When working as an IT professional it is essential that you continually improve your skill set to keep up with the fast paced environment. As technology moves forward at such a fast rate you will fall behind if you do not move with it and your chances of succeeding in the industry may suffer.
Identification of needs: To continually improve you need to identify areas that are most important to maintain your professional development. These can be identified by working closely with your line manager and using feedback from customers and self-assessment of your own performance. Your professional development needs can be documented in a range of formal reports as shown below:
Formal reports – appraisal meeting notes: When meeting with your line manager or project manager you will complete personal performance appraisals. These will identify your strengths and areas for improvement based on your current performance. The manager will make notes on your performance and you will discuss how you can develop new skills that will improve your performance based on the appraisals. You can then work together and analyse the appraisal meeting notes to identify training that will help bridge the gap in your knowledge to improve your performance in certain aspects of the job.
Formal reports – customer feedback: When documenting work related performance IT companies may design customer feedback surveys to identify strengths and weaknesses of a product or service based on customer opinion. This feedback will be processed and will be used internally by the company to identify company wide and individual training needs based on the current performance and customer opinions.
Formal reports – performance data: Training and development needs may be identified based on performance data. This could be sales reports or reports on how well deadlines were met by certain departments when working on a project. If the sales of a certain product fell after a new update was made then the needs of the team that made the new design may need to be addressed as they may not have the same design skills than the people who designed the previous version of the product. Another example would be if a games design company had a very successful game released as a 2D platformer and then released the game in 3D and it was not a success. The needs of the 3D design team would need to be addressed to ensure the next release of the game continued the success of the title in the same level as the 2D version. If a software development team were late on delivering the product in the last 3 release cycles the team might need to get more training on effective time management based on this performance data.
Self-assessment and personal development planning: One of the best ways to identify personal needs is for individuals to self-assess their needs and identify areas that they wish to upskill in. This could be a junior web designer who wanted to do an animation training course so that she could improve the look and feel of a current client’s website by integrating a custom designed animation advertising their main product. Another example could be a programmer that saw an opportunity to work on a new project that used a different programming language. The programmer may consult with his manager to see if there was enough in the training budget to do an online training course so that he could improve his skillset and work on more advanced products within the company. Individuals can also identify different areas that they would like to train in to shift the direction of their career. For example, a software sales person might be so involved in explaining the technical side of a software product that they might want to take a new direction in their career and train as a software developer and join the software development team and become a link with the sales teams based on previous experience.
Records: Recording and tracking professional needs is an essential part of the process as it shows a trail of how an IT professional has developed and identifies new skills that may be utilised by the company in other projects in the future. The records can also be presented to the employee as a record of their training and career advancement within the organisation. Recording training and new qualifications helps employees add to their CVs and boosts their potential to succeed in the IT industry in a more advanced role.
Records – target setting: When doing appraisal meetings or self-assessment it is important to identify individual needs. When the needs of an employee or team are identified it is a good idea to set targets on how these needs should be fulfilled. Setting individual and group targets will ensure that needs are met within a pre-determined timescale and the correct training and up skilling methods are used.
Records – appraisal records: Most IT companies have at least yearly reviews between managers and individual staff to review their performance in their current job role. The manager will appraise the employee’s performance under a pre-defined set of criteria to paint a picture of how the employee is performer. They might discuss punctuality and attendance as well as any periods of sickness. They may also discuss the employee’s performance in terms of meeting project deadlines. They will work together to identify the training needs of the individual and plan internal and external training courses if required to ensure the employee is fully equipped to improve on the skills needed to do their role.
Addressing needs – job shadowing: After identifying the needs of an individual member of staff it is important to ensure that the correct training is provided for the employee to improve on their current skills. One method of learning on the job is job shadowing. Job shadowing means the training takes place by joining up with a co-worker to see how they use the tools and skills in their day to day job. This can be seen as a form on informal internal training. A senior employee will take a more junior member of staff under their wing to teach them skills that have been identified in the performance appraisal process. If a junior web developer needed to improve their css skills for a specific task then they might join up with a senior web designer to see how they use skills similar to what will be needed in the future by the less experienced person.
Addressing needs – team meetings: When further instruction is needed on a particular need of an individual or team members guidance can be given in team meetings. For example a team of programmers working on a project may be guided through how to approach a programming task by a senior programmer during a meeting. This could be recorded in the meeting of the minutes and further training could be planned for individuals depending on the discussion during the meeting.
Addressing needs – attending events: When appraisals take place and individual needs are identified sometimes it is beneficial to identify events that employees can attend to increase the knowledge of a particular area. For example, an games marketing assistant could go to a gamers conference to look at how the most popular games are marketed and they could take ideas from the event back with them to market the latest release of their own company. Events are also useful to talk to people that work in the same area to get ideas from them and also make contacts within the industry.
Addressing needs – external training: When training needs are identified then plans will be put in place for employees to attend external training events. A network engineer might want to keep up to date with the latest technologies by attending a Cisco course. The reason for this may be that the company wants to introduce new networking hardware and the network manager’s previous training may have focused on old technologies. Another example would be a programmer that needed to learn a new language that was required for a specific project. It may be a good idea for a senior programmer to attend an external training event and then produce training materials to help other programmers within the organisation to learn the new language so they too could use it for the new project. Sometimes companies can save money by only sending a small number of people to an external training event like this. There are also free external training events that employees can hire. For example, if Adobe were releasing a new graphics design software package they might offer free training events to promote the product.
Addressing needs – internal training: A lot of companies have developed induction training materials that all new members of staff have to attend when joining the company. Other examples are senior people designing and delivering training materials for junior members of staff. This could be after the senior person attends an external training event and then uses the information to train other members of their team. Companies also have specific internal training that focuses on areas such as health and safety and producing documentation.