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What's the training policy at your company?

As the director of our software group, I've been asked to propose a policy on "training" since the company doesn't have one yet.  It seems that our executives want to sponsor as little training as they can; for instance, one of our programmers is working on his masters in software engineering and they've resisted paying for his classes.

Of course, from an employee-centric perspective, we all want to be able to take whatever classes we want, and have it covered by the company.  In reality, it's not that simple.  Many classes are expensive ($2500 for a one-week Java course that may or may not be useful... ow!); many professional courses are given during the day (so who covers the expense of those hours spent?); some courses require travel to the class location; some employees may leave right after completing a degree.

So... I figured this forum would be a good place to ask: what are the policies at your company?  Are you happy with them?  What would you change about them?  Do developers actually use a training budget?

That last one is important.  If we put a budget in place and nobody uses it, we can bet it won't be around the following year.

Scott Evans
Tuesday, February 19, 2002

It's pretty informal here; I've never seen a Training Policy Document or a budget item for Training. We have pretty much unlimited reimbursement for tech books related to the technology we are currently using, and for books related to technology we are evaluating for future use, we just make a request of management, and they have the books drop-shipped to our remote office.

Seminars, lectures, and classes are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but we can usually count on full reimbursement for things directly related to our work, and 50% reimbursement even if it's only marginally related. An example would be a lecture by Edward R. Tufte ("The Visual Display of Quantitative Information"). We've never asked for anything costing more than $200 a person, so I don't know what would happen if we asked for a one-week .NET bootcamp at $2000 a head.

We don't keep track of hours used for training purposes; it's just not a large enough deal to bother with for us. It's rarely more than a couple hours to go to the bookstore, or a day to go to a lecture. Reading and learning is done off the clock, mostly.

Jeff Paulsen
Tuesday, February 19, 2002

it's simple

$3500/10 days/yr (5 days project related, 5 days soft skills)

who cares
Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Despite my recent rant about wanting to fnd the common sense-driven workplace, I have to admit that with regard to book purchases, my current employer is pretty good.  We just buy whatever books we need and charge them to the company Borders account.  Nobody says anything about it (until someone notices that 20 people have each bought the same book and charged it to the company, that is.  Heh.).

Unfortunately, not everyone learns well from books - some folks need more structured learning, i.e. classroom time.  This is an area where my company has always been extremely resistant, even for inexpensive 1-day classes and seminars.

Norrick
Tuesday, February 19, 2002

"what are the policies at your company?"

Here's what we do:

a) The company determines the training needed for specific technologies & methods (e.g.UML), decides who goes to the training (based on unscientific gut-feel) and pays a 100% of the cost of training, travel, etc. These training courses directly or indirectly bring back money to the bottom line.

b) We do not pay for any other training apart from the above (e.g. Masters Degrees, Java programming, etc.etc.) - why not hire people who are already trained?

c) Recently, we started reimbursing IT certification costs (MCSE, Sun Certification, etc.) as this helps meet partnership requirements and build company image. Note that we do not reimburse costs of acquiring the skills.

"Are you happy with them? What would you change about them? Do developers actually use a training budget?"

No - I think training, especially in the IT industry, is always going to be a bone of contention. As much as I differ with our policy, I am often compelled to realise that training costs can balloon very easily and developers need to understand that all costs need justification. What would I change? - nothing, except mindsets.

Training budgets? - we don't set a flat budget per developer. IMHO, this is not the best thing to do.

Any other approaches out there that we could all learn from?

Jagdish Bajaj
Tuesday, February 19, 2002

At the company I am working for there is no "set" policy on training, or if there is one, I cant locate it.

If you say I want to go and do "X" training they almost always say no.  However, if the company is moving to doing "X" then training is supplied.

I dont think it is reasonable to ask a company to pay for training/certification that isnt directly related to the core tasks you perform for them.

I am also of the mind that rather than send 5 programmers to a course, send the one senior member, then have him train the others.  This way all the crud is filtered out by the senior member and the costs are lowered.

My .2c worth.

James Ladd
Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Here is the said training policy at the consultant-companies
i have been with:

"We value training at our firm. Therefor, we have set a
$X/year individual training budget for our developers."

The way the above has always been implemented is simple,
if you are in a project and makes money for the company,
you end up doing that instead of the "valueable training",
I guess money is more valuable to companies after all :-)

So IMHO, training is something you get only when you
have nothing "better" (in terms of company revenue) to
do. I dont know if this is the common case, but for me it
has been like that.

Patrik Öhman
Wednesday, February 20, 2002

What is this 'training' word of which you speak?

Even technical book purchase are damn near impossible. The end result of this is that we find good resources on the web and print out hundreds of pages worth, thus costing far more than simply buying a book.

Mind you we are talking about a company that, instead of simply paying 50 quid for a nice big hard disk, would rather have 3 contractors spend 3 days moving files around in order to get a few extra Mb free on the machine that needs the extra disk space. As long as there is no obvious addition to the budget they're happy. Never mind that it's costing them far more than simply doing a good job...

Ooops. Getting bitter and twisted again.

DB
Wednesday, February 20, 2002

I hear you DB, I worked in a company previously that would rather spend days finding a way round shareware timing out than just paying $20 to register it.

I think most managers have a simple rule they manage by, "A little money saved now is worth more than a lot of money paid later".

