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I recently started working at a company in the IT department. The people are obviously hard working and helpful, but I'm afraid their skills aren't what they should be. They have many years at the company but their methods and systems are not modern standard practices.

Among the solutions I would like implemented is taking online courses (pluralsight, coursera, etc.) To help them improve, I believe they should be allowed to take them during work hours (if nothing nothing is on fire).

So, should I push to allow employees to take online classes during work hours? Or should the company pay for the courses but have the employees study on their own time?

  • Do you actually want employees to use the courses, or do you just want them to be available for employees to use (i.e. optional)? If my boss said "Here's a course subscription which you can use on your own time if you're interested" I might be encouraged but my reaction would be quite different if he instead said "Here's a course subscription which you are required to use at home on your own time." – Brandin Apr 14 '15 at 17:03
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    Are you a manager or individual contributor? And do your fellow employees agree about the courses? – DJClayworth Apr 14 '15 at 17:10
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    related (possibly a duplicate): How can we motivate employees to complete IT certificates? "What serves the company, should be done in work hours, don't invade into employees private life for that. Keep in mind that forcing employees to work over the reasonable hours..." – gnat Apr 14 '15 at 21:28
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One of the services I offer is to mentor teams and developers to make them better. I end up working on the boss to get company wide subscriptions to these services on just about every engagement. Note: I do so not to increase my own royalties (most of my mentoring clients don't watch my courses; they have me for that - they watch other people's courses) but because I genuinely think it's a way to profoundly improve developers, and that's what they're paying me to do. I get a Yes from the boss in three ways:

  • I name specific courses I think a specific person would benefit from. Not just the rather vague "online training" but "a 4 hour course on [topic] that will cover some of the mechanics X needs now that we've gone over the general purpose of the tool."
  • I hand out free month trials for the course provider I write for. These are easy for me to get hold of, but I believe all the providers offer at least a week's free trial just by clicking a button and providing your email address. Sometimes I sit with a developer and walk them through the sign up process and show them how to search courses too.
  • I follow up repeatedly "did you get signed up for the training yet?"

The reasons these things work is that agreeing to something vague, amorphous, open ended and unmeasurable is basically the opposite of the way all bosses work. You make it concrete and specific. You let the consumers see the quality level of the courses (by trying some) and the deciders see the specific company goals (for X to get better at [topic]) that can be supported by a Yes. Oddly, the low cost of these courses can lead bosses to assume they're probably crap, which is why specific titles and free trials can work so well to let the consumers and bosses see that it will be worth their time. Finally, following up makes sure that the decision gets made rather than put off - it's never an urgent matter to take care of ongoing training, so it can drift to the bottom of a todo list. Sometimes, I offer to arrange a call from a sales rep (to get you an even better discount, I may say, which is true) and this often takes some of the work off the boss, so they are happy to say yes.

I urge the bosses to let people watch the courses at work, during slow times, while eating at their desks, while supervising builds or deploys, that sort of thing. The benefits are significant.

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