Once you have recruited and determined how to retain your staff, the next step is ensuring that your staff remains as technically competent as possible. This is where training comes into play. It is in the best interest of the company and its employee to take the time and set aside the money to continue to train the employees on any new technologies and products that will be implemented on the network.
The company IT Cortex has a study on failed IT project statistics and rates located at http://www.it- cortex .com/Stat_Failure_Rate.htm. The findings identified that between 50 and 75 percent of IT projects ultimately fail either in terms of not functioning properly or exceeding budget. This means that, on average, more projects fail than succeed. When reasons for the failures were examined, a common thread was identified. People didn t understand how the project or product was supposed to help them in their jobs or benefit the company. Training and education are the only ways you can address this problem.
Many avenues of training are available that allow you to ensure that employees stay sharp, ranging from instructor-led classroom-based training to self-study resources and books. We will look at all of these and examine the pros and cons of each.
Training is not a one-way street, however. The best training requires the employee to be self-motivated. After all, it is in the employee s best interest to be trained as much as it is in the company s best interest to train them. Not only is it usually cheaper, with the employer only paying for literature and/or testing fees in the case of self-study, it lets you know who in your group is motivated enough to find the time and get the training done, which, as you and I know, is not an easy thing to do. It s a good indicator of who is really motivated at advancing their technical knowledge and being a productive member of your team.
When I worked for an enterprise management software company, one of the biggest reasons that implementations would fail at customer locations was directly related to training. The software was incredibly complex, and it needed to be so that it could meet all the requirements. Unfortunately, many companies viewed it as being technically no more difficult or complex than implementing the next version of Microsoft Office. They thought they could just perform a typical install and everything would work properly. Unfortunately, that was rarely the case. Although some of the problem was certainly software related , a significant portion of the problem was simply that the customers lacked the knowledge they really needed to properly implement and utilize the product, and they did not budget or plan for training on the product when they purchased it. Whenever you decide to purchase a new piece of hardware or software in your environment, you need to ask whether it will require training of the staff to properly implement and manage it. If it will, you need to factor that training cost into the planned expense for the product.
ILT is the classic training model. With ILT, you have an instructor who is available to teach the students the relevant concepts in a classroom-based setting. The advantage to this method is that the students have someone available who can answer their questions and teach them the right way to do things the first time. One of the drawbacks to ILT is cost. In addition to the course cost, ILT will often include costs associated with travel or taking time away from work to participate in the class. This can sometimes be mitigated by finding a local community college or training center that offers evening classes, but that now cuts into the employees personal time, which might not be acceptable. Another drawback to ILT is that it is generally only as valuable as the instructor is capable. Unfortunately, many instructors lack real-world experience that is critical to providing value to corporate students. Use discretion when deciding who to use for your ILT, and don t hesitate to ask for references and work experience of the instructors.
CBT is a training concept that allows a student to learn at their own pace. Some CBT is application based, requiring you to install and use CD-ROM media for the training materials. Other CBT is Internet based, allowing the student to connect to Internet-based resources for the training materials. The benefit of this is that the student can connect to and continue their lesson from anywhere . Many CBT programs, especially online CBT, actually have instructors who are available, can answer student questions, and deliver lectures via streaming media. One of the benefits of CBT is that it tends to be cheaper than ILT and can oftentimes be shared among multiple people, thus providing even more bang for the buck. A drawback of CBT, however, is that many students do not do a very good job of retaining information learned in this manner.
Technical seminars are an excellent method of learning about a specific product or technology as opposed to ILT or CBT, which tend to focus more on broad topics and concepts. Many vendors schedule regular technical seminars for products and technologies that are in the middle of a marketing push. Consequently, technical seminars are often free of charge, which is a great benefit. In addition, technical seminars are commonly a half day in length, which makes it much easier to find the time to participate, as opposed to ILT, which might require anywhere from 3 “5 days. The only downside is that there is often quite a bit of marketing literature that one must endure, and sometimes the technical content is woefully lacking.
Technical conferences such as Networld+Interop, Cisco Networkers, Microsoft Tech Ed, SANS, Black Hat, and Def Con are all great opportunities to not only participate in technical seminars but also take a look at the new technologies and products many vendors will be releasing. One of the biggest benefits of technical conferences, however, is not purely educational. Because many of these conferences occur in nice tourist destinations, they also provide a good way to reward your employees by sending them to a place that not only allows them to learn, but allows them to relax and get away from the office. There are a couple of downsides to conferences, however. Sometimes the technical sessions can be very hit or miss in terms of value and content. In addition, it can be costly in terms of not only registration, but travel and time away from the office.
Vendor training has some of the best return on investment (ROI) because it is often targeted to the products and technologies you will be using. This allows employees to participate in targeted education that more accurately matches the information they will need to perform their daily functions. Instead of getting a general education based on how something works, they can get a very specific this is how you should do this based on your environment explanation. The cost of vendor training varies, with some vendors making it free as part of the product deal, and others charging explicitly for the training beyond any other costs (the truth is, you are always going to have to pay for it one way or the other). In many cases, vendor training can be performed at your location, reducing the travel cost of sending employees to a remote location for training in addition to making it much easier for multiple people to attend the training. There are not really any downsides to vendor training beyond any costs associated with having to pay for or send people to the training.
Self-study resources cover a wide range of sources; however, they all have a single common element: the user of the resources is responsible for study and learning at their own pace, generally by themselves or with a study group. Here are some examples of self-study resources:
Certification training books These books are focused on providing the relevant information required to pass a certification exam.
Technical books These books, such as the ones in this series, do not focus on any given exam but instead focus on providing technical content related to some product or technology.
Whitepapers These are reports or treatises that have been developed to educate individuals on a specific topic. Some examples of whitepapers are the Cisco High Availability Whitepapers located at http://www.cisco.com/en/US/tech/tk869/tk769/tech_white_papers_list.html, the NSA Security Recommendation Guides located at http://nsa1.www.conxion.com/, and the information listed at the SANS Reading Room http://www.sans.org/rr.
A lab environment is traditionally considered a location to test products, technologies, and changes before implementing them in an organization. However, a good lab environment actually has substantial training and education value as well. This is especially true when used in conjunction with self-study resources from the previous section. For example, if someone has read about how to configure OSPF with authentication, they may be able to utilize lab equipment to perform hands-on configuration and learn how to actually implement what they have read about.
An important point to make on lab equipment is that it does not necessarily need to exactly match your production equipment to be effective. Although that is certainly the best-case scenario, it is often a cost-prohibitive undertaking. In many cases, however, you can get by for testing and learning by using similar but cheaper equipment. For example, if I have redundant PIX-535 firewalls in production, I probably don t have the money to duplicate that in a lab. However, if I want to test how various ACLs or protocols might work with the PIX, I can use a PIX-501 as a very cost-effective solution that will allow me to validate 99 percent of the commands and configurations I might need to test or learn.
A lab, in addition to the traditional benefits, can be one of the best investments you can make.
As a rule, a lab should never be allowed to connect to the production network in any way. If, however, you must allow a connection, that connection should be firewalled, filtered, and treated like any other external network connection.