An IT Director's Guide to Finding the Right IT Training Provider
With so many options, finding the IT training provider that meets your organization's unique needs can be tricky. Here's what to look for when evaluating your options.
IT leaders are increasingly prioritizing training and development — and it's easy to see why. In the era of digital transformation, IT has become a key strategic driver for many organizations. The rapid rate of technological change means IT pros need continuous learning to stay on top of the latest trends and ahead of the competition. Plus, research has repeatedly linked training with improved employee retention and performance.
In Skillsoft's IT Skills and Salary Report, 72 percent of IT decision-makers said their companies provide formal training, a 12 percent increase from the previous year. Additionally, 55 percent of IT leaders said training was a key part of their plans to close their companies' IT skills gaps.
But developing a tech training program is no simple matter. There's no one-size-fits-all blueprint because each company has its own unique needs to consider: the preferences of employees, the specific skills they need to cultivate, budgetary constraints, and much more.
That's why the first and most important step is finding the right IT training provider. The right partner can help design and deliver learning experiences that solve your company's particular problems. Yet, with so many IT training options out there, how can IT leaders find the best fit for their organizations?
This brief guide is meant to make the search a little easier by using benchmark data and industry research to give IT leaders a sense of direction.
Understand Your Challenges
The quest for the right IT training provider begins with understanding your challenges. What problems are you looking to solve with training? When you can clearly articulate your business challenges, you can evaluate potential IT training providers against that criteria.
The more specific you can be, the better. For example, if you need to close some skills gaps, identify the particular skills you need. "IT skills" is broad. "Cloud computing" is better. "AWS architecture" is best, as it gives you a specific learning experience to look for in every provider you consider.
Of course, challenges will vary from business to business. Still, it can be useful to look at some of the biggest challenges IT leaders are facing right now and how IT training providers might help with each. Even if these aren't the challenges your organization needs to tackle, they can give you some insight into evaluating training providers in light of your business needs.
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Closing Skills Gaps
In the IT Skills and Salary Report, 66 percent of IT leaders said their organizations were dealing with skills gaps. These gaps can have far-reaching repercussions, increase stress on employees, slow down project completion rates, interfere with IT's ability to meet business objectives, and more.
What causes skill gaps? A lot of factors are at work, but the sheer speed of technological change deserves much of the blame. Technology evolves at such a rapid clip that IT pros' skills can quickly become obsolete. Training, then, is a natural solution to closing skills gaps. Connecting employees with the right learning experiences can help their skills stay relevant, allowing the organization to stay competitive.
What to Look for in an IT Training Provider
First, map the IT skills you need to cultivate, including the skills you need today and those you're likely to need in the future. According to the IT Skills and Salary Report, cloud computing, data analytics, AI and machine learning, and cybersecurity are among the most in-demand IT skills today, but yours may vary.
Once you've mapped out the skills you need, look for an IT training provider that offers authoritative, comprehensive content for each of those skills. It's also worth considering the total breadth and depth of the training provider's IT library because you never know for sure what IT skills your organization may need in the future.
Recruiting and Retaining IT Talent
Simply hiring people with the right skills is one of the biggest challenges IT leaders face. It's also one of the major drivers behind skills gaps. And when IT leaders do find talent, it can be difficult to keep them around: More than half of the IT pros surveyed for the IT Skills and Salary Report said they're likely to leave their roles in the next year.
The good news is that training and development can help solve both problems. Compensation was the top reason why IT pros said they were considering leaving, but a lack of learning opportunities was a close second. That means training can both attract new IT talent to your organization and keep your existing talent engaged.
What to Look for in an IT Training Provider
Training will only be an effective recruitment and retention tool if it actually meets employees' needs and preferences. To that end, it's helpful to think about what makes an engaging learning environment. In particular, employees tend to want personalized learning experiences, guidance that helps them connect with the right content, and the option to engage with content in multiple modalities, among other things.
Balancing Training Needs With Business Objectives
When people think about training, they sometimes default to a long-term view: Training helps employees grow so that, in the not-too-distant future, they'll reach their full potential. That's true — but in the meantime, the business does have certain objectives it needs to execute today.
IT training programs need to strike a balance between employees' individual career aspirations and the business's current needs. That can sometimes be harder than it sounds, especially when employees have relatively limited time for training.
What to Look for in an IT Training Provider
As noted above, it's essential that your training provider can cultivate the specific skill sets your business needs. Beyond that, it's also worth considering how training content is delivered. Employees don't always have time to sit for long, formal training programs. They need to be able to access content on the go through mobile apps or mobile device access.
Perhaps even more importantly, employees need to be able to learn in the flow of work — that is, they need to quickly access bite-sized learning opportunities that can be incorporated seamlessly into their days. If an employee runs into a challenge they don't have the skills or knowledge for, learning in the flow of work allows them to gain those new competencies and immediately apply them to the task at hand. Learning in the flow of work draws a direct connection between business objectives and training, ensuring that what employees learn has a real impact on organizational performance.
The Common Traits of Great IT Training Providers
We looked at evaluating IT training providers against specific business challenges, but it can also be helpful to think about training providers in terms of more general criteria. That way, if you come across multiple providers that seem capable of meeting your business needs, you can use these qualities to select the most effective one.
Here are a few hallmarks of great IT training providers:
1. Instructor Quality
On-demand and self-paced learning options are critical for busy IT pros, but they also like having instructor-led training options. In fact, Skillsoft research found that 72 percent of IT professionals prefer instructor-led training when they need to learn work-related skills.
Look for an IT training provider that uses highly credible subject matter experts as instructors. It's a good sign if the provider's instructors hold relevant certifications and have extensive histories of actually practicing in the disciplines they teach.
2. Overall Content Quality
Whether delivered by instructors or accessed on demand, content needs to be comprehensive, up to date, and authoritative.
Look for an IT training provider that regularly updates content to ensure it's always relevant. Also, look at who creates the content. If the content deals with a specific technology, was it created by or in collaboration with the vendors? For example, is the provider's Microsoft Azure training authorized by Microsoft? Content that doesn't deal with a specific technology should be authored by relevant subject matter experts.
Finally, consider how that content is delivered. Does it come in a variety of high-quality formats, like microlearning videos, scenario-based labs, ebooks, and virtual and in-person instructor-led training? Different people learn in different ways, so it's best to have a training provider that offers multiple modalities.
3. Hands-On Practice Opportunities
According to Skillsoft research, hands-on training is the second most important factor that IT pros look for in training programs, behind overall content quality. Hands-on practice opportunities, like labs and simulations, allow learners to move from theory to practice and test their skills in safe environments. They can try things out, learn from their mistakes, and even retain more of what they learn. One report found that average knowledge retention rates are about 5 percent for lectures but 75 percent for hands-on practice.
Which IT Training Provider Is Right for You?
IT leaders have options when it comes to finding an IT training provider — and hopefully, this guide has given you some insight into what to look for.
For additional guidance, check out the IDC MarketScape: U.S. IT Training Services 2023 Vendor Assessment. IDC publishes this report to help leaders in HR and IT quickly assess the pros and cons of providers in the market.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention that IDC named Skillsoft one of the leaders in the IT training services market. In particular, Skillsoft received recognition for its comprehensive library of original and vendor-authorized content, including 28,000 hours of technology and developer instruction, and its blend of virtual and on-demand courses, instructor-led training, hands-on labs, real-world challenges, and certification prep for more than 170 technical certifications.