IT Training Means Everyone In Today's Offices

IT Training Means Everyone In Today's Offices

By Calli Schmidt, Contributing Writer

In the modern and often frenzied world of the information technology contractor, one of the great ironies facing high-tech companies is that their administrative staffs often have trouble keeping up with the latest innovations.

The top companies are pulling and pushing the rest of the world into a brave new age where IT systems can, and do, change by the month, if not by the minute. Their consultants, manning the trenches in government agencies around the Beltway and elsewhere, have the technical skills and knowledge to help move their clients forward with the latest Web-based applications.

Meanwhile, the new clerk down in accounts receivable can swing a mean spreadsheet, but has no clue how to search the Internet, let alone customize a toolbar in Microsoft Word. How do these employees, the ones who run the day-to-day operations, keep pace with the transformation?

These days, "it's not just the highly technical computer programmer or engineer" who is expected to keep up with emerging technology, according to Rosalind Doctor, executive director for learning services at Telcordia Technology, a subsidiary of Science Applications International Corp. in San Diego. It is nearly everyone else working for IT companies as well.

A number of companies are looking at new ways to offer education to their employees, especially those whose jobs, at least for now, do not require advanced technical skills. Raytheon Co. in Lexington, Mass., is a typical example.

"Raytheon really pushes training. It's much more expensive not to train employees than to train them," said Dominique Huff, training administrator for Raytheon's 1,700 employees at its Falls Church, Va., location.

If a Raytheon worker must learn a new programming language or software program, Raytheon can gather employees with similar needs to form a study group. The group meets at lunch time, and the company provides the room, textbooks or training manuals and a free meal.

Huff also sends employees to programs provided by outside companies or colleges for job-related training if Raytheon cannot find someone on staff, she said.

For employees interested in software, programming languages or other subjects that are not related to their jobs ? or if they want to learn more about investing programs or retirement planning ? Raytheon sponsors lunch-time learning programs, Huff said.

The free programs are announced via e-mail, and more popular courses are repeated until all employees who have expressed an interest have had a chance to attend. Now, training experts in other Raytheon offices are looking at the Falls Church training programs to see if they can work in other sites, she said.

At KPMG, employees are expected to keep abreast of technological innovations with a number of Web- or CD-ROM-based training programs available on Kworld, the firm's intranet system, according to Doug Harts, senior manager for KPMG Consulting's federal practice in McLean, Va.

Last year, a companywide mandate that all employees become Internet savvy led to a course called Internet 101, he said.

"Every single person in the firm, from the administrative people up through and including the senior-level partner," participated in the program, which covered the basics of how the Internet works, definitions of terms such as e-commerce and Web-enable, and what it means to have a secure transaction, according to Harts.

This way, he added, "KPMG can say to our customers [that] everybody has an appreciation of what it means to be building solutions for the Internet, which is what we do for our customers."

Administrative coordinators who are not involved in the technical aspects of a particular consulting job but want to understand what their group is working on can also take, for instance, a one-week Microsoft NT course "to give them an appreciation for that technology" and thus serve customers better, Harts said.

Employees also may take advantage of KWorld distance-learning courses and company-supplied CD-ROMS. However, unless it directly relates to their jobs, such training is on their own time, he said.

At SAIC, company officials are finding that ISSAIC, its internal Web presence, is especially useful for online course registration and training programs because, like other large corporations in the industry, it has so many field offices, and employees are "dispersed all over the world," said Jeanette Graebener, SAIC's East Coast regional manager for corporate professional development.

SAIC offers more than 350 computer-based training courses that employees can use on the job and also sells courses on CD-ROMs for employees to take home, she said.

"We're most pleased with the fact that we have the availability to provide the computer-based training to every employee in the company," she said.

At OAO Corp. in Greenbelt, Md., an enterprise solutions provider for the IT industry and government, officials tout OAO University, a "virtual campus" of online software and programming training for company employees, said Eileen Mowle, director of corporate communications. "Everyone from shipping clerk to program manager can take courses," she said.

In an average month, there are 250 OAO University course completions among the company's 2,000 employees.

Mowle also pointed to one obvious benefit of working for a high-tech company: The place is usually crawling with experts, so it is hard to fall through the cracks.

"If you have questions almost everybody can answer them," she said. "I think everybody has somebody they can call."

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