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Survey: Users stuck in rut, no time to train

Many iSeries pros say the inability to fit training into their schedules is preventing them from landing a promotion.

Conversation about the importance of upgrading skills sets hasn't fallen on deaf ears -- although it may seem like it.

Many iSeries pros are falling behind when it comes to expanding their horizons. As a result, many are losing out on better job opportunities. But it's not because they don't want to improve their skills. They simply can't find the time to do it.

We're left with no time to even keep existing skills polished, much less to learn new ones.
Joseph Cattano
technical support specialistGoldman Associates of New York

In a recent State of the Industry Survey of 253 iSeries professionals, nearly 30% cited career and training issues as their most difficult challenge. In a follow-up quick poll, 46% of the respondents said their biggest career development headache was that there was no time to expand their skills.

"There's not a lot of time for it and not very many options," said Treva Gage, director of MIS, People's Health Centers Inc. in St. Louis. "As other AS/400 shops move on, I can't go with them because I don't have the knowledge."

Gage said she's eager to learn new skills and is particularly interested in learning more about the eServer i5, which IBM introduced in June. She's confident that her company would support her in any training endeavor, but with so many projects, she just can't figure out a way to fit it all in.

Joe Cattano, a technical support specialist for Goldman Associates of New York, blames an industry that wants quick fixes. The biggest problem, he said, is most shops spend a lot of time fixing off-the-shelf packages or outsourced projects that don't work as advertised.

"No one seems to want to take the time to research, learn new technologies, plan, design and code applications," Cattano said. "Instead, something is purchased, then when it doesn't work, time is spent trying to get the vendor to fix it and when that doesn't work in-house people are expected to get it working ASAP. It seems to be a vicious cycle with no way out. So we're left with no time to even keep existing skills polished, much less to learn new ones."

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Users tell all: The State of the iSeries Industry

iSeries career experts Vic Sbrega and Ron Zetterberg of AS/400 Personnel Agency Inc., Encinitas, Calif., said part of the problem is the lack of available courses. This forces users to rely on hands-on training, which for some is nearly impossible. Companies are not going to make it easy for users to develop and upgrade skills.

"They have to find the time," Zetterberg said. "They have to take the initiative to really do it on their own -- many IT departments are understaffed, but they have to do it for the sake of their long-term career."

According to Sbrega, companies are now in a position to demand certain skill sets and they're not about to offer training to those who don't have it.

In addition, companies running on limited budgets and resources don't have the money or time to spend on training.

"They needed someone yesterday to fill the position," said Sbrega. "They don't have the time to train. They're already behind."

But Sbrega warned that as the pool for skilled IT pros dries up, the reverse will be true. This could mean greater opportunity for users to upgrade their skills.

Although IBM could not be reached for comment, it has said in the past that education is key to the growth of the iSeries. A year ago, the company developed a road map intended to take developers, at their own pace and terms, on itty-bitty steps from RPG development to a more modern Web user interface.

IBM is also pushing a new academic initiative that will work with students and faculty in several universities to outfit students with IBM ThinkPads, servers, free software and tutelage from select IBM technical staff. IBM will work with colleges and universities that support open standards to promote open source initiatives such as the Linux and Eclipse tools platforms.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Kate Evans-Correia, Senior News Editor

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