Matthew Lock
Wednesday, February 20, 2002


Hmm ... I think it would be accurate to say that, in many cultures, opportunity cost doesn't show up on the budget, but extra expense does.  Justifying "this only costs $100, but will save me 20 man-hours at $10 each" (or whatever) is going to be real challenge.  If the company didn't spend the $100, life would still go on, so the only obvious choice to keep the budget low is to refuse the training/book/whatever.

In my experience, good companies take a more holistic view of things.  For Example, I'm going to be working at company X for many, many years.  Whatever C++ skills I had in 1997 are -NOT- going to be enough for me to write XSL/XHTML pages with CSS in 2003.  The point is, the best way for me to be valuable to the company in the future is to do a skills upgrade.  (Or just increase Churn and hire for skill; Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister reveal the true costs of this in thier book "PeopleWare.")

In his book, "The Decline and Fall of the American Programmer", Ed Yourdon identified "World Class" Companies as generally investing 2+ weeks of training per developer per year.

At McGraw-Hill, if we want to send someone to training, we need to identify it in the planning for the current year's budget.  I'd say we average 1 week of real, off-site, world class (http://www.develop.com) training in three years.

However, if employees want to take it of themselves to learn and grow ... the company is all about that.  They are paying for my MS in CIS, as well as about 1 book per month.  (PeopleWare, Rapid Developent, Effective COM, whatever.)

just my $0.02.  In my book, one more indication of a healthy coporate culture is that the company "rolls it own training" - after all, learning to present is one step in a good companies ladder. (See http://www.construx.com/ladder/pyramid.htm)

Oh yeah.  Having a ladder, no matter how informal, is a good thing too.

Matthew Heusser
Wednesday, February 20, 2002

We pay 100% of all training, as long as it's run by the management first. This includes university courses, training seminars, books, everything, as long as there is available funds, and the course (if it is a pass/fail situation) is passed. It is always done on a reimbursement except for specific training courses that are arranged beforehand. This prevents people from doing their Masters on our dime, and then not completing it. :-)

As far as I'm concerned (and the other partners in the firm agree), no matter what the training is, it benefits the company. If the company is afraid the employee is going to cut after the training, then the company has problems, not the employee.

Of course, we also pay for dinners if any staff member works past 5:30pm. We're good that way.

As for the comment "why don't you hire people who are already trained", we do. However, just because someone with a BSc might be sufficient for the position, the effect that a masters or any additional education provides is invaluable. It also breeds hugely loyal employees, and that is worth ten employees that already have their masters.

  -- Tim

Tim Sullivan
Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Tim Sullivan says:
" As far as I'm concerned (and the other partners in the firm agree), no matter what the training is, it benefits the company. If the company is afraid the employee is going to cut after the training, then the company has problems, not the employee. "

Tim...I think I love you, man!  That's one of the most enlightened comments I've ever heard about training from a manager/executive/principal.

Norrick
Thursday, February 21, 2002

"[The Company] will reimburse the cost of certain undergraduate, graduate level, certificate or continuing education courses that have been approved in advance by your manager.  To be reimbursed, you must also successfully complete the course and be able to document your expenses for tuition.  For graded courses, successful completion is defined as receiving a B or better.  No other costs associated with the course will be covered.  The course must be directly related to your work at [The Company], or to prepare you for another position at [The Company].  Employees must have completed a minimum of six months employment before starting any course, and all employees are limited to one course per semester and two courses maximum per calendar year."

John
Thursday, February 21, 2002

Training is the most important ladder in the software programming. I dont know the size of your company or the size of the budget you can propose, but I will give some points what I have at my company.

1. The company provides funding for all types of certification courses related to the software skill set enhancement. I dont suggest here for undergrad. or graduate courses funding.

2. For the courses such as java or Unix training, The experts from our organization have prepared some course materials for class room training. & we allocate persons from our individual technical senior staff to conduct small training courses (usually 3 days max)
This help them & also the freshers to refresh their knowledge & also improves the communication as well as seminar standards..

3. These traning sessions are optional for any one to attend. The regular sessions are arranged in 3 months each & any body is allowed to register (even our Technical Head attends some times).

4. And ofcourse the books strategy. The books we need to get purchased, almost get approved immediately.

5. On the Centralised NT server, we have created a directory called TAP. (Training and  Presentations). Here we store all the relative documents, RFCs downloaded useful pages , presentations internals, Course materials (prepared by our senior technical members only). & all the persons have access to this place, so nay one  at any time can access this place to get some knowledge.


Swapnil

Swapnil
Friday, February 22, 2002

Just wanted to thank everyone who responded.  I think we're going to try something like this for the next fiscal year: each developer has $1500 to spend on non-required training.  That "training" might be college courses, a trip to JavaOne, RedHat certification classes, whatever the employee wants to do as long as it's arguably related to what we do.  Haven't made a decision yet on how this would effect work hours (i.e. if you go to JavaOne, do you have to take vacation time?  Doesn't seem right.)

They'll need to submit a plan for approval, and I'll probably ask that everyone bring something back to the company when possible (a presentation on what they saw or learned, for instance).

(We may also throw in a "if you leave in 6 months, you have to pay back the cost of training" clause; but that's not my idea.  I agree that if people are abusing policies, you have other problem.)

Anyway, I'm stoked -- I think this is a great start.  We'll see how much this actually gets used in a year, and reevaluate after that.

Scott Evans
Thursday, February 28, 2002

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