With the frenetic pace at which IT is growing and developing, specialised training for people at all levels of the industry has become a necessity. Competition between companies providing training services and certification has stiffened in the last few years. Today, the issues of flexibility in providing these services, and the variety of training modules provided, are paramount. By Helen CousensSteve Ross, general manager for Com Tech Education Services, believes there are a myriad of reasons for training: "Good companies invest in their staff, and well-trained and certified staff send a very strong message to the marketplace." In other words, in today's climate well trained and certified staff are a valuable asset because of the recognition and respect by buyers of specialised certification qualifications, which represent a guarantee of knowledge and expertise.
Ross also maintains that investment in staff by an employer acts as an incentive scheme, by indicating that a company is interested in the on-skilling of individuals - a sign of respect and dedication to employees. While some may fear that investment in training will eventuate in staff moving off into other positions, Ross argues that the opposite is the rule.
Vasilis Karbouris, general manager of the Training Solutions Group at Educom, agrees. "Resellers need properly qualified staff, and they need technical expertise to get, and keep, business. What is the point of having a lot to offer without properly trained and certified staff? Educated staff heightens your bottom-line results.
"Skilled staff are the key to success in the IT industry, in order to provide quality implementation, and support of the technology used," he said.
The '90s student
Investment in training comes at a cost, and the first of these is time. Few people can afford to take time off during the working week to attend courses more than a day long. For this reason, most of the leading providers of both courseware and training are structuring their training outside these hours.
Appcon, distributor and manufacturer of training courseware, sees that customers are looking for "just-in-time" courses consisting of specific and short modules tailored particularly to their needs.
Com Tech Education Services has made the time factor a major consideration in the formation of their courses. "Our students want training which is directly relevant back in the workplace. They need to learn these skills quickly and get the payback immediately," says Ross.
Com Tech Education Services is now offering evening training courses from 6Ð9.30pm, in addition to day-time classes. Testing on Saturdays is an option if no other time is convenient.
The need for certification
Certification is now a widely recognised industry standard. Novell, Microsoft, Lotus and IBM all have certification programs and centres within their organisations focused solely on the training and delivery of programs.
From all points of view certification ensures a level of competence and a measure of reliability in the channel.
Lotus Education is focused on providing training for individuals and businesses through individually created programs. It has 33 Lotus Authorised Education Centres (LAECs) in Australia, which are organisations certified by Lotus to provide their professional certification courses. The Certified Lotus Professional Program (CLP) includes CLP Application Developer, Principal Application Developer, CLP System Administrator, Principal System Administrator and Certified Lotus Instructor.
Microsoft's Authorised Technical Education Centres (ATECs) are individual organisations authorised to undertake Microsoft certification programs. There are 27 ATECs in Australia.
A reseller needs two Microsoft Certified Professionals on staff to become a Certified Network Reseller (CNR), a new development between Microsoft and its Australian channel a year ago.
The Professional Certification Program from IBM provides the knowledge required to be a computer support professional. The program is flexible and lets the candidate prepare for and take tests at his/her own rate. Like Microsoft, Lotus and Novell, IBM stipulates that you need to pass a series of exams before becoming certified.
Novell also offers a range of certifications. Perhaps newest in the range is the Novell Certified Internet Professional, one of several courses incorporating the Internet into its curriculum. The CNE, or certified Novell engineer, is the certification conferred by many of its courses. Again, exams must be sat.
So where do I train?
The following is a brief run-down on some of the training centres that offer specialised training in the IT industry. This list is by no means exhaustive, but rather indicates the variety of on-skilling options available.
Established in 1989, Educom is an authorised training provider for Novell, Microsoft, Lotus and Symantec. It also provides training for Internet, intranet and a wide variety of PC application courses. Educom has offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.
On top of this, Educom has recently opened its Human Resources division, with the focus of providing a choice of courses covering staffing requirements. This includes courses in business management; effective time management; customer service; negotiation skills; project management skills; telephone skills; and recruitment skills, among others.
Educom believes heavily in the classroom as the most beneficial place to be trained, saying face to face training provides the kind of interaction and troubleshooting which is often one of the most instructive components of a course.
Com Tech Education Services
Recent developments at Com Tech Education Services include the investment of $2 million in new training facilities in all capital cities in Australia and New Zealand. Com Tech is the only national high-end technical training company in Australia, with facilities in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra, and New Zealand. Ross believes that this gives Com Tech the leading edge in being able to undertake a national roll-out for a company.
The new training facilities at Com Tech include classrooms, training labs, lighting and AV equipment. In Sydney, the new facility is located at Wynyard, in the heart of the CBD.
"As a result of the high quality of our technical instructors, Com Tech Education Services is the eighth largest Novell Authorised Education Centre in the world, the eleventh largest Lotus Authorised Education Centre in the world and the fastest growing Microsoft Authorised Technical Education Centre in the Asia-Pacific region," Ross said.
Com Tech's policy on instructors is simple: all of their 48 instructors are employed by Com Tech. As employees of the company, Com Tech believes instructors are more dedicated to their jobs and Com Tech as a whole - more so than independent consultants could be expected to be.
Victorian Academy of Technology and Creative Arts (Vatca)Vatca is the sub-distributor for Victoria for The Image Depot (see page 30), and provides its help desk across Australia. It is also the official training centre for several of its products, including Easybase, Accent translators, and Internet with an Accent. Vatca provides training for both resellers and end users. The rate is $25 per hour, with the first hour being free.
Vatca provides on-site, "on-the-spot" training of products, which takes on average 30 mins to an hour. The training includes instructions on how to demonstrate the product and a quick demonstration of the products. Resellers are taught, in a minimum amount of time, how to effectively sell the products provided by The Image Depot. As well as on-site training, Vatca conducts classroom sessions for both resellers and end users. On average the classes run for one to two hours, but Paul Connelly, executive sales marketing manager at Vatca stresses the flexibility of the programs. "We give resellers as much training as they need, in a time-frame and venue most appropriate to them."
Vatca echoes the sentiments of others in the industry about the need for flexible times for training. In Victoria, the company offers training 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also tailors its courses to the needs of clients.
"In our experience, clients know what they need, and they are in a position to indicate the areas they need training in," said Connelly.
Appcon is the sole Austral-asian distributor of the Logical Operations range of courseware. Because of the range of courseware available, Appcon believes that it can provide a tailor-made courseware format usually within 24 hours of being ordered. Like Vatca, Appcon believes the IT professional knows what they need training in, they just need to choose the right type of training - whether a one-day course or multi-day training - the right level of training and the most suitable type of products.
Appcon supplies courseware on all major DOS, Windows, Windows 95 and Mac products as well as networking and connectivity products. Printed books and manuals are available, as are licence packs which enable clients to produce their own tailor-made manuals. A copy master is available in paper or electronic form, along with the custom CLASSroom Library, which lets the client choose the lessons needed from a CD-ROM and package them together into a unique training program.
On a slightly different level, TAFE in NSW now offers specialised courses in IT, in particular its Certificate II in Information Technology, which is a six-month full-time or 18-month part-time course. It will be on offer in TAFE colleges in NSW from July.
The course aims to develop common skills and knowledge needed in the IT industry, and participants may either be registered trainees or mainstream students. Employers receive subsidies for traineeships, and trainees are placed in a structured program that can be undertaken in both on and off-the-job study.
Students undertake a "major", being either Computer applications, Computer sales, or Computer support. As well as these majors, Susan Locke, program manager, Computer User Services, says the course is structured to provide an understanding of the structure of the IT industry and education in workplace issues, including working safely and ethically, prioritisation, team work and communication skills.