Cheap training

As you would expect HR numpties irritate me only slightly less than officious sys admin jobsworths.

JP made a great comment on the previous post about his company not paying to send him on the Excel user conf, they’d rather send him to some cheap as chips bodyshop down the road where he will be taught by someone who teaches every office app (from every vendor). They can do this seemingly incredible feat, simply because they are 1 or 2 pages ahead of the students in the manual. And normally many years behind in commercial experience. slap on the back, how much saved?

As it happens the user conferences represent stunning value for money. The presenters obviously are a big draw, but also meeting and chatting with other delegates will set your learning alight.

In related news I had a consulting client contact me recently. I had done some coaching for his team a while back (ie helped them use Excel features that help them do their actual job better- not follow some bland syllabus). He had a new team and was after the same thing. We sorted out some details and he said he would just run it by HR ‘should be fine’.


Got to use their preferred supplier, that means bland rigid courses delivered from someone who has never used the product in the real world.

I’m guessing he wont even bother losing the days work to send them, so an even bigger cost saving. Hearty slaps all round HR. Especially when they are tasked to find another 100k cost analyst because his team are working so suboptimally they need extra staff.

–Here endeth the lesson on the destructive combination of visible cost, hard to quantify benefit, and dumb HR policy.–

Feel free to add your examples, good or bad



13 Responses to “Cheap training”

  1. JP Says:

    Not to beat a dead horse (or in this case, dead payroll), but I cannot agree with you more. It’s a pure “save a penny, lose a dollar” strategy, and I believe my career development is suffering as a result of someone else’s effort to show budget savings to their superior. Of course, I have to look out for number one here, and if I had the money to spare, I would attend all three days. So I’ll be happy with just one day there. Sorry to hear you got shafted on the training, there’s simply no substitute for learning from someone with real experience.


  2. Will Riley Says:


    I can safely say that I have learned more from User Conferences then from training courses over the years.

    Most trainers working for companies like ireBrand, New Horizons etc who offer packaged courses in Office, SQL Server etc are complete numpties, rarely having any recent real-world experience. They take the beta exams/certs to “keep themselves up to date” but can rarely teach you much more than a quick flip through the manual would give you.

    I remember one SQL BI course where the guy could hardly speak the lingo and failed to even get the VMs working!!

    I went to the first EUC that Damon organised in London a couple of years back and learnt a ton from the likes of Bob Phillips, et al – even the Pope was there ;-)

    The SQLBITS conferences that Tony Rogerson organises are top notch too – and they are free (as long as you have no life and are prepared to give up a Saturday that is).

    ’nuff said – I agree with your sentiments entirely…

    Regards, Will

  3. Simon Says:

    an expression involving peanuts and monkeys comes to mind.

    I’ve been on courses where the trainer can answer every question, or can work it out there and then, and I’ve been on courses where they wont stray from the manual because they know absolutely nothing else except whats in it. They come across brilliantly whilst reading the material, but can’t answer a single question and have no clue how to go about answering it either – pitiful.

    Its no wonder there is such limited intermediate/advanced training around, these doylums drive the price down so its not worth trying to offer advanced training because everyone has unrealistically low price expectations. And then they totally undermine confidence in training by being rubbish.

    Thanks heavens for the conferences then – quality presenters at very reasonable rates.

  4. Marcus Says:

    Having worked as a corporate trainer I’ve seen both ends of the equation in terms of client expectations and how they valued training.

    At one extreme I took an Intro to Excel class at a local short courses college. Not only were there 16 students, but the course was run over 4 consecutive Friday nights (6 till 10 PM). Most participants were sent there by their employer (obviously looking for quality training outcomes).

    At the other end of the spectrum I did an on-site consultative training gig for the MD of a boutique (share) trading firm. The MD booked a minimum 2 hours one afternoon for me to be there first thing next morning. He had very specific VB and database questions – I was in and out in under 30 minutes.

    Unfortunately most clients/HR depts adopt the churn approach or have unrealistic expectations of the training outcome. One lady in a 2 day Intro to Access course was expected to return to work and develop a stock management database (for a vehicle parts company).

    Cheers – Marcus

  5. Ross Says:

    This point aside, I deeply dislike HR it totality. When an ex girlfriend of mine said she was going to work in HR, well, she became an ex, lets put it that way – as it turns out she ended up being an estate agent, hummm?
    I have found it hard to find anyone who can see the point of these people, there are more or less completely inept, shouldn’t we be encouraging them to be teachers?
    What really gets on my nerves is there unnerving ability of, given six people, to without fail select the one person who is completely unsuitable for the job. Still if you can fill out a form and “explain one time when you had to show problem solving skills”, well your quid’s in. Bloody idiots!

    PS. I am sure there are some excellent people who work in HR, and teachers can be cool too!

  6. jonpeltier Says:

    I’d been using Excel for a couple versions, was the local expert at XLM. I skipped any VBA in Excel 5/95, but when Excel 97 came out I knew I had to do something. I got my boss to send me to the corporate training center for a 2-day Excel VBA class (the company brought in third party trainers).

