CBR talks to the boss of UK IT training supplier Firebrand about why they are not just another training company and what the future looks like for the industry
Many of our readers will be familiar with providers of IT training like QA, Global Knowledge and Learning Tree, but possibly less so with your organisation. What’s Firebrand all about, then?
I’d say for a start that we are different from all of the organisations you’ve mentioned anyway.
In what way – don’t you provide ways to train staff?
[Pauses]: We only provide really deep, technical training and never for end users – you wouldn’t come to us to learn how to use Word or Outlook. We would also only interact with the IT organisation, where we would help train your people in things like Microsoft certification, Cisco certification and so on. We also help train people in project management and architecture qualifications too, ITIL as well.
But that’s what a QA would do for a CBR reader as well, surely?
I’d say another distinction between what we do and what a firm like that does is that our approach to training delivery is very different. We’ve been going ten years this summer and our approach has stayed the same, is the same in fact at all of our global network of training centres, which all tend to be ‘in the sticks’ instead of busy offices in city centres. You come to us to be immersed, you live with us for a few days and take the exams on-site with us as well.
I don’t see what that last bit is important – explain?
If you are looking to get a certification and do a course as a 9 to 5 over a couple of weeks, you tend to see only about 20% of people doing so taking the trouble to complete the process and sit the exam. With us, it’s more like 98%, though I’d love of course to say 100%.
By the same token, I could do it all remotely, by e-learning, or self-study, couldn’t I?
A problem with that argument – that e-learning is the cheapest way to learn from the employers’ point of view – is that someone still has to ‘pay’ for the time, be that the employee himself by studying at weekends or the evening. We just say – and it’s our primary course design goal – we can get your people to certification level in a much more concentrated period of time than these other approaches.
Doesn’t that beg the question of the value of training?
What do you mean?
One hears time and again the argument against training, or funding training, that all it enables the employee to do is to go off and get a better job somewhere else on the back of me investing in him.
[Laughs]: Well I’d not work for someone like that! That sort of paranoid CIO is not running an environment people can thrive in.
With respect – a lot of people at the moment are stuck in jobs they may not have any choice but to do otherwise and working for just such a boss.
[Pauses]: It is true that the recession has delayed the rollout of training – it’s an easy quick way to save money. But I was talking to a CIO of a major UK bank, er ‘owned by the taxpayer’ shall we say, who said that he could only do that for about a year, as after that his good people would start going elsewhere, to places they felt they were being invested in. So he’s restarted. OK, I know some people do advance the ‘objection’ to training you have. But ultimately it’s organisations that invest in their people that enable them to find new ways to make the best of the resources they have available that do well, that can extract themselves from the recession.
So what’s the future for your market – the IT training market? Isn’t it all going to India, sort of thing?
You know, I read reports that say the market for our services has contracted by 10-15% – but our company has expanded in every single one of the years we’ve been in operation regardless. I read headlines that say low-level IT jobs are being outsourced or offshored, yet the number of Microsoft sysadmins has never been bigger in the UK.
In other words, I keep hearing analysis that suggests a much bigger part of our workforce should already be overseas than is actually the case. So these trends are probably true and working out but taking much, much longer to come true than we are being led to believe. In the meantime, companies are spending hundreds of millions of pounds every year in the UK on training their IT staff, and we are happy to continue to help do that.