Holding Training Centers Accountable

"Quit your job and get your MCSE, MCSD, and MCDBA in just 4 months—and receive up to a $1500 per month living allowance," a recent radio commercial promised. I've heard other advertisements that tell you to "cash in on the IT employment boom," saying that "potential IT employers don't care if you have a college degree." One training center advertisement "promised" students a job after completing its training "if you're the kind of person we're looking for."

I hear many horror stories about training centers' recruiting practices. Considering the vast number of people who are receiving IT training, these stories represent a small fraction of the overall experience, but some of the abuses are blatant. The advertisement that promises three certifications in 4 months has been playing in Southern California, where I live, for the past 6 months. If a training center makes such promises in its initial recruiting contact, what kinds of bloated claims must it make once it lures prospective students through its doors? That the company continues to run the ad indicates that it must be effective. But no one who knows anything about the IT industry would quit a good job to pursue the impossible goal of finishing these major certifications in such a short time.

Some centers are guilty of improperly evaluating their prospects and failing to match students' abilities and interests with the appropriate training. In forums such as MCSE Live!, I've read numerous complaints from trainees who should have signed up for a basic hardware class or Microsoft Office User Specialist (MOUS) training but have instead fallen prey to suggestions that they enroll in full MCSE programs. Many of these trainees quickly find themselves in over their heads, but they've signed contracts that make it difficult or expensive to change their minds.

Certainly, most training centers get it right—they properly assess their prospective students, structure a training path that makes sense, and might be flexible if trainees need to change tracks. Few centers make unrealistic claims about IT salaries and the demand for their graduates or downplay the value of experience and a college degree. But a few bad apples are spoiling the IT training barrel.

Few training centers are accountable to anyone, and that must change. Cisco, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, and other industry leaders must not only provide approved curricula, as they do now, but must also play a more active role in elevating the training industry's quality and professionalism. Most instructors are doing a great job, but the training infrastructure in which they teach is in need of an overhaul. National training chains must begin to enforce standards at their local sites and develop better problem-resolution procedures. An old retail adage says, "Make customers happy, and they'll each tell a friend; make customers mad, and they'll each tell 20 friends." Today, with the help of the Internet, a dissatisfied customer is likely to tell hundreds of people about a bad experience. Training vendors in it for the long haul should attempt to gain the long-term respect and loyalty of their customers rather than just reap short-term monetary rewards.

What can we do? Those of us who are in IT can visit local training centers and introduce ourselves as potential employers of the center's customers, its students. We stand to gain or lose from what occurs at the centers. We want to be sure the centers are doing their best to provide us with the best prospective-employee pool to choose from. Also, as customers, we want the best classroom environments for ourselves when we seek additional training. In addition, we can continue to communicate through forums such as MCSE Live! to keep each other informed of any abuses we encounter. We'll all win if we get involved at the local level and begin to hold the training centers to a higher standard.

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