With a good track record in permanent employment, and following five years contracting in a mainframe environment, Alistair Wood found that the market for his existing skills had suddenly died.
"I'm in dire need of retraining," he says. "I'm willing to learn new skills and even accept a radical reduction in income, but which way should I turn?"
Wood's dilemma is a common one. If you work in IT, keeping up to date with the most sought-after technology skills is one of the biggest challenges you can face. And, unfortunately, a pedigree in the industry simply isn't enough to ensure that you'll always be in a position to pick and choose the best jobs on the market.
Asking your employer to send you on a course to brush up on the latest IT skill, however, is unlikely to be well received. Unless your boss can see how he/she's going to gain from investing in your personal development, the chances are they will only see it as a way for you to enhance your CV, while at the same time raising your financial stakes in the IT recruitment game.
So what are the alternatives? You could take a week's holiday, spend several hundred pounds on a classroom-based IT training course, or buy a book. But have you considered logging on to the internet for a virtual learning experience?
The concept of online learning isn't new. But US-based training company VTC has come up with a compelling alternative and offers more than 100 technology-focused courses at a fixed price, which seriously undercuts the competition.
At $25 a month for a subscription to VTC's entire portfolio of online training courses, the proposition is, on the face of it at least, a cost-effective option to staying ahead of the game. But is it worth the money?
The task at hand
The online courses are based on audio screen cams - or 'movies' - where training is delivered by course tutors who are experts in specific technologies. When you log on to a course you get a list of chapters including details of the total running time. Each course introduction assumes you know little about the subject, so the complexity of training material increases as the course progresses.
"The focus of each chapter is show and tell - as if someone was sitting at your side telling you what's happening," explains VTC founder Mark Vernon.
Grasping a language such as C++ is not trivial, but the tutors work through practical examples, show how the code works, and highlight the effects of syntax errors or failing to following language rules, all of which helps to reinforce the learning experience.
How about a Windows 2000 Professional course? Invest eight hours of your own time and learn how to upgrade from NT4 or Windows 95/98 to Windows 2000; how to use system configuration tools, networking and printing with Windows 2000, security and monitoring; and how to use the Registry, among other topics.
Vernon himself readily admits that relying solely on VTC courses won't make you an expert. But what the courses do offer is the opportunity to gather information quickly, cheaply and in a structured way that allows you to practise what you learn immediately. It's up to students to invest their own time in gaining hands-on experience.
In for the skill
The VTC Online University is not alone in its attempts to tap into the huge potential market for IT reskilling. However, other online training offerings, such as MacAcademy and the ABC University, offer a richer learning experience with a greater degree of interactivity together with questions and exercises to test your progress.
MacAcademy offers 42 IT courses, a dozen of which you can sample online at www.macacademy.co.uk, although you'll need to buy the training CD at £34.95 to complete each one.
The ABC University, meanwhile, also offers a fixed price subscription model with access to more than 300 online courses (www.wbcnet.net) under the headings of End User Desk Computing, End User Business Skills Development, End User Home and Small Business, Technical Web Development and Technical General.
Each course group has between 50 and 112 classes which are all interactive and come with pre-class skill assessment, exercises and tests. One year's subscription costs $125, or $204 for the technical course group. VTC's Online University is an inexpensive option by comparison. The main challenge is transferring that knowledge into experience on a real project.
- Ability to gather information quickly
- Information easy to digest
- The first three chapters of each course are free so you can try before you buy.
- Limited interaction
- Limited multimedia experience
- No ability to test learning.
For more information see www.vtco.com
Acton's warnings come as Facebook is embroiled in one of the biggest data scandals in history
The unmanned tanks could eventually be kitted with AI systems
Dubbed I-MacEtch, it will help meet demand for more powerful nano-tech
GPU firm's research unit for self-driving cars is growing