It has never been more important for the enterprise to ensure that their information technology (IT) technical training programs are effective. The IT skills shortage is real, and it’s not just limited to cybersecurity.

According to a survey conducted in the summer of 2017 by InformationWeek and Interop ITX, 64 percent of IT organizations say that facing a lack of the right IT skills is a moderate-to-major concern. In fact, 83 percent said that an IT skills gap delayed IT projects, and nearly a third said it resulted in poor quality projects.

The shortage of cybersecurity specialists is especially severe. Twenty-seven percent of enterprises cannot fill cybersecurity positions, and 59 percent receive just five applications on average for a cybersecurity vacancy, most of whom are not qualified, according to the ISACA State of Cyber Security 2017 report. And, depending on which study you look at, the number of cyberattacks from 2015 to 2016 increased by anywhere from 50 percent to 100 percent, and all agree that the rate of increase is growing every year.

Not surprisingly, with so few qualified candidates to fill these critical positions, IT organizations are looking to strengthen the skills of their current employees. Forty-two percent of enterprises in the Interop ITX survey said they are relying on internal training to beef up the skills of current employees, and 37 percent said they are evenly split between training and recruiting.

The eLearning model needs to evolve

Current training methodologies, unfortunately, are not doing the job. According to recent Deloitte research surveying more than 700 human resource (HR) and business professionals, corporate learning and development received an extremely low Net-Promoter score of -8, about as low as such a score can get. In the current IT skills crisis, L&D needs to evolve to become even more effective. Specifically, what IT training needs is experiential learning.

Identical elements theory, which is based on classical conditioning research, shows that when both the training task and the on-the-job task are the same, knowledge transfer is much more likely to occur and lead to performance impacts. Studies on the use of simulations in the healthcare industry show that experiential methods increase proficiency. For example, a 2006 study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing showed that nursing students who also participated in a simulation scored significantly better on a post-test than did the control group, which received no simulation.

Certainly, training organizations can build labs that mimic the enterprise environment to some degree, but it’s far too expensive to deploy and maintain a parallel network. As a result, if trainees get any practical skills practice at all, they end up working on a pared-down, simplified network that doesn’t truly replicate the experience of working in their day-to-day data center environment.

Enter the cloud. With the right cloud—and there are a number of specialty cloud services that have this capability—it’s easy to recreate an on-premises environment, even preserving extremely complex networking. The result is an on-demand, self-contained replica of the exact environment in which trainees will ultimately be working. Organizations can throw the most sophisticated, dangerous, artificial-intelligence (AI)-powered cyberattack at trainees in this cloud replica, because there’s no risk to the production network at all. If the attack melts down the replica in the cloud, it’s not a problem. Just restart it, and the trainee is ready to try again.

Managing the learning experience

A learning-experience platform is designed with the end user in mind. Such platforms make it easy for users to discover, consume, and collaborate on training content. They let you curate a wide variety of content types from internal and external sources.

It’s important to keep in mind that a true learning-experience platform will not be a single system that does everything—instead, you’ll need to provide a collection of tools, content types, and delivery methods to your users which will most likely be delivered by cloud services that work together on behalf of the student.

Legacy learning management systems (LMSs) typically focus on HR needs and are built to manage compliance and formal training. However, newer cloud-based LMSs are usually more specialized and geared toward the needs of training the profit centers of the companies, such as sales, customers, and partners. A key differentiator from traditional systems is that they focus on providing effective administration and management tools, in addition to being able to report on the ROI of learning and training initiatives.

It’s crucial to manage IT technical skills training across the entire organization to ensure that critical gaps are filled first and that key personnel get the training that they need when they need it. A modern LMS that integrates with a learning-experience platform gives students a friendly and intuitive experience while enabling administrators to manage courses, training resources, students, and costs. When integrated with virtual training labs, practice environments can be launched directly from the LMS.

A few key things to consider:

  • Can you easily facilitate the delivery of learning through a variety of delivery models, including classroom and virtual labs?
  • Can you be strategic in your learning objectives for your target audience? In other words, can you define a learning path that guides your audience towards your objectives?
  • Can you quickly and easily report on the financial realities and ROI of your learning activities?
  • Is your learning platform “future proof” by providing high quality integrations with other learning tools, and does it have an open API?

Looking further out

In the future, businesses will provide all employees with a personal learning experience consisting of a mix of different training modes and formats, delivered just-in-time and on-demand based on their job, seniority level, background, and experience. 

To facilitate this, expect the introduction of AI to help monitor and learn what each employee needs and where they should focus next. Thanks to cloud-based technologies, employees will be able to get hands-on experience with products and applications that they work with on a daily basis without having to travel or install special software on their laptops. These hands-on labs can be part of live instructor-led classes and on-demand recorded sessions.

Just as importantly, organizations need to manage the training experience of their customers and partners. In order to create and manage this comprehensive training umbrella and provide cost-effective service to all, businesses will employ and integrate their choice of best-of-breed cloud services to cost-effectively create, deliver, and manage the training required for each audience to succeed.

But for now, the combination of a modern LMS with cloud-based learning-experience platform can go a long way toward closing the IT technical training skills gap.