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How to get the right IT training for you and your team

Most people would agree that being computer literate is a very useful skill. Being able to use a computer to manage accounts, write letters and complete invoicing will save a lot of time and money. But how do you go about getting the right training for your business needs?

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Most people would agree that being computer literate is a very useful skill. Being able to use a computer to manage accounts, write letters and complete invoicing will save a lot of time and money. But how do you go about getting the right IT training for your business needs? The cost of IT training can vary enormously. There is a lot of free material available on the internet, especially on software websites such as microsoft.com. Alternatively, you may decide to attend a formal classroom-based training course that may cost £150 – £300 per day, depending on the class you attend. What is good IT training? Good IT training is delivered at the right time, at the right pace and in the right way for you to achieve immediate business benefits, such as learning how to use a spreadsheet application more effectively or learning about a specific technology so that you can sell your services in that particular area. Some small businesses offer training as an incentive for people to join their company. Consider a contractual agreement which states that employees must pay back a percentage of the training cost if they leave within a set period. Training delivery methods – Not everyone can learn effectively sitting down in a classroom. There are now a number of ways we can learn about IT, all of which have benefits and drawbacks. Ultimately it is up to you and your team to decide the best method for you: Long-term classroom- and/or work-based course – most commonly offered in the Further Education sector. Day-release and evening-class options may exist. Typical costs – Typically a cheap option and you may even find some free courses. Duration – Varies from a month to years. One-off or short-term classroom courses – a popular offering from IT vendors and private training providers. Typical costs – High: £150 per day is not unusual. Duration – Usually limited to a few days. Consultant-led training – typically offered by experts who will come into your place of work to train your staff. Typical costs – Consultancy fees can be £500+ per day, which is expensive unless you're training several members of staff. Duration – Set by you. Cost is probably the limiting factor. Distance learning, CD- or book-based learning – good for self-starters and possibly a cheaper option in terms of outlay. It may be easier to fit around a busy work day. Typical costs – Depends on the option chosen, but should be cheaper than person-to-person teaching. Duration – Depends on content. Self-help/Ad hoc – for self-starters happy to learn by 'absorbing' information from books, magazines and the web. Not as structured or as purposeful as the other methods, but it can result in some skilled people. Buying IT training As with any investment a small business makes, the cost of training needs to be measured against the return you will get. There are some simple steps you can take to ensure you invest in the right training. You will need to assess the skills of you and your team to see where the knowledge gaps may be. You could consider using tools to evaluate these skills such as the e-skills Passport. Establish realistic expectations for what you expect attendees to be able to achieve during the training. The internet is the obvious place to look for training courses and providers. Formal training portals like BTP, Training Pages, or parts of larger portals, like Yahoo!, are good if you're just starting. If you're looking for training in the products of a specific vendor, e.g. Microsoft or Adobe, the company's website may have listings of its accredited training. Training providers do vary in the style and approach they take. Potential questions to ask include: What materials will the candidates be able to retain after the training? What qualifications or certifications does the trainer possess? What certifications or qualifications does the training provide or help the candidate towards? If it's a classroom course, what facilities are available? What is the trainer-to-student ratio? What scope will students have to dictate the material covered? Some training providers will offer very competitive prices if you agree to purchase a set amount of training upfront. For some businesses these deals make a lot of sense, but you shouldn't agree to take on more training than you are comfortable with. As with any major purchase, think through the business benefits and consider your purchase wisely. Other things to consider about IT training Check the competence of potential trainers with references from previous jobs. Select the right people in the organisation to train. For example, if you have one expert who does much of the work in a certain field, consider training another person to mitigate the risk of him/her leaving rather than concentrating more of your businesses skills in a single person. Ask if separate learning materials need to be provided or if they are included in the cost, and incorporate their costs at the comparison stage. Staff need to be free of distractions to absorb on-site training. This can be particularly difficult in the case of a single skilled IT person who is responsible for supporting an entire organisation and is constantly being interrupted by other members of staff. You should set clear boundaries and establish 'do-not-disturb' time for the training to take place. The importance of being given an opportunity to rapidly apply training after it has been followed cannot be stressed enough. Applying the skills learned quickly reinforces them, and stops them from forgotten. It's not fair to assume that a person who was trained six months ago in a particular skill, but has not yet had an opportunity to apply it, is still competent in it.

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