There is one sure bet in business - if a company spends money to train staff in something, that something is considered important to the business. When it comes to e-skills, says Staffan Windrup, UK managing director of training company Learning Tree International, the focus is still very much coming from a marketing perspective.
"It is about upgrading Web sites, making them more interactive, making more information available on it about products and services. That is happening a lot," he says. He is also seeing a lot of interest in courses that relate to e-commerce. "We first started running them about three years ago, and over the past 12 to 18 months they have really exploded. Four of our top five courses are in e-commerce. That was not the case l8 months ago - NT was top then."
Windrup carefully avoids prefixing everything with "e". "Trying to make it a hot word turns people off," he says. "That said, if I could put 'XML' in front of everything I would. It is very hot."
During the lifetime of each IT subject, Windrup says the type of people who take training courses can be classified by three stages of interest. The first is for the experts. Those who are trailblazing and want to get deep inside a new topic to be among the first to understand it thoroughly.
"Organisations tend to send people for their first e-commerce-related training in advance of formulating and implementing specific plans so they can explore the possibilities and determine exactly what level of commitment they would need to make," he says.
The second stage in the cycle is when the staff who will be doing the work are sent on courses so that they can learn the skills they will use on the projects.
The final stage is where people think, "I don't particularly need this but I'll do it anyway" - a sort of mopping up and consolidation stage.
When it comes to e-skills, there is already a spread showing across the three stages. Java, for example, has already definitely entered stage two - the code-builders are doing the courses, going back to their departments and building the systems.
"XML is almost at stage two," says Windrup. "It is extremely popular but HTML is still around."
"Overall, Java is definitely the most popular subject on our e-commerce-related courses, closely followed by XML."
One subject that is still clearly in the first stage of take-up is security, says Windrup, while some other areas, such as integration, are not yet being seen as e-skills. Windrup predicts that this will change. "The next wave of e-skills will focus on integration and enabling databases to communicate, as well as e-security issues such as payments and intrusion," he says.
"Also, because e-commerce implementation involves a wide variety of business, design and technical skills, good project management is absolutely critical to its success and we have seen a significant growth in demand for project management training."
Two key issues for e-skills provision that currently concern Windrup are the emergence of new job roles within e-commerce and the question of e-skills certification.
On the subject of new roles, Windrup has seen quite a few people coming on to courses such as HTML who are not from IT at all. They have come from areas such as marketing, but are plunging into e-commerce so they can play a part in areas such as Web design and content.
"My major occupation at the moment is to try to understand these new job roles that the Web has created," says Windrup.
As for e-skills certification, "There is not a well-recognised certification regarding e-commerce at the moment," he says. "Certainly nothing comparable with things like the Microsoft certified professional award."
Would it help to increase the number of people with e-skills or improve their quality if such certification existed?
"In some ways it could be counterproductive," he says. What is important is not the certificate but the experience of applying the skills.
"Hopeful IT new entrants could do the courses faithfully, get their certificates and still not get a job because they lack the crucial test of hands-on, real-world project experience," he says.
This was first published in September 2001