Thinned IT staffs getting more training

Windows admins lucky enough to keep their jobs while the pink slips fly around them are getting a benefit from these shaky economic times -- more training.

Enterprises probably won't spend much more money on training this year over last year, but IT staffs are smaller. That means the folks on the job will probably get more training on Windows.

IT departments may be gutted by corporate cuts to reduce costs, but the administrators left standing will benefit from additional Windows training programs, said Cushing Anderson, director for learning services at International Data Corp., a Framingham, Mass. market research firm.

Administrators often assume new responsibilities when colleagues are laid off, and the new responsibilities require additional training. Despite the poor economic climate and meager staffs, companies must keep the remaining administrators' skills up to snuff to keep corporate infrastructures running smoothly, Anderson said. Companies realize that their IT professionals need to broaden their understanding of -- and squeeze improved performance from -- technology already in place, he said.

"Organizations are finding [that] there are compelling reasons to keep skills current," Anderson said. "Administrators need to learn how to better use the systems they have."

In the past few years, the amount of money companies spent on training for new technologies took a dive along with spending on new technology. But a large portion of training budgets consistently provides admins with further training on technology they already use, such as Windows, Anderson said.

Money spent on IT education and training is expected to rise only slightly this year. In a recent report, IDC forecast companies to spend $8.3 billion on training in 2003, up from an estimated $8.1 billion in 2002. Spending on training remains down from the $9.5 billion total in 2001, $11.3 billion in 2000 and $9.4 billion in 1999.

Manchester Community College in Manchester, Conn., last year began offering its IT department online training programs instead of in-person courses in an effort to cut costs and expand the knowledge of administrators, said Cathy Manly, the college's director of distance learning.

"Our folks need to be up to date on what's available as well as [on] what we have," she said. The college is studying whether online training programs are effective.

For some companies, certification and training courses are a last resort. Russel Havens, a systems engineer at Novell Inc., said that his company suggests administrators study a technical book instead. If they give it a read and still request training, Novell will pony up for a course.

The training budget has been "pretty tight for a couple of years," he said. He doesn't anticipate the budget loosening this year.

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