Stopping the train drain
The views put forward by Peter Kidson in last week's Letters are certainly relevant in a time when skills shortages seem to be reported in the press on a daily basis. Having spent the last 19 years in the UK training industry, primarily in IT of one form or another, I have seen radical changes in attitude towards training, and its provision and financing, in the UK.
I now work for a large UK training provider (CTEC) and have recently gone through two training cycles; Novell CNI/CNE and A plus certification.
Both of these programmes were funded by my employer, with the proviso that the training costs will be paid back on a pro rata basis should I choose to leave before the end of my contract. This is, and has been for a long time, an accepted method of avoiding the "train them to leave for a better job elsewhere" syndrome, but is somewhat suggestive of a bullying method of hanging on to staff.
For those not already in the employ of organisations willing to fund, on any level, their training, self-financing may be the only alternative.
The costs of becoming a CNI/MCSE or whatever may be prohibitive but various schemes and loans can be sought to alleviate this. That we still have such an alleged skills crisis in this country suggests, perhaps, that this is not enough. Training always has been a contentious point in this country with large numbers of managers, especially of small companies, still insisting that it is unnecessary and thus relegating it to the bottom of the priorities list.
The real point that managers and directors should be addressing is why employees leave after training? Is it just to get extra cash or is it a fundamental shortcoming in the working environment provided to their employees? Poaching apart, where absurd sums of money are offered to ready-trained personnel, making the newly trained employee feel happy, wanted and an important member of the team may forestall some of the attrition we see in IT these days. If more people are trained and kept happy by employers then the attrition rate should drop, organisations will have staff with a deeper understanding of in-place systems and increased chances of operating their IT on a more stable basis.
Via the Net
I am not as sure that it is rational for companies to pay indirectly for training by recruiting new, trained staff as opposed to training existing employees. These new staff will cost more in terms of higher salaries, recruitment costs (adverts, agency fees, HR time) and are rarely productive within three months of arrival.
The reason that many companies don't pay to train staff is much more mundane. Too many IT staff are deadwood. If IT were subject to the forest fires that sweep through most professions then much of this deadwood would be cleared and everyone (but the deadwood) would benefit.
Two good IT people easily outperform five demotivated ones. But two good people on a project with five demotivated ones would be less productive than the two together - reverse synergy. Unfortunately deadwood is not capable of moving between companies so usually rises to its own level of incompetence and reaches supervisor or manager position. Once there, deadwood infects everything with its own mediocrity - so potential talent is stifled.
I disagree with people who say that there is a skills shortage, good people can acquire new skills very quickly. There is a good people shortage and to confuse the two is futile.
The obvious answer to the training problem is, as Peter Kidson put it in last week's Letters, contractual. As I've been contracting for several years now I can see the energising impact of contracts. Why not let employees pay for agreed training but draw up a contract so that employers will refund the costs if the employee is still with the company a set length of time later, say two years. To make sure that newly trained and motivated people aren't just hanging on for their costs before leaving, companies should force them to demonstrate their new powers - and if they can't companies should sack them. Good people can always get another job. Deadwood should also be ruthlessly cut.
People who work hard and are good at their jobs should not be hampered by the lazy and stupid. For too long IT has been held back by an external impression shaped by the deadwood - cut the deadwood and you will solve the skills crisis.
Via the Net
Earlier this year I was made redundant. I have been trying to find an opening in IT since then. A friend of mine from Bristol, who ironically was made redundant shortly after I was, phoned me up and told me about a Y2K course his local DHS had made available to him. He told me to go down to my local office and sign-up for a similar opportunity in Portsmouth.
Nothing so simple. My local DHS office explained that these courses are only available in "Areas of high unemployment ... like the Southwest and the Northeast." I responded with a vitriolic "Don't they have the Y2K problem in Hampshire?" They suggested that I could move to Bristol or other areas of high unemployment to get on the course. Naturally enough, I thought this was just taking the mickey.
According to my friend, the said course kept being deferred and then was taken over by another "Training organisation" and then the course was eventually cancelled.
Via the Net
Martin Lynch, editor responds: Seeing as Tony Blair's Bug Busters campaign has been a total washout so far, the courses are now going to be free, according to George Mudie, education and employment minister, last week.
If you are still interested in free Y2K training call your local Business Link on 0345 567765 or call the Action 2000 Helpline on 0845 601 2000.
Alternatively visit the Action 2000 Web site http://www.bug2000.co.uk.
However, being the government, don't expect the Web site to have any updated info. You are better off calling.
Look before you leap
With reference to the Postcard from America in PC Week, 13 October, I agree that IT budgets are larger than ever, and unfortunately it is difficult to justify the ongoing costs. However, businesses should think very carefully before they leap into IT.
The example quoted of hiring 10 more costly network administrators instead of 30 to 40 analysts/clerks is unfortunate. I can think of many instances where the clerks would form a cheaper, more stable and flexible solution to the problem. They could displace a whole heap of caller/telephone integration and computerised database applications by the judicious use of telephone, folders and filing cabinets. Yes the response might be slower, but more friendly, approachable and less prone to "Oh! Unfortunately the system is down at the moment ..."
The cost would be about the same as the IT needed to install, administer, outsource, repair and keep the replacement computer system going. However the downtime costs, and equipment and software replacement costs every three years is going to tip the balance.
Yes there will be many instances where the computer will rule supreme and is worth the extra costs, but just using it to replace direct labour is not looking as financially attractive as it was.
Via the Net
It is difficult to understand why Microsoft gets so excited about licensing and piracy in the commercial environment.
These days networks are almost ubiquitous in such companies and Microsoft supplies the operating system and usually the network. Since it is so concerned, and such a responsible company, it is obvious that the software itself will attempt to assist the user in policing the various complicated licence agreements. Surely Microsoft would be negligent not to take some precautions against widespread piracy when it would be so easy for it to do so.
At installation the licensing information will of course be checked and then stored. When the software is run it will obviously interrogate the other workstations on the network and politely inform the user if there are other users using the same serial number without the required licence.
If the software has been carefully thought out, as we would of course expect from the world's "leading supplier", it may even tell us the user name, and workstation designation of the other user so that we could quickly sort out any oversight.
So relax and wait for those helpful people at Microsoft to assist the user in staying legal. Surely no warning equals no problem, or have I missed something very basic?
I will now extract my tongue from my cheek and get back to some development work using the wonderful Borland Delphi development system, which really does help you to get your work done.
Via the Net
A 17in monitor weekly
Roll up for your chance to win a stunning 17in Taxan ErgoVision 730 TCO95 monitor every week! PC Week will be giving you the chance to walk away with a 17in FST monitor, worth #349, and all you have to do is write a letter. Each week we'll be giving away a monitor to the best, or most relevant, letter we receive. Letters should be about something that has been covered in PC Week and relating to some aspect of the industry that you feel strongly about. So next time you have an opinion on what's happening out there - serious or amusing - write to us and put yourself in with a chance to win. Send your Emails to [email protected], or your letters by post to: PC Week, Letters, VNU Business Publications, 32-34 Broadwick St, London WIA 2HG.
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The monitor has a horizontal dot pitch of 0.27mm and a top resolution of 1280 x 1024 with a refresh rate of up to 64Hz - it also runs at 1024 x 768 at up to 86Hz. The front control panel allows users to easily control features such as on-screen functions, colour, brightness, degauss, adjust and contrast among others. The monitor measures 411(w) x 424(h) x 462(d)mm and weighs in at 18Kg. The ErgoVision is also compliant with TCO95, CE Mark, TUV GS and Ergo, NUTEK and Energy Star.
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