Why You Should Invest in Training Your IT Team

"The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is to not train them and keep them." -- Zig Ziglar

Training and continuing education sound like noble ideals for your company. In a perfect world, all employees would spend a quarter of their time learning new concepts and techniques and, in general, sharpening their toolsets.

The reality of budgets, tremendously long to-do lists and the fear of watching training dollars walk right out the door when employees leave means that this type of continuing education isn't often a priority for many companies, particularly their IT departments.

This is the wrong way to look at it. Training and investing in your employees is more important than ever. Here's why.

Training bonds employees to your company. Training increases employee retention for several reasons.

-- Employees experience a "sticky" feeling when a company invests in their success by shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars for training courses designed to improve their skillsets. They feel appreciated and heard, that their employer has (at least some of) their best interests at heart.

-- Employees generally approach those training opportunities with their eventual application at their current job in mind. In other words, they look to training to help solve problems or resolve challenges they experience now. They're actively looking to resolve issues they face within your organization. While, of course, those skillsets and new learnings transfer with employees when they leave a job, brushing up a resume is often a lower tactical priority for an employed professional than is learning how to solve an existing problem for their current employer.

-- Employees also tend to appreciate employers willing to invest in their skills and are less likely to leave because they feel undervalued and undertrained. They have less reason to seek out a new employer that does see the value in continuing the education of their staff.

[ Also: 8 Tips to Increase IT Worker Retention ]

Training increases the quality of your employees. Well-rounded employees who constantly develop and improve the breadth and depth of their skills will sow many benefits and harvests that you can reap later.

Consider virtualization. The cost savings and flexibility afforded by the virtualization wave have been numerous and considerable, but if your staff hadn't learned about hypervisors, administration, compatibility and the like, chances are you'd be spending a ton more on your hardware infrastructure than you need to.

Consider PowerShell. This administrative scripting language isn't easy to pick up, but the payoff is getting more done with less effort and less errors. If your staff knew PowerShell, would your organization benefit? Would your staff create more value if it was able to complete rote administration tasks in half the time (or less) because it knew how to script them?

Investing in training for your IT team members makes them more valuable -- to the marketplace, yes, but also to your organization, which in turn increases the value and business contribution of IT to your overall corporate operation. In this economy, that's no bad thing.

Training increases the value of your technology department and its ability to respond to changing business needs. In many enterprises, IT is no longer just a cost center, a necessary expense on the way to doing business. As the Internet economy emerges, and as big data and analytics continue to transform the way business gets done today, IT needs to become a value center, if not a profit center.

IT needs to enable new technologies that can directly serve customers. Like never before, IT needs to make available data, particularly the ability to slice and dice it in order to identify patterns in customer behavior and insight into existing business processes.

These technologies require skill. Hadoop, Hive, Pig, Cassandra and HBase are all nascent technologies just entering their growth phases. Five years ago, no one was proficient in them. Now, being skilled at implementing a data mart full of unstructured records is seen as the next big thing. Empower your employees to stay on the cutting edge of new IT trends, and allow them to train in these technologies, and you directly increase the value of your IT department as it pertains to generating revenue and cutting costs.

[ Related: How to Close the Big Data Skills Gap by Training Your IT Staff ]

Having an IT department make a solid impact on the bottom line is an excellent endeavor, but you can't make that happen without a commitment to consistent training.

Training Is Expensive, But It's Worth the Cost

Training comes in all shapes and sizes, too.

Trade shows. There aren't just expo floor goodie-grabbing events anymore. Many vendors offer deep technical content, experts manning technical sessions and booths on the show floor, as well as trial/not-for-resale versions of new products and technologies that can go a long way toward getting employees familiar with new things.

Yes, attendance can cost several thousand dollars, but many events last less than a week and provide a lot of exposure in a very short time. Look at vendor-specific trade shows, as they typically more technical content than larger, non-specific shows, which focus more on marketing and don't give a strong payback.

Instructor-led training courses. These, too, are expensive, and they focus narrowly on one topic, so you don't get the breadth of technical coverage that a trade show would offer. At the same time, spending three to five days learning a single technology can be quite enlightening and is money well spent if the products covered are core to your organization's mission.

Videos. Subscriptions to video training sites such as Pluralsight, and particularly a site license, can be a surprisingly cost-effective way to bring continuing education to your employees. You can select from a wide variety of videos covering many different technologies; videos on new technologies are typically available within a few weeks of their release. (I have no connection, financial or otherwise, to Pluralsight, other than being an admirer.)

There's no doubt about it -- training is expensive. It costs a lot of money to take a course, and even more to send employees on a plane and put them up in a hotel. It costs time, as employees are away from their day-to-day department responsibilities.

But those costs pale in comparison to the potential for your workforce to become stale, to not respond to the latest and greatest in technology, to not develop skills to increase efficiency of and cut capital costs where it can -- and to the overall cost of employing a department of technology professionals that doesn't make your IT investment the best it can be.

Jonathan Hassell runs 82 Ventures LLC, a consulting firm based out of Charlotte, N.C.

This story, "Why You Should Invest in Training Your IT Team" was originally published by CIO.

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