In Soft Job Market, Investment in Training Is Safe Bet

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2002-01-07 Print this article Print

Peter Coffee: For technical staff and their managers alike, this might be the best time in quite some time to be looking at both the opportunities and the requirements for developing new skills in the coming year.

When people use the phrase, "last in, first out" (or LIFO), it would be nice if they were talking about warehouse management or inventory accounting. In todays economy, sad to say, the label often refers to people: The staff most recently hired are the first to be let go, putting a damper on the aggressive mobility of technical personnel that marked the mid- to late-1990s. "New kid on the block" takes on a different, more ominous tone when its the chopping block—and heads must roll. There is one bright side, though, to LIFO: Managers might feel that training their technical people has become a better investment when those people are less likely to parlay that expensive training into a better-paying job with another employer—before the company that paid the bill has gotten anything back. For technical staff and their managers alike, this might be the best time in quite some time to be looking at both the opportunities and the requirements for developing new skills in the coming year.
What skills should be the focus of staff development? If its possible to generalize, the overall enterprise attitude seems to be a conservative "Lets get more from what we already have," replacing the previous "Lets build something new." Developing and integrating existing databases, for example, might look like a more attractive proposition than making a major bottom-up commitment to a packaged CRM system. And people on hand who know the business can better lead an effort to identify and model business processes, and can better respond to the increased demands (especially in federal agencies) for rigorous ROI analysis, compared to the newly hired or to outside contract workers.
If CRM packages seem to be in disfavor, there are other packages rising higher on IT agendas: Content management packages for internal portals and external Web sites are becoming more important in many IT shops. Application developers are also finding themselves involved in enterprise modeling efforts that extend upstream of the application requirements phase to look at business goals and priorities, encouraging exploration of these facilities in products such as Microsofts Visual Studio Enterprise Architect or Popkin Software and Systems Inc.s System Architect 8.5. Developer training is also a crucial priority for platform proponents such as Sun and Microsoft, so its illuminating to look at the way each company approaches this strategic task. Microsoft DevDays, last November, offered developers a daylong program in any of 32 U.S. cities. Suns Tech Days, held on various dates from last October through this coming May, is a two-day program—but only offered in eight locations, and only one of those a US city (Washington, D.C.). Yes, Suns program is free while Microsofts costs $99 to attend, but a local event has its own inherent economies of money and time—and ROI applies to training, as to every other element of IT in this challenging time. E-mail eWEEK Technology Editor Peter Coffee
Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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