by JOHN HASER III
The nation’s economic woes have taken their toll on the technology industry, but not on those who train technology workers, say area experts.
The technology sector as a whole remained stagnant in the last year, according to a study by the Information Technology Association of America. The need for network administrators and tech-support staff has diminished.
This hasn’t stopped area employers from training their work force, however, said Harve Tannenbaum, a professor at Central Pennsylvania College in Summerdale, Cumberland County.
“The tech world is in constant evolution,” he said. “(Technology workers’) needs go past two-year degrees,” he said. “They need to be able to handle both the technical and business aspects of the field.”
The school, formerly Central Pennsylvania Business School, started offering bachelor’s degrees two years ago in several information technology fields, including multimedia design, database management, cyber-security and network management, in response to those needs, according to Tannenbaum.
In addition, the college continues to offer two-year degrees in Cisco systems administration, Oracle database and web design.
While Tannenbaum said the economy has not significantly influenced the school’s tech-sector enrollment, the threat of terrorism has led to an increase in the number of students seeking degrees in cyber-security.
The college offers classes in 11-week terms, allowing students to quickly receive degrees. Tannenbaum said he believes the school’s accelerated program makes it appealing to professionals who want quick results.
Because the school caters to nontraditional students, most of the students he teaches are employed and attend classes with the financial assistance of their employers, he said. Some attendees are looking to increase their jobs skills on their own, he added.
The mix of employer-mandated and independent students is quite different at “Training Camp” in the Pocono town of Bushkill, according to Christopher Porter. Porter is vice president of sales and
marketing for Philadelphia-based Knowledge Key Associates, the company that runs the camp along with other similar training centers across the nation and world.
“We split about 50 percent individual and 50 percent business productivity,” he said, referring to the mix of students.
Porter said he sees Sept. 11, 2001, as a turning point for businesses. He said companies are now focusing on security and are sending employees to be trained in the latest techniques.
Unlike Central Penn’s broader degree-oriented program, The Training Camp has a “bare-bones, results-oriented approach” to training, said Porter. Students at the center can complete courses in as little as six days, and certification tests are taken as part of the curriculum.
Programs at the center cost between $1,500 and $7,500 and cover Microsoft Networks, Oracle database administration, Cisco Systems and other well-known certifications.
He said the program satisfies the needs of companies looking for just-in-time training, which refers to businesses that send their employees for training when the need arises. In addition, the fast pace is good for technology workers who are looking to pad their resume with new certifications.
Porter said the tightening job market requires employees and those looking for work to pick up new skills and certifications.
“You could make the statement that the current growth rate is slowing but training is growing,” he said, citing the potential for the industry to double or triple in size in the next few years.
Highmark Inc., which operates locally as Pennsylvania Blue Shield, relies heavily on training programs to educate its IT department. According to Lowell Starling, the East Pennsboro Township company’s vice president for infrastructure management, the company regularly holds training sessions from outside services to educate its tech workers.
“We continue to train heavily,” he said of his department of 1,400 workers. “If you are not training heavily in the IT field, you will fall behind.”
The company directly pays the cost of training that it mandates and uses a tuition-reimbursement system to encourage employees to train on their own, he said.
He said he doesn’t worry about holding on to workers after he has trained them. In fact, he believes keeping his workers up-to-date on new technologies actually helps keep his turnover low.
He said companies looking to find good training for their employees should look for programs that will increase employee performance and will be conducted in-house.
If a firm does not have enough employees to justify bringing in a training company, he suggested teaming up with other companies, rather than sending employees to a center. “It’s more cost-effective to bring them in-house,” he said.
Curt Ashenfelter, vice president of business development for the Technology Council of Central Pennsylvania, said employers must keep up with technology by training employees.
“Companies that don’t train can lose their competitive advantage,” he said. “You need to keep your edge by training employees.”
He said both university and noncredit training programs have value to businesses, and the choice between the two depends on the needs of the employer.
Ashenfelter suggested those looking to train for high-tech jobs consider more than just traditional computer training. He points out that the opening of the Life Sciences Greenhouse in Harrisburg would make more opportunities available in fields such as biotechnology and biomedical device design.