Getting Certified on your Boss's Nickel

Certifications, and the training that precedes them, may represent a

major investment. It's not possible for some people, however talented,

to shell out thousands of dollars for an MCSE study course (or Cisco,

Java, or whatever technology happens to be in demand). Fortunately,

there are some options. Some forward-thinking corporations are footing

the bill for their employees' training -- and when the day is over,

both employer and employee win. The employee gains new knowledge and

potential for advancement, but the employer gets something out of the

deal too.

Although the IT job market may be softening somewhat, some fields

remain in high demand. Hiring top-notch network security people, for

example, is still hard. Instead of sending recruiters into the

marketplace -- who frequently come back empty-handed -- the corporation

may opt to train their own security people by offering specialized

training support. This lets the corporation create a security manager

with a very specific set of skills that match exactly the environment

they happen to be running.

Unisys (Blue Bell, Pennsylvania) has one of the best employee training

programs around. If you're one of the 37,000 folks who work there,

you're in luck. If you're not, check with your employer anyway and see

what they have available, you may be surprised. I talked with Steve

Trehern, Vice President of Unisys University, Unisys' internal training

arm, who says that any employee of Unisys, full-time or part-time, has

access to Unisys University.

UU is organized into ten different "schools", which represent the

various critical business functions of Unisys. The program, which is

offered at no cost to employees, includes instruction that leads to

over 100 certifications. Here's how it works: each role within the

company has a profile. An employee can look at that profile, and see

what core courses and specialty programs and certifications are

attached to it. But it doesn't stop there. Suppose you want to cross

over into a different career path -- for example, if you're in

marketing and want to become an engineer. You can look at the engineer

profile and take courses to prepare you for that crossover.

The university offers a combination of in-house programs, e-learning

programs, and classroom programs offered by third-party learning

centers, although it's all organized under the single Unisys University

umbrella. Obviously, they offer this at no small expense to the

corporation, but from their end, they're getting a great deal too.

Since all the courses are organized around Unisys' core functions, they

are able to mold their internal staff to suit their own needs.

Advancement from within is often hard to come by these days in

corporate America. Hiring managers often will look outside before

seeing if one of their own people can advance up from a lower level.

Unfortunately, this attitude, which holds that "you're only as good as

your last job", is seen too often. A file clerk just can't get anyone

to take them seriously when they say they want to advance through the

ranks. Sure, they'll smile and nod, and say some encouraging words, but

when the rubber meets the road, your name's not going to be in the pot

when they're considering candidates for that management job. Unisys

seems to be one exception here. A file clerk you can get an MCSE on

their nickel, and move into the IT department. I wonder if Unisys will

eventually run short of file clerks.

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