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IT training isn’t dead. It’s just grown up.

IT training isn’t dead. It’s just grown up.

If the recent IT Skills Research report proves one thing above all else, it’s that the IT training industry is alive and well – in fact, in pretty good shape. So why do so many people think otherwise?

Filed in Work research

It's true that the IT training industry has known both good times and bad times. Perhaps the 'best of times' was the run up to 2000, with many companies implementing Windows Server on a massive scale, as it overtook NetWare in the networking infrastructure stakes. The 'worst of times' followed not long after, with several larger IT training companies going to the wall within a market where there was considerable oversupply.

There are many who think that the IT training industry has never recovered from those tough times, and that it remains a difficult market. The truth is somewhat different.

The IT training market is a reasonably healthy one

You only have to look at the turnover figures of the top fifty IT training providers to see that it's a healthy market - worth around £450 million to the top fifty providers alone. And while there have been some companies ceasing to trade, it's heartening to see that many of the names in the top fifty have been around for quite a while.

IT training is merging into just 'training'

What is true is that IT training is far less evident as a separate industry than it used to be. The declining circulation of Haymarket's IT Training magazine (now owned by the British Computer Society) was almost a barometer of this - but many people have misread this, believing that it was an indicator of the industry declining. What was actually happening was that the industry was undergoing a significant change.

The early days of the IT training industry

If we step back in time to the wide scale business adoption of PCs, followed by the implementation of Novell and Microsoft-based networks, it's clear that everyone needed to learn: computers were new and there were very few experts. Without any prior experience to base their actions on, even applications such as Excel and Word were daunting. Just using a floppy disk was a voyage of discovery. As networks were implemented and became more complex, IT professionals had the same learning issues - everything was new, everything had to be learnt. It took time and training. No wonder the IT training industry grew so quickly, to be so large.

A computer on every desk

But you didn't have to be Nostradamus to see what would come next. Computers were so successful that they were everywhere. Yet the massive growth in computers didn't lead to a proportionate growth in training. Why? They all (pretty much) ran the same operating system, or network operating system - along with the same software. New software was (smartly) designed so it worked like the old - so when a new program came along, we may not have known how to use it, but we sure knew how to explore and find out how to use it. And, for the first time, those leaving school, college and university were already computer literate. They didn't need to be shown how to move a mouse. They knew not just the basics, but were proficient in Windows, Office and many mainstream products - what they didn't know, they could easily learn by themselves.

Again, this has been misread as another indicator of the decline of the IT training industry. But the industry survives - and is in pretty good health, defying all reports of its death.

Along comes e-learning

What was thought to be a final nail in the coffin of the IT training industry, in its traditional classroom form at least, was the growth of new technologies - e-learning, for example, which could dramatically cut learning costs and be controlled globally. Along with this, the rise of the Internet, where learning on demand is as quick as consulting Google - which is now probably the world's number one learning tool, never mind number one search engine.

IT training will always continue to change

The fact is, IT training has changed, and continues to change. Like all things, it has to evolve or die - and evolve it has. To compensate for many people already having basic (and even advanced) computer skills, we've seen a massive increase in fast-track training programmes, boot camps and so on. New courses assume a greater level of prior knowledge - and are all the better for it. True, the most basic introductory training courses have declined, but their replacements are more targeted and focused.

Even the fact that IT products at a user and server level have become more complex hasn't led to courses growing in size or a need for greater training - we already know enough to hit the boards running. These days, there are very few real IT 'beginners'.

There will always be a need for learning

But even people with good knowledge will always need to know more - so, unlike some predictions, the need for IT training hasn't gone away, despite new entrants having good IT skills. There will always be something outside their experience - whether it's a point of sale system, a custom database, a complex networking schema, there's always something to learn.

Despite the initial brouhaha around e-learning, it's failed to displace classroom training. Well, this should be no surprise, since television has failed to displace radio, despite radio's lack of pictures. E-learning is a success in its own right, and classroom training companies now often include it as part of a 'blended' learning approach, using it alongside traditional learning methods.

But more than anything else, IT training has simply been absorbed into 'training' - so it's now seldom seen as an island. It's just part of the overall training need. Even IT training companies have spotted this, adding into their portfolio IT-related soft skills, such as project management, people management and service management. IT training companies have, by and large, expanded their outlook, growing into broader 'training companies'.

The IT training industry is as strong as ever, with as good an outlook as it has ever had - because it's adapted and changed. It's literally grown up.

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