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Instead of outsourcing their training, many companies are finding ways to help their employees learn computer skills in the office.

Nancy Newfield wants to help the 15,000 employees at Computer Associates International Inc. get all the information technology training they want and need.

As director of CA University at the Islandia, N.Y., management-software company, Newfield has helped create an extensive training program. She says that CA has made a “significant investment” in training for employees over the last two years. “We’ve really raised the bar in terms of what we are doing here,” Newfield says.

CA is not alone. From small to large firms across the country, many are starting to focus once again on IT training. In the case of CA, Newfield says that customers expect her company to be technologically sophisticated. “The look to us as trusted advisers. And they have been having a tough time over the last few years,” she says.

“IT departments are growing very complex with tons of platforms, different languages, different databases. The technology is changing very rapidly.”

Therefore, to help customers, employees must be prepared. CA created CA University, which is a curriculum of Web-based interactive courses, with this in mind. The courses can be taken anywhere and anytime. They consist of small modules. Material is available online, or offline on compact disk or even printed out.

“We’re able to track their progress. We know what employees have completed what courses… and whether they have passed the tests or not,” Newfield says.

CA also launched the CA Learning Center about a year ago. It brings together CA’s different training programs into one place, including online and instructor-led courses. Newfield says the courses are designed in house and that most employees take them on their own time. To see what is available, employees consult a course catalogue and everyone, even employees not in technical roles, may take any of the courses.

Financial services firms, like A.G. Edwards Inc. in St. Louis, are also spending more on IT training. John Holzbauer, vice president of IT business management, says that the company is “ramping it up.” A.G. Edwards provides both computer-based and instructor-led training, on company time, to its 1,200 employees in the firm’s IT division.

“We are defining individual competencies and proficiency levels within our job structures and tailing computer and instructor led training to enable the mastery level skills necessary to then achieve those proficiencies,” Holzbauer says.

Therefore, if an IT employee in the system analyst family, for example, wants to go into the application and engineering family within A.G. Edwards, the employee will know exactly how to prepare from a training and learning experience, Holzbauer says.

“Competencies are always there, but skills are specific and roles are specific, and sometimes very time sensitive and evolution sensitive,” he says. “As the skills needed within specific IT disciplines change, we have to make sure that we are constantly refreshing those so we have a relevant skill base that can meet the needs of industry.”

Many companies are both scaling back and ramping up IT training, according to Claire Schooley, senior industry analyst in San Francisco at Forrester Research Inc., an independent technology research company with headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.

“Because of the financial squeeze, IT directors are not parceling out training just because it sounds good and someone in the group should know about it,” Schooley says. “Managers are looking more closely at the learning/training opportunities and deciding what training is going to make the greatest difference in an employee’s performance.”

Schooley says that on-the-job training, after-hour training–both on-site and off–all have their place in a company.

“The form is not as important as the content and how it’s related to employee’s work,” she says. “There is a higher accountability for where the dollars get spent in training and the return they provide in effectiveness on the job.”

Dudley Molina, president and chief executive officer at ePath Learning Inc. has noticed that more companies are looking to expand IT training. His New London, Conn.-based company develops and provides Web-based tools and services to train employees.

“I see a little bit of a pickup in the entry-level area where companies are hiring new employees again and they tend to be inexperienced employees,” Molina says. His 22-person company is helping to develop browser-based learning technologies for The Vitamin Shoppe, a retailer of vitamins and nutritional supplements in North Bergen, N.J.

The Vitamin Shoppe plans to roll out its training courses first to its 250 retail stores, then to its corporate office, customer care center and distribution center. David Fitton, director of learning and organization development at The Vitamin Shoppe, says the eventual goal is to provide a “full blown curriculum” for the company’s 2,000 employees. All of the courses will be delivered through a Web-based environment.

Just in the last year that he’s been at The Vitamin Shoppe, Fitton says IT training has become more of a pressing issue. “We’re starting to see more requests,” he says. “Our IT group has certainly shown significant desire to receive training and keep current.”

The goal is also to keep current at C I Host, a Web hosting and data center operation in Dallas. Christopher Faulkner, the company’s chief executive officer, says that training was hit hard after the dot-com bust. But things are now starting to improve and the company is expanding IT training. The company recently opened a learning center that is available to all 190 of its employees at its headquarters 24 hours a day.

The center includes 15 computer stations with Web-based and video-based training packages. All of the programs were purchased off-the-shelf. Some programs even help employees speak foreign languages. The center also includes a lab where employees can take a part and learn to repair computers, routers and switchers.

“I think that is kind of important now, with the economy picking back up. We don’t want to lose our good people,” Faulkner says. “I’m surprised at the number of people that I see in there after hours. I think it is getting a lot of use for its money.”

Brian R. Hook >< is a freelance journalist based in St. Louis who has written for Dow Jones, U.S. News & World Report, Financial Times, and Kiplinger's in addition to various trade publications.

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