The Defence Communications Service Agency, which provides IT services for the Ministry of Defence, is offering its staff the chance to gain a formal Microsoft qualification in IT support as it gears up to outsource its IT work.
The DCSA introduced the training programme which leads to the Microsoft Desktop Support Technician certificate following the MoD's decision to outsource its information infrastructure to Atlas, a consortium led by EDS and Fujitsu services, last year.
The DCSA hopes the training programme, dubbed "Fit to stay, fit to go", will encourage staff to stay in their IT roles, while preparing those who want to leave with a marketable qualification for civilian life.
"We were concerned there would be an exodus of IT staff applying for work in other parts of the Ministry of Defence. We thought one of the best ways to keep them was to give them training and development, " said Craig Parry, senior instructor.
The scheme has led to a dramatic improvement in morale in the organisation, said Parry, and is now being taken up by other parts of the MoD, including the RAF and the Royal Navy.
"For us, it has had a lot of benefits in people's attitude," said Parry. "They can see there is a management commitment to provide training through the transition and boost their skills. There is a higher staff morale."
The course has also filled gaps in the skills of the DCSA's helpdesk staff, ensuring the agency will continue to provide a good service even if staff leave for the private sector, said Parry.
About 200 DCSA IT staff are expected to go through the five-day training programme, which is being provide by QA, over the next 12 to 18 months. But this could increase as other parts of the MoD take up the programme.
Staff joining the course sign an agreement with their line managers which commits managers to provide on-the job experience to back up the training, and staff to spend time studying.
The DCSA and QA offer IT staff self-study books and online assessments, aiming to bring all staff up to the same level of expertise and help them work out when they are ready for the five-day training course.
At a glance: MCSA qualification
Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Certified System Administrator last year to meet growing demand from businesses for an entry-level qualification for IT support staff.
The qualification, open to people with six months' experience supporting users on a helpdesk, is aimed at helpdesk technicians, customer support professionals supporting Windows XP.
"We were getting constant feedback that the first level role for IT professionals is on the helpdesk. That's where they learn most of the practices and how to support users before they move to a systems administrator role," said Ram Dhaliwal, Microsoft's training and certification manager.
Candidates must sit two exams: supporting and trouble-shooting XP, and supporting and trouble-shooting applications on XP.
The qualification is popular with IT students, who often provide support services for their academic institutions. The qualification has been taken by 7,000 IT professionals so far.