With the pace of innovation and progression of technology, it’s crucial for IT employees to be able to refresh their skills to keep up with a changing market. Training and learning should be a corporate priority from the top down and done on a continuous basis. Learning can come in many forms, such as formal education, mentoring and on-the-job training. However, with the workload that most companies place on their employees, training can go by the wayside in lieu of achieving project milestones.

Time is the crucial element. It’s hard for most companies to invest the time needed to train their employees. Given this dilemma, it’s essential to have an efficient training program.

Consider your workforce on an individual basis. Training methods and approaches need to be different based on factors such as the employee’s background and needs. Should you conduct classroom sessions or online learning, provide course materials for self-study, or support on-the-job training? Some people prefer to learn in a classroom or other group environment, while others prefer to learn alone.

Here are three factors to consider to keep your IT staff up-to-date with new technology and best practices.

1. Pairing and Grouping

Finding a way to work in collaboration in a pair, in a group or in teams is one way to overcome the time challenge. “In our XP environment here at World Wide Technology Asynchrony Labs, our team approach is a great way to leverage cross-pollination for learning,” said Nate McKie, CTO at WWT Asynchrony Labs. “Our developers get a lot of opportunity to pair with senior people in technologies where they may not have much experience. This allows the two people to share and teach each other different aspects of what they’re working on and learn from each other. At our company, each team generally has 75 percent skill coverage and 25 percent learning so that the team can learn together to keep everyone engaged.”

One of the approaches we’ve used at WWT Asynchrony Labs is experimenting with “mob programming,” where the entire team works on a problem together. Mob programming consists of a group, typically more than four or five people. One person is the driver, one person is the navigator and everyone else is part of the mob. The driver controls the keyboard and cannot type anything that the navigator does not specifically suggest, while the mob are throwing out suggestions as they think of them. Team members switch roles at intervals decided on by the group so everyone gets a chance to navigate and drive. This approach is a great way to extend knowledge-sharing beyond the paired approach.

2. Internal or External Training

The decision to outsource IT training depends on your situation. For example, if you have a new technology that no one in your organization is familiar with, or if you have a large group that you need to upskill quickly, it may make sense to outsource. On the other hand, if the topic is one that you have internal knowledge about, you might want to handle training internally.

There are several strategies for internal support. For example, we host an internal skills database so that employees can see who in the organization could give them help. We also allow “guru time” on projects so that teams can leverage and share this type of knowledge by asking a skilled individual to help out for a short time.

If you don’t want to go forward with an internal program or an advanced external training program, consider giving employees time off for a learning day to focus on their professional development. You might also consider a hybrid training program. For example, we have an annual internal conference with employees as the speakers. This event allows staff to learn directly from each other and gain experience in public speaking. Creating a presentation helps them think through the issues that they’re dealing with and can strengthen their understanding even further.

3. Starting with Recruiting

IT training is a commitment that should start with recruiting and hiring the right people. For example, we prefer to hire people with a collaborative mindset who are eager to grow, and by putting candidates through activity-based interviewing and role-playing, we are able to gauge both soft skills and openness to learning.

Incorporating interactive exercises or games into the interviewing process gives you an opportunity to witness how a candidate communicates, thinks through roadblocks, approaches problems and collaborates with other people. These qualities can tell you more about whether a person will fit into your learning culture than a list of digital skills or a flurry of technical questions. Companies that hire based on technical skills alone tend to miss out on better candidates who would thrive in their culture.

The bottom line is that every company should encourage learning. Build a learning culture that gives people a chance to prove themselves, even if they don’t have all the experience you’re looking for, and provide support as needed. Have those responsible for employees’ professional development ask them regularly what they’re doing to learn, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a continuous learning environment for your IT workforce.

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