IT training trails new technology

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Technology changes quickly, and federal agencies are constantly in the process of adopting the next generation of IT solutions.

But the IT professionals who manage and operate federal systems often find themselves unprepared to deal with technology advances and increasing complexity, in large part because they don't have enough time or money to receive the training they need to get up to speed, according to a survey by Texas-based software developer SolarWinds.

The survey polled 111 federal IT professionals and found that 45 percent are concerned about their current ability to succeed given network complexity challenges associated with new technologies, ever-increasing IT operations and compliance responsibilities.

"There are a good number of people still concerned about their existing skill sets, about their ability to really get the job done," said Sanjay Castelino, vice president and market leader at SolarWinds.

Building up their skills isn't a walk in the park either.

More than half of the IT professionals surveyed disagreed that gaining approvals to participate in training -- vendor learning, distance learning, certifications, onsite or offsite training -- is a "relatively painless process." Scheduling training is even more of a problem for feds, with a majority reporting major difficulties finding time.

Gaining approvals and scheduling times for training have both been negatively affected by sequestration and the government shutdown.

Several agencies, including NASA, cut back on travel spending for its employees in response to budget issues caused by sequestration and to adhere to President Barack Obama's 2012 executive order to promote efficient spending.

"At the same time, the same people still concerned about their existing skill sets think it is increasingly difficult to get the time and budget to actually get training," Castelino added. "And I think we are all in a mode where IT is changing quickly enough and enough new technologies are being implemented that it is going to come to a head at some point."

There is a cost to reduced training, Castelino said, the most direct of which is that existing IT infrastructure or programs suffer because the people who run them don't have the skills to do so effectively. It is not a cost that is easy to quantify, but it will be felt in the future, especially in new technologies like cloud computing.

"It wouldn't surprise me if you are able to look at individual IT programs within agencies six to nine months down the road and find that many are delayed or slowed down or have to be extended," Castelino said.

Employees who feel in dire need of training do have options, even in agencies that have curtailed travel restrictions. Building a business case to present to a supervisor explaining why a certain conference or certification is useful can tip the balance in your favor, Castelino said. When that doesn't work, federal IT employees can join online IT communities. These are not a substitute for real-world training and can require personal time commitments, Castelino said, but can augment existing skills.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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Reader comments

Wed, Oct 23, 2013

This article is a rehash on the state of technology in general and at least 10 years or more late. But it needed to be said again because contracting forgets about it and writes up the contracts like we were in the 70's still.

On the hardware side we are seeing it every time we bring a new product to the warfighter, it is obsolete and parts are not available before it is even fielded and support for the firmware/software in the unit is unavailable because the version used by the vendor initially is superseded by about 5 versions, and is no longer compatible with the current platform configuration.

Fri, Oct 18, 2013 earth

When I started out many decades ago it was assumed one could learn COBOL or FORTRAN and be set for life LOL. Skip to the near past and notice the decreasing progression in Visual Studio(VS) 2003, VS2005, VS2008, VS2010, VS 2012, VS2013 with C# now in version 5, MCV at version 5 and Entity Framework in version 6. Each having a decreasing lifecycle generation time of about 8 months at present. And while the training budget is the first budget to get cut, the suggested time to become an expert in a technology still stands at around 2000 hours. That’s full time for a year of study. Also while there is some continuity in these technologies, it is the discontinuities, not the fresh features, that trip up the experienced. Old best practices and idioms become depreciated or security problems. So by the time a total novice becomes reasonably experienced with the latest technology, they are behind the times. That brand new cell phone you bought is unsupportable in less than two years and the new programmer that was brought up to speed is a troglodyte now.
What is needed isn’t a training budget for periodic 3 day classes but a continuous set aside of time for personal technological retrofitting of at least one hour a day. (In all likelihood, your IT staff is spending at least that much of their personal time just trying to keep up.) I frankly believe that all IT shops should be set up like a graduate school complete with seminars where staff can be assigned to explore an emerging technology and give a presentation on it once a week, at least until this computer science singularity pops.

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