"The entire IT department shuts down for a day and allows everyone to hack on any ideas that they want," says Daniel Cosey, CareerBuilder's director of information management. "This includes any training they want to get done -- a data inquisition, a new product idea or a new algorithm for our search engine." Here's the best part: The IT professional who presents the most impressive idea wins $10,000 and six weeks of paid work time to implement it.
By embracing self-directed IT training that involves competition among engineers and IT workers, CareerBuilder has created a program that's far more likely to have a lasting impact on participants than standard workshops, says Lee. "If training is entertaining, employees will pay better attention to it and what the message is," she explains.
Nevertheless, innovations in IT training can carry risks. For example, companies need to make sure that their network infrastructure is capable of delivering training videos across the enterprise. That's something Broadway Bank had to consider when it decided to distribute Digital Defense's SecurED training series across its 40 banking centers throughout the year. "I think we'll have to be careful about how we distribute SecurED," says Huntsman. "Fortunately, one of the things that Digital Defense did early on was put their training modules into the Quicktime format so they won't utilize a lot of bandwidth."
Another pitfall of adopting the latest training methodologies is the risk of attrition. Even if you invest thousands of dollars in training IT employees, there's no guarantee that they'll stick around -- especially since the training makes them more marketable. That's a risk companies simply have to accept, says Presley. CareerBuilder does. The company helps IT workers earn MBAs, offering full tuition reimbursements or paid sponsorships -- with no strings attached. "If they choose to finish their MBA graduate degree and then, in a month, leave the company, they still don't have to pay that back," says Presley.
But the risk of losing an employee or two doesn't seem to have deterred employers from embracing new approaches to training. Lynda.com reports that 5 percent of its members now watch its training videos on smartphones. While that figure might seem small, it has more than doubled over the past year and continues to rise.
It remains to be seen whether it will one day be commonplace for IT professionals to watch training videos starring Hollywood celebrities on smartphones. What is certain is that offering high-quality, creative training via a variety of delivery mechanisms is now a business imperative.
Behind the Lens of an IT Training Video
Not many people would disagree with Tom Graunke that IT training is long overdue for an overhaul. "Can you name the last time you did something in e-learning and said it was amazing?" asks Graunke, CEO of Stormwind, an IT training firm in Scottsdale, Ariz. "It's boring, and it's flat."
But the process of looking for ways to breathe new life into IT training tools can itself offer lessons in technology. Take, for example, Stormwind's experience developing its HD Live training system. Used by leading tech vendors such as VMware and Cisco, these live, interactive high-definition IT training videos feature an instructor standing in a control room surrounded by computer monitors. Throughout an hourlong online session, the instructor is seen in front of various screen captures and animated slides while lecturing and fielding questions from audience members in real time.
To make this online learning technology a reality, Stormwind had to find a way to deliver live, high-definition video to a standard Web browser. That's a considerable challenge given that the majority of today's browsers are barely sophisticated enough to handle Flash.