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Are you cutting corners with the CAD cowboys?

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17th Jul 2013
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How do you choose an IT training provider, either for yourself or your employees?  Kirstin Donoghue gives us some guidance.

Everyone loves a bargain. But how do you distinguish between a genuine offer and a rip-off when it comes to training?

Buying specialist training is always difficult, especially for HR and training managers who may not, themselves, possess the technical skills being taught. The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ remains true in many ways. But when so many businesses are cutting prices it’s always tempting to think that this particular offer is the exception, especially when many training budgets have been cut.

Technology is changing so quickly and it’s easy for someone offering IT training of any kind to blind their poor victim with science – not to mention jargon and acronyms. The sales person on the other end of the phone may sound as if they have all the right professional credentials.  They may tell you that any training company authorised by a software vendor charges extra just because of their connection with the brand name. They may suggest that these authorised trainers will be partisan in their instructions.

So how can you tell if an offer is really all that it sounds? When talking about many areas of IT, the situation is complex. Buying cheap in the short term can be full of hidden pitfalls.

Training in computer-aided design (CAD) is a case in point. These days, any organisation that designs products, buildings or infrastructure – from hairbrushes to airports – uses some form of CAD. Yet there have been so many technological leaps and bounds over the past four or five years that there’s a huge difference between carrying out basic 2D design and using digital prototyping where products are designed, tested and analysed on screen. This and the architectural equivalent, building information modelling (BIM), have transformed working practices in design-based industries and these are evolving all the time.

An unauthorised instructor won’t necessarily be teaching up-to-date methods. They won’t have regular meetings with appropriate software vendors or be privy to product road maps and insider knowledge. Even if they are offering training on the latest versions of software, they may not have been trained on it themselves. Of course, ideally training should be seen as continuous personal development; a way to refresh skills and learn new ways to remain competitive, both for individuals and teams. To enable this, it’s essential that instructors can lead the way rather than offer outdated releases and tired ideas.

"...it’s not only technical skills that make a good trainer. The best are those that are not only experts in their subject, but also in teaching methods and the way we learn."

Besides, one reason for investment in training is to ensure that teams are maximising software investments by raising productivity levels and quality of work. But the development of best practice only comes when trainers have the benefit of continuous consultatioGot n with users, user-groups, communities and the vendors and developers themselves.

But of course, it’s not only technical skills that make a good trainer. The best are those that are not only experts in their subject, but also in teaching methods and the way we learn. Some software vendors have invested in initiatives to enhance their trainers’ existing technical expertise with softer skills surrounding learning styles. In the best schemes, instructors are continuously monitored and assessed to ensure standards are maintained.

Often the unofficial trainers making the hard sell are from firms that have diversified a little too widely, dabbling in CAD training when business in other areas is poor. Because so much has been happening in the CAD world recently it remains a relatively buoyant area. But it’s difficult to take teaching methods from one type of software and translate them to another. Because of the diversity of CAD, the best courses include tests to benchmark current skills and pinpoint where participants need help the most. They also include practical challenges to teach problem solving, as well as the mechanics of the software.

If a quote looks exceptionally cheap, the trainer may also be playing one of the oldest tricks in the book – giving a price for a pared-down service only and providing everything else as an ‘added extra’. IT and CAD certification are growing in popularity as these exams provide a globally-recognised qualification. Of course, most trainers will charge for exam entry separately, but most will also be upfront about this. Unofficial trainers won’t be able to offer certification themselves so their candidates will need to travel to an authorised examination centre. They may also try to charge over the odds for training materials which are available to download free from the internet.

Unauthorised instructors are only trying to make a living. Most will have some knowledge and will, in all good faith, do their best to offer sound teaching. However, there is every chance that this will be outdated and sometimes unreliable. On the other hand, authorised trainers have had to go through a rigorous process to reach their status. Their forward-looking approach means that their guidance will be valid for longer and help employees become far more productive. Doing it this way may not be so expensive in the long run.

Kirstin Donoghue, Autodesk Partner Manager, Europe at Knowledgepoint

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