Evening inspiration

With many new courses due to start next month, Roisin Woolnough looks at what evening classes can offer IT professionals

With many new courses due to start next month, Roisin Woolnough looks at what evening classes can offer IT professionals

Instead of heading straight for the pub, the gym or home to a comfortable armchair and a night in front of the television, many IT professionals like to make pots, learn how to mend a bicycle or brush up on their French - anything that makes a change from their daytime activities.

"I do a lot of evening classes," says Annette Pearson, technical consultant at risk management software house KWI. "I have done a ceramics course, salsa, yoga, shiatsu, ballet dancing and now want to do a photography course. I like to have a structured way of doing something else after work other than just going to the pub. A lot of my IT friends also do courses - at the moment one does kickboxing and another one does painting."

September is the traditional time for people to start going to evening classes because a lot of courses begin at the start of the new academic year. People also tend to feel more restless at the end of the summer and are keen to take on new challenges.

Language courses are one of the most popular choices, with people taking them both for personal satisfaction and to enhance their career prospects and open the possibility of working abroad.

There is an increasing demand for evening classes that focus on career development and business-related issues. "We run quite a few courses on subjects such as how to set up a business, marketing, team-building and leadership," says Carol Snape, course co-ordinator for business and professional development at City University in London. "IT professionals definitely benefit from getting business skills and seeing how other aspects of business are run."

It can be easier to learn new skills away from the pressures of work and the watchful eye of colleagues, particularly if you are branching out into a new field. Because of the current economic climate and companies clamping down on training spend, a lot of IT professionals are finding employers will only fund business-critical courses, so evening classes are sometimes the only way they can develop the non-technical aspects of their job.

Lesley Beddie, vice-president of education and training at the British Computer Society, thinks the more general business knowledge an IT worker possesses, the better. "What we are keen on is that the IT professional is a well-rounded professional," she says. "It is important not just to understand the IT bit but also the business bit, organisational requirements, social skills and so on. It is important to know about things like how to do presentations. If a person wants to broaden their career or go into management, employers want to see that they are not just a technical person."

Business courses can be an excellent way to propel your career in a new direction. If you aspire to work in project management but do not have the necessary skills and experience, it could be well worth looking at project management and strategic development evening classes. Or if you would like to be promoted to a managerial position but lack people-management experience, think about a people-management course, leadership course or team-building course.

Employers are impressed by people who have demonstrably taken ownership of their career, and the business skills evening course you took six months ago may be what singles you out from a queue of other job applicants.

Even if the course is unrelated to your career and in no way helps you perform your job, employers still notice any activity done in your spare time. "When I have recruited, I looked at interests and it definitely had an impact," says Pearson. "Sometimes it is the only thing that differentiates you."

On a personal level, Pearson believes doing an evening class counteracts the stresses of her job. "I spend so much time concentrating on work that when I leave work I really want to concentrate on something else. I do evening classes to relax as they totally take my mind off work. Also, I work 10-hour days most days, and doing a course gives me a reason to make myself leave work at a set time."

Employers know that extra-curricula activities are good stress relievers and some actively encourage staff to take up hobbies. Ford Motor Company, for example, runs what it calls the Employee Development Assistance Programme (Edap). Under this scheme, the company allots £200 per employee each year for them to take courses. "We have a take up of about 37% per annum, which is above the national average for such things," says Colin Spence, Edap national co-ordinator at Ford. "Moreover, 15% of people go on to take some form of qualification."

The only stipulation is that the course is not connected to the employee's job. "It is not supposed to be job-related," says Spence.

Simon Otter, a systems analyst at Ford, is a big fan of the scheme. "I have done a Spanish course, scuba diving and snowboarding. I am now learning how to play the guitar - something that I have always wanted to do." Like Pearson, Otter says he enjoys engaging in something outside of IT.

"I do it for personal satisfaction. It is a good way of switching off from work and I also think it broadens my horizons," he says.

Before choosing a course, ask yourself
  • What do you want to learn about and why?

  • What are the costs and practicalities involved?

  • Which nights are best for you and will you be able to commit to an 11-week course that necessitates you leaving work at 5.30pm to get there on time?

Where to find out about evening courses
  • Your local university, adult education college, council or library

  • Advertisements in newspapers or trade publications

  • Dedicated publications such as Floodlight, a guide to courses in the Greater London area, www.floodlight.co.uk.

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