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Despite a gradual rise in the economy, and funding and fortune that are improving apace for most organizations, making the most out of one's resources remains the watchword of the day. When it comes to squeezing the maximum value out of one's training and employee development dollars in IT organizations, there are all kinds of smart maneuvers that they can undertake to do more with less.
In particular, smart acquisition and management of training and certification resources can pay all kinds of interesting dividends, both for IT departments and their employees. Here are some useful and productive ways to acquire and manage training and certification tools and materials so as to maximize results for minimal expenditures.
Buy the books, build a library
As part of your training and certification support, offer full or partial payment for study materials (study guides, exam crams, and so forth) to employees in exchange for an agreement to surrender them to a departmental library upon earning their credentials. Then, you can check out or offer those materials to other employees who may pursue the same credentials for as long as those materials remain current (usually 1-2 years). After that, they'll still retain at least marginal value as an information resource for all IT employees, or other interested parties who may wish to visit your library to partake of its holdings.
Set up a training and certification wiki
As employees work their way through certification study materials and courses, they'll amass all kinds of interesting information as they bone up for and eventually earn their target credentials. Encourage them to share their best and favorite resources -- web sites, online study groups and user forums -- by contributing to in-house wikis built around specific certification topics or exams. That way, employees can provide guidance and input for those who might wish to follow in their footsteps and they can spare others from wasting time on less-than-stellar resources while steering them toward the really good stuff that truly helps candidates prepare for and pass their certification exams. For credentials that also include a practicum or hands-on component, be sure to get employee input on the best virtual or online lab resources, and information about home lab kits or instructions for building home labs as well. A well-curated collection of such resources can help cert candidates get to work more quickly and productively, and save them time and energy in working their way through a successful certification experience.
Build success upon success
Once an employee earns some credential, you should ask them to prepare and deliver a seminar (or something similar during regular working hours, if that makes sense) to their colleagues and coworkers to help them understand what's involved in crossing such a finish line. Be sure to have your newly-certified speaker explain how much time and effort it took to earn the credential, to point out the best resources available (all documented in your organization's wiki, to be sure), steer interested parties around potential pitfalls, and explain their best tips and tricks for preparation and passing. That way, those who earn the credential can speak for its value and significance, while also helping colleagues follow behind them more effectively. That's how success can follow success, when multiple staff members cover the same certification terrain.
Make mentoring matter
For IT organizations where vendor partnerships require a certain level of certification on staff, or where compelling reasons to encourage or mandate certification are present, it helps to extend the previous item from a single-shot "passing of the torch" to an ongoing mentoring situation. It may make sense to designate the sharpest or most motivated members of your staff to act as early adopters of new certification and training materials, and then to shoulder some responsibility to pass that information on to other members of the staff later on through counseling and mentoring relationships. Best case, this should be part of the mentor's official job duties, and part and parcel of his or her goals and objectives that play into annual reviews, raises and promotions. Worst case, if mentoring is an add-on to official job duties, successful delivery should result in some kind of bonus, raise, or recognition for the mentor to make sure all parties know that their efforts are valued and appreciated.
Help employees keep up with recertification
Most IT certs come with freshness dates nowadays, and the more credentials a person acquires, the more likely they become to let something slip or slide because the press of events and day-to-day responsibilities crowds out longer-term planning. If certification is on your staff radar or objectives, help those staff keep track of their credentials and continuing education or recertification requirements. It's probably a good idea to create some kind of annual or semi-annual report that documents their current status, tracks expiration dates, and keeps up with continuing education credits where applicable. If you help your employees keep track of their status, and schedule for regular maintenance, the possibility of unpleasant surprises is greatly diminished. Consider this a form of enlightened self-interest, particularly for those organizations where employees must keep certifications current, for whatever reasons.
All in all, aggregation and documentation of good training and certification resources can pay terrific dividends for most IT organizations. Put your thinking cap on, and you should be able to come up with additional ideas of your to help leverage what you're already spending time and money on to deliver added value to employees and employer alike.