Monday, 22 March 2010

A Professional Training Scheme

This is a follow up to an earlier post, Is ITSM a Profession?

To save you the tedious task of reading it I'll sum up what I said very briefly that as things stand:
ITIL based ITSM fails the tests that define a profession, 
That isn't necessarily a bad thing 

I want to expand on the second of those points at a later date. Today I want to focus on my opening statement from that previous entry.

A profession lives or dies by the quality of its training.

Having spent a long period of my life training both professional auditors and v1 ITIL service managers I have a high regard for the great work done by many in the training game, but I believe that the time is ripe for an honest appraisal. Clearly I'm not alone.

I don't intend to go on at length about what is wrong with the current training.That doesn't mean I won't, of course.

So what is wrong with it? 
  • Tutors with insufficient practical experience 
  • Too much focus on passing the exam 
  • No development of practical skills 
  • No challenges to conventional thinking 
  • No dialogue with "Castle ITIL
  • Rampant Short-termism 
  • Questionable objectives and outcomes 

    Lets stop there and look at that last point. Now sadly I think there are some people who see ITIL training as nothing more than a cash cow revenue stream. That isn't really what worries me though. What worries me is a lack of clarity and realism about what those paying for the training, and those undertaking the training, get out of it.

    I've just paid to put myself through the v3 managers bridge course. How did I do in the exam? Did I fail and this is just a sour grapes posting? No. I got 20 out of 20 questions right. 100%. I am, apparently, now an official ITIL v3 Expert. Sadly, if Linkedin is to be relied upon, there really are people who think that passing a twenty question multiple choice question exam has turned them into instant experts.

    Leaving such self-delusions behind is the much more worrying question of what employers and agencies seem to think the v3 qualification indicates. Suddenly it seems to be a life or death necessity that you have the v3 qualification to get a job in ITSM, even if it is for a role in a company that has struggled to use v2.

    All the v3 Bridge examination proves is that you know some of the terminology has changed between v2 and v3. Any notion that it indicates you are an expert in v3 is, frankly, farcical.

    Of course in the good old v1 days....things weren't really that different. I'll argue the training was better because we didn't focus quite so much on the exam, and the exam was more challenging because there was a greater variation in questions, but beyond that getting the managers' certificate didn't prove you were an expert in practical service management. It showed you understood the basics and could think about how to apply the ideas. We weren't turning out course after course of fully fledged service managers even with a target audience of early adopters.

    So what would a professional training scheme look like, and how far away are we from such a scheme?

    Let me borrow from my audit training experience at the Civil Service College (now the National School of Government)

    Training took place over several weeks spread over at least a couple of years. That allowed time for ideas to sink in, and for things learnt in the modules to cross fertilise each other. it also meant students could try the tools out in the workplace, and bring workplace situations into the classroom.

    Employers were seen as an integral part of the training scheme, with a significant responsibilities to ensure the best possible outcomes. For instance they were required to ensure students undertook a suitable mix of assignments whilst being trained.

    The training also depended heavily on involvement from practitioners who were doing the job for real coming along to share their experiences.

    Whilst theory was a necessary element in the training the emphasis was on developing practical skills and techniques.

    Qualification did not just depend on exam results but also required the completion of work based assignments signed off in a log book.

    The examinations allowed for for a degree of specialism, recognising for instance that though all auditors need to know something about computer audit those specialising in it needed dedicated training and a separate examination.

    The exams were designed with incredible care to ensure they were relevant, and fair but testing. Hours were spent reviewing the wording to ensure it was absolutely clear what a question was asking. Every question was on the exam paper because it tested something important, not just to make up the numbers. The presumption was that an answer that was competent and relatively complete would result in just getting a pass mark, with additional marks available for "delighting the examiner". It was expected that a set proportion of students would fail each question, and that the bulk of students would be bunched either side of the pass mark.

    Are we so far away from such an approach with ITIL?

    Perhaps less so than it sometimes seems.

    The move towards a more modular approach means that training can be spread out over a relatively longer period.

    A major rethink would be required about the role of employers and also in assessing how students are actually applying what they are being taught on the courses.Reality is that it isn't as easy to move between roles as is it to move between assignments.

    Personally I believe a real weakness currently is that we have too many trainers who have been taught how to run courses parrot fashion without having an underlying depth of knowledge.

    I believe considerable work would be required to change the focus of the training away from basic ITIL knowledge towards the application of ITIL and the use of specific techniques, but it isn't an impossible task. It was a feature of much of the early ITIL training, and of course several courses already make use of an integral ITIL simulation.

    prISM seems to offer a way forward for how to integrate workplace experience with examination success.

    The modular approach of the new exams allows for the recognition of some specialisation within the ITIL fold. Perhaps a bit more work is needed there to make the streams more recognisable to employers.

    So that leaves us with the quality of the current exams. Is the effort required to maintain a professional approach to setting the exams compatible with the current student levels? Would the market accept a change in direction towards an examination process that took as read that a significant number of students would have to resit at least one exam during the course of their training?

    I suspect not.

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