there’s plenty of data to back you up. Consider the expense of airfare, car rentals, hotels, meals and other costs that often come with in-person training. These expenses add up quickly, which means you may not even have the budget to train everyone who needs upskilling. Virtual training, on the other hand, brings the instruction to your employees.

As companies continue to innovate with their VILT technologies, your learners will feel like they’re in the classroom, whether they’re sitting at their desk or on their couch. Multimedia platforms enable two-way communication, clear video and audio, and live chat with both the instructor and other learners. Many also offer virtual labs, so learners can practice using the technology and receive feedback from the instructor — before they start working on actual programs.

2. Blend VILT With Other Methods

The majority of IT professionals’ learning time is likely spent learning on the job or from their peers. With VILT, you can also fit the important formal training into learners’ busy schedules and create continuous blended learning opportunities. Formal training can also serve as the foundation for other types of learning. For example, several IT professionals might take a virtual DevOps course (formal learning) that introduces them to the Git system before your company implements it. Then, when the whole IT team is using Git, those learners may ask each other for support as questions arise (social learning). They’ll also continue to learn as they use Git, becoming more proficient with each work day (on-the-job learning). In this way, the Git course not only served as the foundation for building new skills, but it also blended with other forms of learning for continuous upskilling.

3. Select the Right Partner and the Right Platform

The key to effective VILT is partnering with a good training provider and platform. Ask for customer references, and find out what kind of on-demand help and support providers offer. Also, find a vendor that offers a variety of modalities in addition to VILT, and be sure its offerings include all of the critical topics your IT team needs. Look at the credentials and qualifications of the provider’s instructors; they should have a thorough understanding of the technology they’re teaching as well as adult learning principles and effective delivery of virtual training.

Because learning never stops, your IT training partner should also be able to provide follow-up support to help learners apply what they learn back on the job. Whether it’s through virtual coaching, online mentoring or another form of learning reinforcement, find a vendor that can work with your learners and their managers to cement their new skills.

4. Offer Certifications or Badges

Certifications and digital badges are popular in many industries but especially in technical fields. IT certifications provide a lot of value for both learners and employers, and rewarding employees with a badge they can display on their LinkedIn profile or a certification they can use to advance their careers goes a long way toward boosting engagement. Work with IT leaders to determine which skills their team will need in the near future and which emerging technologies they believe will be playing a role in your business’ strategy. Then, look for VILT training providers that award certifications at the end of each course.

5. Make Virtual Training Part of Your Culture

A culture of learning is critical to engaging employees, keeping their skills up to date, improving their job satisfaction and supporting an innovative business. Creating such a culture requires ongoing training rather than periodic events — which can be expensive and difficult to manage if you rely on in-person courses.

Virtual training enables you to broaden the availability and accessibility of learning, helping you create that culture of continuous learning. In such a culture, not only are employees expected to learn, but they want to learn. VILT boosts your training impact, improving business results and gaining leadership buy-in. When those leaders demonstrate their support for learning, employees are more motivated to participate in training, which continues the cycle and nurtures that learning culture throughout your organization.