In most cases, HR takes the lead for training throughout the company. But should technical functions like IT instead have their own training departments and budgets? Here are the pros and cons.
1. IT is in the best position to know the skills that it needs
No one is in a better position than IT to assess where it lacks depth and coverage in skills. Those of us who have managed IT functions know that needs range from strengthening database or network skills to developing more personnel who are adept at DevOps and interpersonal engagements with end users. Also, who doesn’t need more data science-savvy, analytics and IoT personnel right now?
Regardless of where the skills are needed, the “holes” will appear when IT tries to fully staff projects, and it can’t.
In other cases, there are highly trained personnel who can perform required tasks, but who just don't have the bandwidth for every IT function and project the crops up. They need help, which must either be hired or trained.
2. IT is in the best position to know the types of training in which it needs to invest
In some cases, a network communications staff member just requires a one-off course to bolster certain skills in a given area, such as security. In other cases, sending a staff member to a full network security certification course to gain the skills for the network platform that the company uses will make the most sense.
Because IT knows the specific job skills at that are needed in each of its areas, it is in the best position to evaluate sources and courses to determine “best fit” for the skills training that is required -- and it should be IT that chooses training vendors and courses.
3. IT is in the best position to evaluate who gets trained
IT’s front-line projects brutally display the expertise gaps in skills and staff, so it is IT that best knows about who to send to training, and the specific types of training that they’d need. There are also intangibles baked into the process. For instance, the most logical person to send to a given training might not be your brightest talent.
4. IT has the hands-on mentors who can help trainees
The training that pays off most for IT is hands-on training in the technologies that the department uses. But if you send someone to a MongoDB class and you don't immediately place this individual on a project to apply the skills learned, or that matches up the individual with an on-staff mentor who can continue to coach him or her, you lose your investment.
Outside departments like HR don't really know what your projects consist of at the “real skills” level -- or who on your staff can serve as a mentor to a newly trained person. But IT does.
5. IT can be sure that its training gets addressed
If IT consigns its training needs and budget to an outside department that is non-IT, it is one degree removed from controlling its own training and placed into a collective pool with other departments throughout the company that are also vying for training dollars.
Also, when a company sees slower sales and must tighten its belt on discretionary spending items, training often gets trimmed across the board. If it is HR that controls the training budget, everyone lobbies HR for its own needs, and it is HR that gets to decide.
In the “one money pot for training in HR” concept, technically oriented departments like IT and engineering lose. This is because many other departments have more generalized training that they are asking for -- such as training in soft skills, or in more broad-brushed topics. So when it comes time to cut the training budget, HR is much more able to see the value of personal skills topics, which often are less expensive to obtain than highly specialized technical skills training that only one person might need.
On the “lobbying” front, it’s also usually easier for someone to convince HR that a team-building class is needed -- not a programming class in something like Python 3.9.
1. Training is not an IT core competency
Suppose that IT secures its own training budget. Who then runs and administers it?
Large IT organizations can fund their own training departments, complete with their own training directors. Often these individuals have experience in both IT and education -- and they do a great job. But in many other cases, there is no formal IT training function -- only an IT training budget. In these cases, the CIO, project managers and other IT leadership must step in. They identify the core skills that they need and the individuals whom they want to send to these trainings -- and what the training will cost.
This strategy of collectively evaluating IT staff, with each manager coming forth with his or her staff training needs, works -- but it’s far from flawless. The major downside is that people who are not skilled in education or training might not make the right training choices -- either in courses or in the people they send.
2. Training is not an IT priority
Hot projects and keeping systems running are IT priorities, not training. So, if there is a hot project, or a major performance issue with an existing system, training is quickly forgotten. The result is that training that was budgeted gets deferred or isn't used at all. This makes for a very tough fight for the CIO when the next budget review comes around. The CFO will undoubtedly challenge the IT training budget, saying that the budget was underused last year so should be re-funded at that lesser level.
3. Project pressures do not allow for trainees
Vital hands-on training must be immediately used on projects if IT wants its training investments in employees to bear fruit.
Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen.
The need for the new skills infusion is there -- but project deadlines are so tight that no one on the project can afford to take time to “burn in” the new trainee on new skills and tasks. Instead, a highly skilled person who was to have been the trainee’s mentor, must take on the project tasks. The newly skilled person gets left behind.
4. Training is 'extra baggage' for an IT budget that already struggles to get line items approved
It isn't uncommon for training to comprise 10% of the total IT budget. This 10% could be reallocated to projects and infrastructure if IT didn't have to spend it. It’s an argument for offloading the IT training budget to HR, where you can still get the training, but you aren’t the one being charged for it.
5. HR can link training to other employee outcomes important to the business
HR now uses analytics to track not only training investments, but also new employees hired, attrition, morale, and a number of other employee-related factors. The analytics study relationships between these factors, helping the company see the results of its training investments.
Most IT departments do not have the human resources background to assess these analytics, so this is an area where HR can provide real benefits.
Summing it all up
I have worked with IT departments with or without their own training budgets.
Having a training budget has its pros and cons, but I have found in my experience as a CIO and IT consultant, it’s more beneficial for IT to fund and determine its own training needs.
The technology needs and even the project and general management needs of IT are constantly changing. Proactive education is one way to address them.
Follow up with these articles on IT skills and training: