6 ways to train your employees on the cheap

Even in a down economy, smart IT execs find ways to invest in their people.

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"This gives us more information, not just on technology, but also better insight into the business side," Murabito explains. He says a typical session will draw 25 to 30 people but costs only about $100 or so for pizza or sandwiches.

3. Borrow from your business folks

Murabito isn't the only one who's drawing on the business side for training in tough economic times. Catherine Rodewald, a Dallas-based managing director at Prudential Mortgage Capital Co., says she's focused on giving her company's IT staff industry-specific education.

"We sit them in training that we use with all of our business folks. That training is much less expensive than IT training," Rodewald says. In her company's IT shop, as in many others, the technologists are expected to understand what the business units do and to learn business analyst skills.

For example, if the company's law firm comes in to talk to the accounting department about commercial real estate bankruptcies, the IT workers are encouraged to attend. Rodewald says she'll also tap executives on the business side to give presentations tailored to IT employees.

Karyl K. Innis, chairman and CEO of The Innis Co., a Dallas consulting firm, recommends thinking broadly when it comes to the topics for such sessions. If someone in marketing runs the best meetings, tap that person to teach IT how to replicate the success. The technologists can observe the marketing person in action and then have a follow-up session for questions.

4. Pair up workers

Rodewald also encourages IT workers to teach one another through "buddy learning."

"I can take an RPG coder who really wants to learn .Net, or a SQL coder who wants to be better at Cognos, and partner them so they learn from each other," she says, noting that these programs work within IT and across different departments.

Of course, employees could tap colleagues for one-on-one training on their own, but Rodewald says they often get tied up in their daily duties and let the opportunities slip away. That's why company support and an established structure are critical for the program to succeed, she says.

At Prudential, an IT worker can ask a colleague to spend two or three lunches sharing his expertise, and vice versa. Each side must develop a curriculum -- "so they're not just sitting and visiting," Rodewald says. She provides lunch for those sessions.

5. Borrow expertise from other companies

Murabito meets monthly with his counterparts at four other Boston-area pharmaceutical companies to discuss key issues.

The group, dubbed the IT Strategy Forum, expanded that model of collaboration and sharing to their staffs, sending workers to one another's companies for brief stints to learn from what's happening there.

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