Should you choose in-house or external IT training?

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The majority of people don't use technology properly or make the most of the efficiencies it can offer. For instance, it has been suggested that most people only use 10% of Microsoft Word features

IT training can help you and your employees learn how to use computers, mobile devices, software and other IT services more effectively. While you may not need to utilise 100% of features in order to work efficiently, there are almost certainly ways to improve how you work.

Even employees with excellent IT knowledge can learn a lot. And staff members who lack confidence with computers may find an IT training session makes them feel more confident about exploring features and functions independently.

There are two main ways to provide IT training in your business:

  • In-house training. As the name suggests, in-house IT training takes place on your premises. Despite the name, in-house IT training can be conducted either by a training provider, or by one of your employees.
  • External training. With external IT training, your employees attend training that happens outside of your business. For instance, you might send your sales team on a course about your customer database.

So, how do you know which of these IT training approaches is best for your company and its employees?

When does in-house IT training make sense?

The obvious benefit of in-house IT training is that you can tailor it specifically to meet the needs of your business. Because everyone attending the training will be from your company, you'll know that everything it covers is directly relevant to what your people do.

If you're bringing in a trainer to conduct your IT training in-house, they should be willing to change the course to fit your needs. Check how relevant the core content is, and make sure they allow plenty of time for questions.

Your choice of training provider is central to success. It's important to find an IT trainer who takes time to understand your business, and who will 'click' with your team. Your staff will learn a lot more if they're engaged with the personality and approach of the trainer, as well as their training materials.

In-house IT training gives you control over the venue and timing, too. You can choose a day that suits your team best (perhaps there's a time of year when things slow down), and you can choose whether to hold the training at your premises (keeping the cost down) or at a separate venue.

Keep in mind that it may be harder to persuade staff to make time for in-house IT training. They may be more prone to distractions such as email.

Calculate your costs carefully when bringing in an external trainer. You usually get better value for money with larger groups. For instance, asking a trainer to run a session with 20 employees will likely cost less than paying for 20 employees to attend external IT training.

Can staff provide your IT training?

Depending on the skills in your business, it may be possible for your employees to run their own in-house IT training.

This is certainly a tempting option when budgets are tight. What's more, people within your business are likely to be familiar with how your company does things. This means they can deliver training that's directly relevant to the scenarios faced by your business.

However, delivering effective IT training is not always easy. Ideally, you should consider your employees' learning preferences. For instance, are they visual learners or do they prefer to learn by experimenting?

It's likely that, for most employees, the majority of learning already happens on-the-job. Techniques like job shadowing, mentoring and coaching allow you to share knowledge throughout the business, even if you have no budget.

You could supplement this on-the-job training by purchasing IT training materials and courses. These allow employees to further their knowledge independently, by reading or taking part in online courses.

In-house IT training is an excellent way to get new employees up to speed. It also allows people with good knowledge to share this more widely.

Many small businesses have a member of staff who serves as an informal contact point for computer problems. They're the 'go to' person for questions about Excel formulas or Microsoft Word formatting issues.

You can consider formalising their role as a 'knowledge champion', making them responsible for on-the-job training. Many employees would regard this as a good chance to develop their own training skills.

You can also create your own IT training materials. For example, you can record training sessions and publish them on your intranet, where staff can watch them again.

Always remember that it takes time for a member of staff to devise and deliver in-house IT training. Make sure they have sufficient time to prepare. You might even consider sending them on a training course first!

Can external IT training work for your business?

External training sessions require employees to spend time away from your business. Removed from their normal working environment, they may be more able to immerse themselves in the course content, learning more effectively.

Such sessions usually give employees an opportunity to network with people in similar roles. They may be able to trade experiences with others, gaining an external perspective and perhaps returning with new ideas and enthusiasm.

In this way, external IT training can spark future in-house training. If one or two employees attend an external IT training event, they can pass the knowledge on to other staff; perhaps via a formal session or on-the-job training.

Employee reactions to external IT training can be mixed. Many will view IT training as a valuable opportunity. However, if training is booked at short notice, staff may resent the intrusion into their schedules. Always make sure you have cover in place for when people are out training.

The cost of external IT training can be considerable, particularly if the training provider has a high-profile. Carefully consider how you allocate and budget for external IT training, to ensure your staff are treated consistently and fairly.

Always consider your IT training needs

A combination of in-house and external IT training suits many businesses well. While external training can bring genuinely new knowledge into your business, in-house IT training is a cost-effective way to disseminate knowledge.

However, the most important thing is to first evaluate what sort of training is necessary. Performing a simple training needs analysis helps you understand what knowledge gaps exist in your business. Then you can determine the most appropriate type of IT training to fill them.

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