“What if we train our employees and they leave?”

Managers often contemplate the answer to that question. They fear employees will leave to advance their career after obtaining valuable skills. Mark Sanborn, author and leadership consultant, answers simply:

“What if you don’t, and they stay?”

This is not a discussion about security awareness and education. Rather, it is about investing in technical training for employees so they can become better at their job and add additional value. This is about enhancing security and IT skills required to be successful – similar to an athlete going to a skills and drills camp to become better and help their team. Stronger, more skilled individuals lead to a stronger team, and that is good for the company business.

How does this factor in security today?

An employee leaving after training on your dime is not an exaggerated concern. Recent statistics continue to show roles such as information security analyst are in high demand and negotiating top-dollar, which may fuel anti-training fire. A single technical training class, or conference, is between $3,000 – $5,000, not including airfare, hotel, meals, and lost productivity while out of office for a week.

Multiply these costs by the number of employees receiving training and the total figure catches attention. However, even with concerns over staff fleeing and lengthy expense reports, corporate training spending is on the rise after a two-year dip into the red around the time of the financial crisis.

“How can the value of training IT security employees evolve to formulate world-class talent on the payroll?” This was the primary question asked during a recent advisory discussion with a global business client focused on leveraging training as a strategic corporate investment.

Think about allocating additional funds to train employees as a strategy to maintain a competitive advantage. For example, developers working on a mobile person-to-person payment service can include a fraud detection module. The additional security module positions the business to offer customers a riskier service, but with security controls and monitoring. This is a marketing opportunity to attract new and retain existing customers. Trained developers with security built-in enable the business to innovate while managing riskier services.

Likewise in other roles, infrastructure staff trained to implement secure design and configuration provides the foundation and agility to support the business next move. This includes a vulnerability management program designed to endure the constant barrage of attacks which could lead to a breach and lost customers.

When employees are first tasked with learning a new system, it is a lot to take on at once. Take a next-gen firewall for example. It starts with excitement at administering the latest and greatest. Shortly thereafter it can be overwhelming learning a new product line interface, component integration, successful deployment, monitoring, and upgrades. In between the initial power-on sequence and go-live, there will be bumps along the way. Stuck behind the keyboard to figure it out has its pros and cons. Depending on the individual, this may be totally acceptable whereas other employees want and need formal training. However, in both cases, the right training reduces the time to master the skills needed to be effective quicker.

Here are five ways to measure success when investing in training:

  • Less error-prone and getting it right the first time.
  • Ability to execute tasks quicker leading to operational efficiency improvements.
  • Maximizing advanced security features of the system/technology as opposed to a basic deployment.
  • Reduction in mean time to repair when problems and failures occur.
  • Improvements to employee morale and efficacy as well as employee retention due to skills obtained from training. Training is a key perk employees look for in an employer.

Despite survey trends and evidence supporting investing in employee training, some companies are still resistant to the idea and view training as a, nice-to-have.

Here are five ways to improve training experiences while controlling costs:

  • Look at existing enterprise agreements to see if training vouchers are available from the vendor, as is often the case with large purchases.
  • Rather than sending individuals out one-by-one, bring the training on-site with expenses for the trainer as opposed to several employees. This also provides the opportunity to train and improve the existing systems and applications in the company environment.
  • There is also the option to have a trained employee or two train those around them – a train-the-trainer, mentoring approach.
  • Organizations can get creative by rotating employees for cross-functional skills and depth. This approach helps to provide opportunity for employees to get to implement business-value change versus break-fix, which can ware and have less job satisfaction.
  • While not vendor-specific, alternative sources including Stanford Online, Coursera, and Codecademy may fill certain needs, for free.

Everything is easy, when you know how to do it!

The ability to do is where employees generally cut their teeth in their career and is the initial employee value to the business – the technical skills to execute tasks. This is a defining period of time for employees and companies. For companies, it is the foresight to invest in the development of people towards creating a stronger team. For employees, training is part of the foundation. The win-win is progressive career development from job and skill mastery, to understanding how IT supports and aligns to the business and more importantly, why. Understanding how and why is eventually where employees see the bigger picture. How, is two-fold – how to administer and develop systems, and how it relates to the business. It all starts with knowing how, technically, to do something.

As employees look for career growth there should be upward mobility without having to leave the organization. Employee morale and self-efficacy improves as they learn what to do and how to do it and contributing to the greater good of the company. Naturally some employees will leave, but for those who stay, how do they contribute value if they are not efficient at doing what you need them to?

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