Train Your IT Workers — on the Cheap

4. Pair Up Workers

Rodewald also encourages IT workers to teach one another through "buddy learning."

"I can take an RPG coder who really wants to learn .Net, or a SQL coder who wants to be better at Cognos, and partner them so they learn from each other," she says, noting that these programs work within IT and across different departments.

Of course, employees could tap colleagues for one-on-one training on their own, but Rodewald says they often get tied up in their daily duties and let the opportunities slip away. That's why company support and an established structure are critical for the program to succeed, she says.

At Prudential, an IT worker can ask a colleague to spend two or three lunches sharing his expertise, and vice versa. Each side must develop a curriculum -- "so they're not just sitting and visiting," Rodewald says. She provides lunch for those sessions.

5. Borrow Expertise from Other Companies

Murabito meets monthly with his counterparts at four other Boston-area pharmaceutical companies to discuss key issues.

The group, dubbed the IT Strategy Forum, expanded that model of collaboration and sharing to their staffs, sending workers to one another's companies for brief stints to learn from what's happening there.

For instance, Murabito had a business analyst spend a couple of weeks at a company that was upgrading its product safety system, so they could see firsthand the challenges and successes of that project -- and then bring the lessons back to Cubist Pharmaceuticals.

The IT Strategy Forum recently expanded to include more companies. One of them hosted a session on laboratory information systems, during which its IT officials talked about key vendors, project challenges and pitfalls. Murabito, who wants to implement such a system at his company in 2010, sent two of his business analysts and two of his IT directors to the daylong session -- and he only had to pay for lunch and parking.

Murabito says the forum works because the companies don't compete directly, plus they have legal agreements that govern how they exchange information and prevent members from hiring one another's employees.

6. Formalize Mentoring Opportunities

Mentoring is another staple of career development that executive coaches often recommend yet many working professionals find hard to implement. Meanwhile, formal programs using outside consultants can cost companies $5,000 to $10,000 per person annually, Rodewald says.

But she notes that executives can start in-house versions for virtually no cost.

Rodewald recently did that in her organization. She picked 10 of the company's best leaders from among a group who had volunteered to be mentors. Then she asked employees to sign up if they were interested in being mentored, selecting 10 who showed potential and could be well matched with a mentor.

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To ensure that both sides commit adequate time, Rodewald set up a framework. Both parties must make a nine-month commitment. The pairs must meet off-site at least once a month for about two hours. (That discourages meeting in ineffective 15-minute chunks, she explains.) Those being mentored are responsible for establishing their own goals and objectives.

The pairings are diverse, she says, including some IT people matched with business leaders.

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.

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