The Unanswered Challenge: Retraining Rather Than Displacing U.S. Tech Workers

    For as long as I’ve been covering the IT sector and speaking with IT professionals about the challenges they confront, a perennial sore spot has been training. IT professionals rarely seem to be satisfied with the training opportunities made available by their employers, especially when it comes to training in the technical skills they need to keep themselves in demand.

    An employee training survey recently conducted by ON24, a provider of platforms for virtual training services, did little to mitigate those concerns. The survey found that although the technology sector was second only to the medical/pharmaceutical sector in the percentage of respondents who rated employee training programs as effective, that percentage for the technology sector was only 30 percent. There’s clearly a large population of IT professionals that’s longing for more effective training.

    I discussed the survey last week with Tom Masotto, vice president of product management at ON24, who said the training areas seen as most valuable by the respondents across industries were on-boarding (training new hires); and leadership development. It is in those areas that the services provided by ON24 are in highest demand, Masotto said. He noted that 25 percent to 35 percent of spending for training is in leadership-development areas.

    But what about demand for technical skills training? I mentioned to Masotto that a few years ago I spoke with Ron Hovsepian, then CEO of Novell, who told me that he had replaced 25 percent of his work force in the preceding 12 months in order to gain the new skills he needed, because that was so much cheaper than retraining people. I asked Masotto for his thoughts on that approach, and he indicated that retraining employees in a completely new skill set isn’t what the services provided by ON24 are about:

    I think the prevailing sentiment is that employee turnover is very expensive, and it’s far more cost-efficient to keep the good employees that you hire. One way to do that, of course, is through training. So I’m curious if [the Novell case] was more a re-shifting of the company, based upon the needs for a different skill set. We’re seeing more training of employees to basically further their career goals, more so than a complete retraining of employees in a completely new skill set. So it’s more evolutionary training than a total shifting of skills.

    Service providers like ON24 are doing a good job in helping to increase the consistency, effectiveness, and convenience of training for a global work force, especially in the areas of on-boarding and leadership development. That’s a good thing, because training in those areas is no doubt essential in a well-managed organization.

    But the question left unanswered is the one that keeps way too many IT professionals awake at night: Is there a cost-effective way to retrain IT employees (especially older workers) in new technical skill sets so they can keep their jobs rather than be displaced by talent from elsewhere? When a training services provider figures that one out, it will have performed a service that will make those “effective training” numbers soar off the charts.

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