In these dog days of summer, David Delps lawn isnt the only thing drying up. As the economy languishes and tech budgets remain stagnant, company funds for IT training and certification have shrunken to a trickle. As a result, IT professionals such as Delp are caught in a frustrating position: either shell out money from their own pockets or watch their hard-won skills wither on the vine.
"Over the last three years, Ive spent thousands on maintaining the certifications that Ive earned, without reimbursement," said Delp, a systems engineer for Nelson Keystone Inc., a pre-press industry equipment supplier based in Phoenix. "Ive gained one new certification and lost three major ones due to recertification requirements that my employer refuses to meet. Were expected to keep up on the technologies of today but on our own time. Whats wrong with this picture?"
Its not rosy, agree IT training analysts and providers. According to an April study conducted by International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass., corporate spending on training has slowed considerably. IDC analysts have revised downward by 8.5 percent the companys estimate of last years spending on external IT training and education, from $12.9 billion to $11.8 billion.
There are some alternatives for those IT workers who are turning their pockets inside out in their quest to keep skills up-to-date. One option is a variety of private and government loans and grants. IT people should also consider availing themselves of less-expensive alternatives to classroom learning, such as CD- and Internet-based training materials.
Indeed, experts say IT people are turning to affordable training materials in record numbers. "Weve seen a tremendous rise in spending on our virtual training," said Eric Goldfarb, CIO of Global Knowledge Network Inc., a conglomerate of training centers based in Cary, N.C. Its easy to see why: An MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) certification course at a Global Knowledge site costs $2,700, but doing it as a self-study from a CD costs $2,200 with no travel expenses or days away from work.
Nelson Keystones Delp has over the past year paid $500 out of pocket to polish up his Apple Certified System Administrator certification and $600 for courses to enhance his MCSE status. But he shies away from the prospect of laying out the $8,000 he estimates it would cost for him to acquire Windows NT 2000 certification.
Kay Brickley has taken out a $10,000 private loan that shes using to pay for her MCSE certification. The loan has a variable rate set at 3.5 percent over prime, giving her an initial annual percentage rate of 9 percent. She applied for the loan at ITloan.com. Brickley, a salesperson for a fuel-equipment supplier in Southern California, didnt approach her employer about paying for training, since she didnt think the company would support her career shift. Brickley set up the loan so she pays small monthly installments for two years, with a balloon payment at the end. By that time, she might have a new job in IT at another company.
Some lower-interest loans are available via federal government programs, although youll have to meet varying criteria to score one. Sallie Mae, a private corporation that administers federally guaranteed student loans of all kinds, has special programs set aside for lifelong learning and technical training. Career Training Loans carry an interest rate as low as 1 percent over prime. (See salliemae.com for more details.)
Joseph Grant received a $16,000 retraining grant through a workers compensation program administered through the state of California following a disabling knee injury sustained at his job at a pharmaceuticals plant in April 2000. Although hed had some IT training in the past, he wasnt working in that field when he was injured, so he could qualify for the retraining funds. The program is a godsend for people like Grant, although the evaluation and assessment process required can take time (Grant has just begun course work, two years after his accident), and the money is restricted to people who are changing careers.
Other helpful government programs are not widely known, said Bob Koenig, president of a New Horizons Computer Learning Centers Inc. learning center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Koenig has helped several companies in the region apply for NAFTA-TAA, or North American Free Trade Agreement-Transitional Adjustment Assistance, grants. These Department of Labor grants are earmarked for employees of companies adversely affected by the governments open-trade agreements. Companies exporting jobs to cheaper labor markets overseas or that are being undercut by cheap imports can qualify for training funds for their employees (see www.doleta.gov).
Many employers worry about spending on training, said New Horizons chief operating officer, Martin Bean, in Anaheim, Calif. "What if I spend money on training and the employee leaves? they say. I ask, What if you dont train them and they stay?"
Nelson Keystones Delp said he wishes his employer could see the sense in that. Ever since his companys president eliminated the IT training budget, Delp and his co-workers have had to outsource such IT functions as Windows NT server installations. "If hed spend a few hundred dollars on travel and expenses, one of us could train to do it. Instead, hell spend thousands having someone else who has the training do it."
Stephanie Wilkinson is a free-lance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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