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Time for Training

By Andy Warren,

In an earlier article (Professional Development) I talked a little about how the challenges of trying to stay current in your profession. In this installment we're going to focus on you! We'll talk about allotting time and obtaining resources. Remember, this is all about time and money. Your time away from work and the salary you earn at work. The time you spend at work on things that don't contribute to the bottom line and the cost of that time.

Do you know how you learn best? Is it reading, listening, watching, doing? For example, let's say that you don't know anything about Report Builder and you've been given the task of rolling it out to all middle managers configured so that they can do ad hoc reporting against a model that should allow them to evaluate different facets of their teams on a daily basis. Would you buy a book and just read it? Buy the book and do all the examples? Or instead of books, would you search the web for equivalent articles and work through them? Or would you turn to webcasts first if they were available? Or would you look for a class that covered the material?

Knowing the answer to that question is important so that you can spend your time and money effectively. Imagine sitting down with your spouse and explaining that in order to stay employable you need to spend at least 50 hours a year keeping up with your profession - that's 50 hours over and above whatever you do at work. You can do an hour a week, four hours a month, or travel to some distant city for a week of training. If you learn best with books, maybe you're proposing that you budget $50 per month for books and you'll do the reading while the spouse is running errands once a week. Or maybe you don't want to spend money because you like watching webcasts and working through the examples, but you need four hours Sunday afternoon once a month where you can work uninterrupted. Or maybe you know that you learn best from attending a class and that even though it's the most expensive option, you need to budget $150-$250 per month so that once a year you can travel to a class.

You have two challenges here. One is convincing your spouse that you need to spend the time. Unless you're both in the IT business it's likely that the other has an occupation that doesn't have quite the rate of change that ours does. Spouses want family time and for to leave work at 5 pm and truly to have left work then. The other is that you need to spend money. So what kind of arguments can you make:

  • I need to invest x hours to stay current or I risk being in the lowest rung group if layoffs ever happen
  • I need to invest x hours so that if the company goes under, we decide to move, etc, I'm definitely employable at the same salary I have now
  • If I can grow my skills sufficiently, I can earn more money - either by a pay raise at the current job or by changing jobs if necessary - but I have to have the skills

I'd best that most spouses reluctantly agree to the time investment (not because they don't want you to grow, but because they value time with family) but will be happiest if it has the least impact on the family. Maybe that means doing what I did for years, sitting in Burger King from 6-7 am drinking coffee and reading a book. Or maybe it's hitting the books at 10 pm after the kids have gone to bed. Odds are it's not going to be during dinner time each night.

Now supposing your spouse understands that you have to spend the time to stay employable (and even this can be a tough conversation), when it comes to spending money the discussion can get ugly. Why can't you buy a book instead of going to a class? Or why can't you find something on the web instead of buying books? Why can't work pay for this? Are you going to see your salary rise enough to justify what you want to spend? This is where knowing how you learn best is important, because it's the fusion of time and money. If you know that just reading a book doesn't work effectively it would be a poor decision to go with the book buying plan just because it was cheaper. Conversely, if you like going to classes but know that you can do almost as well with a good book you'll opt for the cheaper plan and spend the difference on a vacation, or some tools for the workshop, or maybe something for the spouse.

I think you can also see that even if you need to learn a ton of stuff to move up, very few of us have the resources to attend class more than once a year. Even if we need to do so, getting the spouse to approve that would definitely be a stretch.

The point here is to get you thinking about how to spend your time and money most effectively. I'll wager that all of us would prefer to spend as little time and as little money as we can and still meet our objectives. Not because we're cheap or lazy, but because we work so that we can support our families and spend time with them, we don't want to take time away from them if we can help it. Make sense so far?

Now the fun part. The conversations you have with your manager aren't going to be any different than the ones you had with your spouse. Some will instantly get the value of spending time on learning, some will say BAH you know enough to do the job, why spend more time. Some managers will see the value in investing in your career even though they can't point to a direct return on that investment, others obviously will not. There is some differences. Most spouses are willing to spend the money knowing that if/when there is a return on the investment of time and money they can get to share the reward. Managers have no such guarantee in most cases. You and the spouse are the only ones involved in your decision at home, you can pull money from a different bucket if needed or elect to do without something if that's what it takes. Most managers don't have spending authority, they have to fight with their manager to get the money.

I know many employers send their employees to whatever training is allocated with no strings attached. Others require you to repay a pro-rated portion of the cost if you leave within a year. No strings is nice of course, but less and less common. Too many times employees will attend training that costs thousands of dollars knowing they are actively looking for a job. Is it the norm? Absolutely not. But it only has to happen once or twice for it to damage the credibility of your manager with his/her manager. How do you think that conversation goes?

"Uh, boss, you know that guy I we spend $4000 to send to training last month?  The money you had to pull out of another budget that caused quite a stir upstairs? Well....he just gave notice, moving to a different job in two weeks."

Can you imagine how hard it is for that manager to go back and get no strings training money?

That's why most employers want the pro-rated scheme in place, both sides are involved then. It has astounded me the way employees rebel against the possibility of having to pay any portion of the training. I've seen employees tell me they would rather not go to training than take on that risk. What does that say about your commitment to your employer? What does it say about how important professional development is to you? Assuming that you're not planning to leave 2 weeks after the training, is it really that big of a risk? Maybe you attend the PASS conference which will cost $3000 including travel, and then you end up leaving after 6 months - you owe $1500. None of us in this business are so poorly paid that $1500 should be cause for panic, but more importantly - are you saying that YOU would not be willing to pay $1500 for the training? What does that tell your manager about your stewardship of company resources?

Knowing how you learn best is going to be an important part of convincing your manager to agree to spend money to train you. Showing them that you're willing to invest your own time - and being able to demonstrate that you are spending that time, also goes a long way. Be willing to share the risk, and the reward.

This isn't the end of the discussion! I look forward to your comments on this article and next time we'll get into ways to get your employer to invest smaller amounts of time and money in you and your co-workers.



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