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Why Invest in IT Training During a Recession?

Any college business professor can tell you that an educated work force is important to the success of any business--the business of education included. This fundamental business axiom has been true in good times and in bad. And you'd be hard pressed to find a business leader who believes education and training are optional.

Yet, time and time again, when times get tough and university and college leaders debate survival versus growth, someone invariably suggests cutting back on training for IT pros.

That would be a real mistake.

First, let's acknowledge that the normal higher education IT environment is complex to begin with. And managing your IT department during a downturn is a huge challenge. Funding is squeezed, IT systems are expected to last longer, and staffing becomes a critical cost center that the bean cutters examine very closely. Every single aspect of running higher education IT has become more difficult in the current economic environment.

Can we still expect ourselves to put a priority on IT training?

In a word, yes!

In fact, there are five fundamental reasons why it is important to stay focused on staff education and training during a recession.

First and foremost, universities and colleges need to prepare for the inevitable upturn in the economy. Too many educational institutions make the mistake of going into IT hibernation, only to find out that when they wake up from their deep slumber, employees' IT skills are hopelessly out of date. Their participation in the recovery is delayed, while their educated and trained competition at other institutions hits the ground running. It's tough to switch out of the survival mindset--yet universities and colleges that invest in developing new skills and capabilities for IT staff during the downturn will be better positioned once the economy returns. If their IT staff doesn't stay current with technology, their institutions will be taking a step backwards relative to competing colleges and universities. Maintaining certifications is critical to success.

Second, smart managers do not ignore new sources of revenue, even in a downturn. If one educational marketplace opportunity has shrunk (or disappeared completely), one way to maintain revenue may well be to train IT employees to begin servicing a new market. For example, the burgeoning opportunities in online education have provided many institutions with an opportunity to broaden their service offerings.

Third, smart higher ed IT managers use education as part of an employee retention program. Poor managers don't worry about employee retention in a recession. Their logic is that since jobs are tough to find, even excellent IT employees are stuck. More successful leaders realize that while good employees don't leave voluntarily during a recession, if you mistreat them they'll be gone at the first sign of recovery. By investing in education during a recession, you reduce the chance that your key IT employees leave after it's over.

Fourth, training is a simple way to keep your staff focused during slow periods. It sounds simple, but training people on a new IT skill or capability is far better than just letting them listen to the news reports of impending doom and gloom!

Finally, you should continue to look for opportunities to fine tune your IT staff training efforts to match current education cycle needs. With budgets tighter, employees need more education not just on IT skills, but also on the key business motivations of your institution.

It's tempting for an executive at a college or university who sees a fat training number in a fiscal year budget to zero it out, blaming tough economic conditions. However, smart college and university IT leaders look to leverage education and training during the downturn to improve their businesses, just as they advise the business community to do. Education during a recession is an investment in post-recession success. Don't let your institution bypass this opportunity for growth.

About the Author

John Udelhofen is the CEO of Laurus Technologies.

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