mardi 9 octobre 2018

Obtaining time for training and going to conferences

I know some employees that’d like to train more, to go to conferences, present at conferences and train during working hours. Few employers allow that to the extent that the employee would want to, some don’t even feel entitled to order books on behalf of their company. This generates frustration, and to me inefficiency at work, because developers need to continuously learn a lot and learn with a wider perspective than only the working environment can ever offer.

I’ve seen this tension and frustration in just about every company, from high profile consulting agencies where training is encouraged and expected, still one or two individuals would prefer to spend even more time training and preparing conference presentations, to some low profile consulting agencies where one boss explained to me: 
I have a problem with letting people train a lot. The company makes an investment through training fees and non billed time. The return on investment is negative, because the more they learn the greater the salary they can get elsewhere, but I can’t pay them much more because developer fees are limited. No matter the skill level I can’t charge above a certain level, so the more I invest the sooner they’ll leave
Now that’s sad, really really sad, but what would you do if this was your company?
Interestingly company owners never have a problem with their personal balance, neither do freelance developers. Why? It’s not because they’re special people in any sense. It’s because they are in a self regulating system. The more they train the less they "produce" in the short term, training is an "investment" in the future and they both reap the benefits and pay the bill. The system will balance without authoritarian decision and consequent frustration.

Now I have a bold idea both for business owners and for employees negotiating a new job. It came to me several years ago when a client wanted to hire me as an employee instead of as a contractor. The job was interesting so I asked myself what do I value as a freelance, what exactly do I like about it? It became very clear to me that I liked to have the freedom to decide. In particular what conferences I’d go to, what books I’d buy, when I needed to be away from work to train. So I stated my conditions: 25 days a year of training and going to and/or speaking at conferences with a budget of max 10k€ on training courses and travel expenses. After that we could negotiate salary, making it very easy for the future employer to calculate the total cost, salary, expenses, non-project time etc and compare it to the benefits of my activities. Naturally they had never encountered a demand like it before, nevertheless it was easily accepted. While I never ended up working with them for other reasons, I was confident that I wouldn’t have felt feel frustrated had I ended up working there.

As you can see I value time for training a lot, but not everyone does to that extent and that’s perfectly OK. We’re not all the same, some people prefer day to day work because lets face it it can be very interesting, and some value maximising salary. The point here is to give the opportunity to everyone to choose how much they’re investing in the future and how much we’re cashing out now.
Using this clear deal of clearly reserving the expected time and budget for knowledge development, people can even use companies like the low profile consulting agency as trampolines for their career, accepting lower salary in return for greater investment, a productive partnership.
In short when an employee goes to training or prepare a presentation the company benefits a lot from it, but so does the employee. When benefits are mutual so should cost be, otherwise heavy investment is not sustainable. So following this idea of shared costs, almost anyone can find a good balance with almost any company.
Possibly there’s even more value to it. Some people haven’t quite internalised that we have to learn more than we can learn by daily work. And I think it can help them, as well as the organization as a whole, to ask people during the hiring process
How much training etc would suit you? We will provide a minimum, but we can also help you if you’d like more.
I suspect such a question could help people think about it and take responsibility for their future development.

What do you think? Have you tried something similar? If you know of people and companies who does this or would like to try it yourself, I’d love to hear about it!