    After five minutes is was clear that I wouldn’t pay much attention to the class. half of the students were at the “No, the OTHER right mouse button” stage. But I was on vacation, two days away from the office and the phone, so I dug into this VBA stuff. I’d be typing furiously, already grumbling about the macro recorder, and when the rest of the class were doing their exercises, I’d call the instructor over with my questions. By the end of two days I’d reached the limits of his ability.

    Here’s the best training possible: give a semi-intelligent motivated self-learner two distraction-free days to learn something.

  7. Simon Says:

    Marcus, agreed on the unrealistic expectations, actually I think intro to Access should be banned – no one ever goes on from that to use the product in anger.

    When i do an Access intro I only cover tables and queries and its in the context of why and when Access is better than Excel.

    Ross touched a nerve have we? I totally agree, I assume its because they are so pointless that they make up by being rubbish and annoying.

    Jon, yep totally agree 2 days away. I asked a bunch of folks at a session I did and ‘time to try to do stuff a different way’ and ‘deskside coaching specific to activity’ were the top 2 things people thought would help them be more productive. No one asked for a ‘training needs analysis’

  8. JP Says:

    LOL @ Jon, that’s what I do in training classes, even if I don’t know the material :) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve considered just disappearing from work for a few days and reading/practicing with a book, to actually LEARN SOMETHING. I know that is the way I learn best. Otherwise there’s just too much going on to focus. We do have some rudimentary training classes here, but nothing for what I need, and here I am the Excel guy, so finding quality training is difficult (yes, even in NYC, as I explained in Simon’s last post).

  9. Harlan Grove Says:

    In my experience university extension courses are always better value than professional training, though I’ll admit I haven’t been through any trainings where the ‘facilitator’ had any serious EXPERIENCE using the product. The best instructors in university extension courses I’ve taken had day jobs as senior developer at Oracle (embedding SQL in C) and head of biostatistics at a pharmaceutical company (SAS – it was a LONG time ago, and we did homework assignments via dial-up using the university’s mainframe).

    Quality of training is invariably a function of the instrutor’s own experience.

  10. Clayton Says:


    I have had experience of exactly what you are talking about from the view of the student and the boss. It is difficult for training courses to be all things to all men and so you must be really careful if you want anything but general subject knowledge going on a general course. Find a course with a specific title that will cover what you want and try to get it run in house as they you will be able to steer the discussions exactly where you want to go.

    Put it to your boss as a consulting day and a training day. In effect you will get some of your work done during the course and so it will look cheaper to the boss.

    Excel is a difficult one – there is so much to learn. I am an Excel trainer and I have found it difficult in the past to get to the bottom of exactly what the users want. this is why I set up where I will put together a video tutorial to show users how to do exactly what they want to do and in effect put their own course together.

    Keep up the good blog.


  11. Bob Phillips Says:

    I run a number of Excel and VBA courses, ones that I have specifically developed in conjunction with clients that I felt were beneficial to offer as a product. My premise is that I am not interested in taking a large class, 10 upwards, of people who are just going through the ‘tarining process’, and probably don’t want to be there any more that I want to teach them, but I wan t groups of 4-6 dedicated people who come expecting to learn techniques that they can develop, not expecting to be taught to be experts.

    I like the idea of 4-6, as that way we get a group dynamic, we get more ideas flowing, and we get different perspectives. I invariable fail to cover all of the material as we go off on tangents, and that to me siginifies some measure of success.

    These are nice courses, and I like delivering them, but I don’t get business in this area, and we all know why. I have been contacted by a few individuals to do one-to-one mentoring, and whilst I am happy to do this in principle, I know that this usually means they are paying for it from their own pockets; I need to earn a living but I am worry about charging them my rate, so invariably it too doesn’t happen.

    As for conferences, these are great, I have attended and presented at many, but with a product like Excel, I think many people think that they will not learn enough to warrant the costs. I remember when we setup the firts Excel UK Conference, many people made comments along the line of ‘… I don’t need to pay good money to be told what I already know’. To hear someone like Will, who I know is no slouch, say that he learnt plenty when he attended is encouraging. To make these things really work, we need to convince a few corporates to support them with a batch of delegates.

    As a final aside, don’t be too hard on HR. They are only doing the job that they have been tasked with, within the parameters set by them. When you really need HR, and you have a good HR, they can be invaluable. The real culprits are the bean counters, the accountants that run corporations nowadays; the people who know the cost of everything but the value of nothing, to traed a hackneyed but oh so true phrase.

  12. Will Riley Says:

    Ha… compliments from Bob :-)

    Actually Bob, I did learn a good deal, but not just from sitting there trying to be a sponge – although the presentations were good, I got a great deal from just flipping open the laptop with people like yourself, Andy and other knowledgeable delegates and comparing our various ways to skin cats…

    And to those who say ‘… I don’t need to pay good money to be told what I already know’.

    I say Pah…I bet they don’t even know what they don’t know… and that will always be a mystery to them :-)

  13. Bob Phillips Says:

    So right Will. That is the value of conferences, the extra-curricular activities so to speak, and the readiness of the delegates to pitch in as well.

    Even if people are unlikely to get nothing from such a conference, they are themselves at liberty to not attend, but it does seem to me that they should:- refrain from downplaying something that might be useful to others; avoid bad-mouthing something that haven’t even tried; and allow others to make up their own minds.

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