Financial services company Halifax has cut its need for IT contractors by retraining its own staff using computer-based courses, writes John Kavanagh.
And a subsequent move from CD-Rom courses to online training has encouraged its 1,300 IT staff to take the initiative on their personal development and even switch IT careers in the bank.
Halifax latched on to online training last year while working to beat the year 2000 systems deadline. Contractors' fees were cut by training in traditional mainframe programming skills, notably Assembler and Cobol, and the DB2 database system.
"We faced a specific training challenge - the need to reduce the number of contractors," says Halifax's technical training officer Sarah Russell.
"We found this could be achieved by up-skilling existing staff in mainframe skills. Technology-based training was an excellent way to do this, because finding trainers during a major skills shortage would have been difficult."
Halifax, the UK's third largest bank, has now made a formal move from CD-Rom to online training, with the aim of packing more into people's allocated learning time, providing courses better fitted to needs, and giving staff an understanding of a subject before going on a traditional classroom course.
"The aim is to increase the amount of training taken within the allocated eight training days that each employee gets a year," explains Russell.
"This has been achieved by enabling employees to use classroom training more time-effectively, as they now rarely need to travel to attend full-day courses.
"When they do attend courses they find the material is more targeted, because everyone has reached the same level of understanding by taking a technology-based course first."
Halifax is using 200 courses from online training specialist NETg on topics ranging from Windows NT to Visual Basic and Oracle. It runs workshops to cover areas that are complex or need clarification.
Russell says moving from CD-Roms to online courses has itself improved the management of training. "Keeping track of the CD courses was impossible, as they were shared between six sites and people wouldn't always send them back on time for other staff," she says.
"Moving to online training has brought significant logistics benefits. In addition, we can offer a broader range of courses and take advantage of new features that are only available via the Internet, such as NETg's Skill Vantage Manager." This enables employers to track people's progress and identify skills gaps.
Halifax heavily promoted online training to its staff before introducing the new approach. It links training closely to targets through annual personal development plans, which staff and managers fill out together. Managers highlight courses they think staff should take, but people can also take courses in their own time to further increase their skills.
Some staff are now downloading courses or taking home CDs to work in their own time to boost their careers, gaining qualifications in new areas to apply for jobs internally.
Between 70 and 100 IT staff access the courses daily, with most dipping in and out to refresh their skills or look at new areas of a technology they already know. Some staff have also worked through whole courses to get a supplier qualification.