IT Careers 2014

Paul Glen: Congratulations, you're your own skills manager

This year's Computerworld reader survey on careers topics indicates that we in IT have turned a corner. And, overall, the new direction is good. With nearly two-thirds of the respondents reporting that they paid for training out of their own pockets, we see that IT has accepted, at least to some degree, the new nature of employment relationships.

There are a few conclusions to be drawn here. First, we have given up relying on our employers to see to it that we develop our talents and skills.

It has become abundantly clear over the past decade that there is little difference between being a contractor and being an employee. In many parts of the world, and particularly in the U.S., we have made a collective decision (with our votes) that we want to be a society with high labor mobility, both geographically and occupationally. We make it easy to hire and fire people. Whether that's a good thing or not will be debated for years, but our behavior indicates that we have accepted this as fact.

We no longer expect our employers to plan our careers or deliver training. And those who insist that it's an employer's responsibility to take on those tasks place their own futures in jeopardy, relinquishing control of their development to their managers, who can make decisions on a whim.

Another conclusion: We can demand pay for the skills we bring to the job.

In the old model, we accepted consistent wages in exchange for job stability. If your employer paid for training to make you more valuable, you didn't expect to get an instant raise.

For those who accept the idea of thinking like a free agent, the new model represents opportunity. With security gone and individuals bearing the burden of skills development, we can demand wages that represent a return on our investments -- if we invest in skills for which demand exceeds supply. The employment relationship is now more about market conditions and less about hierarchy.

And in some ways, it may be better for all of us, because when it comes to training, the old way didn't work very well.

And there's more good news. The new nature of employment relationships means that we will learn more.

Back when I managed a group of 100 people, I realized that I could pay people to attend training sessions, but I couldn't pay them to learn. When they took classes, they saw it as doing me a favor rather than investing in their own careers.

When I shifted to a shared responsibility model, things improved. I agreed to pay for tuition, but employees had to attend classes on their own time. After that, they stopped thinking of training as a perk and started considering it a career investment. Everyone was better aligned with business goals. They asked to go only to training classes that they cared about. And they learned much more.

The other part of the deal was that when people demonstrated that their new skills resulted in value for the organization, I would acknowledge that new value with a raise. In other words, we paid people for value delivered rather than for learning, and everyone was happier.

Now it looks like the decade-long standoff is over and that we've accepted training as a personal investment rather than an employer obligation. While we may embrace this with mixed feelings, in the end, we may well discover that we like it this way a lot better.

Next: Why few want to be the CIO anymore

Paul Glen, CEO of Leading Geeks, is devoted to clarifying the murky world of human emotion for people who gravitate toward concrete thinking. His newest book is 8 Steps to Restoring Client Trust: A Professional's Guide to Managing Client Conflict. You can contact him at

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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