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One of the biggest challenges of managing an information technology staff is recruiting and retaining quality employees. Training opportunities will keep employees at your firm while improving the quality and sophistication of the service you provide to your technology end users. The first step is to talk to your staff. With good communication you can assign choice projects to the right person, who will end up feeling that the assignment is a reward and not a punishment. Group meetings can also yield useful information. Bring up several areas of technology, and note the interest level in each. A few topics to suggest are project management, database development, Web and intranet design, programming and certification programs. It may not be feasible to offer all these options, but you will let the group know that you are at least thinking of things that might improve their job satisfaction. There are many different training options available, each with its own purpose, strengths and weaknesses. Some or all might work for your staff. PROJECT MANAGEMENT A good candidate for a project management course is the ace trainer or help desk person who displays initiative, is organized and is highly effective. Look for individuals who work well in a team environment. Dictators and introverts typically make poor project managers because they are not approachable. Check out the Project Management Institute. It offers classes, seminars, publications and support groups for project managers. CERTIFIED TRAINER If your trainers are not certified, they should be. Just about every software in existence, excluding, perhaps, Tomb Raider, has certification programs in place. Whether you want to be certified in Red Hat, Microsoft or Lotus Notes, you will find something for everyone. There are as many different levels of certifications as there are types of certification. Take Microsoft Corp. for example. Microsoft Office specialists can become certified in the products that they support through the Microsoft Office User Specialist program. There are two levels to this certification: proficient user and expert. Your trainers and help desk staff should go straight for the expert certification. The tests are typically one hour and focus on usability. The computer analyzes each test in real time, and a pass or fail is given on completion. These tests are reasonably priced (from $60 to $75) and provide individuals with not only the certification but increased credibility within your firm. For more technical certification, the Microsoft Certified Professional, Microsoft Certified Solution Developer and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certifications are available. These certifications are challenging and require a great deal of preparation and study. WEB AND INTRANET DEVELOPMENT A frequently held misconception is that anyone can design a Web page. In reality, most Web sites are developed by experienced developers who understand the underlying structure more than the content. A good starting point for a person with little or no background in Web design could be content submission. To start with, ask the individual to come up with content for the firm intranet or Web site. Make sure to provide clear guidelines including information about what you will and will not use. Set realistic expectations. Once the material has been submitted, have the content provider sit down with the current Web developer to see how the information is added to the site. Having content created from a variety of sources is extremely valuable to any organization. The following Web sites and publications offer valuable information for aspiring Web developers: www.webdeveloper.com: Learn to build Web sites with emphasis on Java and JavaScript programming; www.webnovice.com: Provides useful tutorials and information on designing Web pages; and www.microsoft.com: Search through libraries of knowledge base articles and the developer area of the Web site to learn more about creating Web pages. DATABASE APPLICATIONS Another area of opportunity is learning about database applications. A variety of database software applications are on the market, including SQL, FoxPro, Microsoft Access, Oracle, Sybase, XBase, Filemaker Pro and Paradox. These types of databases are commonly used in knowledge management and collaboration-based software. Of course, all firms face the risk that newly trained staff will bolt for new, higher-paying jobs. But the offer of opportunities for continued education can help employees develop long-lasting loyalty to the firm and to the manager that helped them develop professionally. The author is president of Payne Consulting Group, a training and development company headquartered in Seattle. She is the author of “Microsoft Word 2002 for Law Firms” (Prima Press) and is a member of the Microsoft Legal Advisory Counsel.

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