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If you know where to look for them, your workplace is full of places to beef up your skills.

The IT industry has never been known for sitting still, so those who aspire to make it their life’s work have to train to keep pace. But what’s the best kind of training and how do you pursue it when the demands of daily work already have you burning the midnight oil?

There are several ways to ensure that you’re keeping up to speed with your clients, company, the industry, and your own professional goals. The training methods that get the most attention are classroom-based and home-based training, but what about the other training opportunities–many of them absolutely free–that are right there in front of you?

For example, I recommend joining professional associations. For our company the Project Management Institute and the Help Desk Institute are worthy organizations, providing certifications and learning opportunities of their own. Your company or industry may value another organization. Speak to your human resources representative to find out.

The other way to provide training opportunities for yourself is to devise a plan for training at the office–a Learn While You Work Program of your very own. You might not think of your day-to-day routine as providing you with training opportunities, but that’s what I mean about thinking outside the box.

Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

* Shadow a co-worker during his or her workday. Pick someone outside your department so you learn what another company department does that you might contribute to some day.

* Accompany a sales person on a sales call. If the salesperson is a good one, he or she will let the potential client do all the talking. You’ll discover what the client’s concerns and goals really are, how your skills can make a difference and what role IT plays in the delivery of the client’s product or project.

* Attend a management staff meeting. Now here’s an eye opener. You’ll learn how IT impacts the company’s strategies, direction and operations. It may be difficult to be included depending on the agenda for the meeting, so it may be a few weeks before you can attend.

* Volunteer to do assignments that are companywide or outside your department. Again the perspective gained will assist you as you provide IT services.

* Go to an in-house seminar if your company provides them.Again, what have you got to lose beside perhaps a lunch hour?

* Develop a relationship with a mentor. This is something you may have to do intentionally, unless you’re lucky enough to get the right person to volunteer to play that role in your career, and most seasoned professionals don’t know to offer unless they are asked.

* Fill in for another employee at a staff meeting. You shouldn’t have trouble finding someone who wouldn’t mind missing a meeting.

* Volunteer to join a team. If your company has a charitable event every year, join in. What they say about getting more than you give is true.

* When you volunteer for assignments, make sure they are ones that will stretch you. That shouldn’t be hard since learning about a new area is always challenging. It will add to your adaptability which is key in the IT profession.

* Increase the scope of the tasks assigned to you. Take on more than is asked of you. Pursue additional opportunities not on the original list. Try an avenue that someone says was already tried. Who knows, you may discover the missing link that was previously unnoticed.

So keeping up with the demands of the IT profession doesn’t have to mean sitting in a classroom or sitting in front of a computer screen to provide the challenge of thinking outside the box. But again, you have to set a goal for yourself and make it happen if you’re going to learn at work.

Today’s IT professional is someone who is constantly called upon to work in new settings, with unfamiliar people and with new programs. Keeping an open mind is key to finding solutions to company and systems log jams.

New solutions that have never been thought of before are a requirement and so is the personal and professional training that will allow you to be the one who comes up with that solution. It’s never too late to start, either. How about today?

Samantha O’Neill is vice president of human resources, Ajilon Consulting.

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