Take the steps to become a technical trainer

In last week's newsletter, I talked about the technical training and certification programs that help us learn how to become network managers, database administrators, Web developers and so on. This week we explore what it takes to become a technical trainer for those kinds of training programs. There's a lot more to it than simply knowing your stuff about a technical topic.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with my friend Phil. He's a pretty technical guy when it comes to networks, and he's looking at changing jobs now. I suggested he should become a technical trainer because he's already a certified flight instructor. I figured if he could teach one complex topic, he should be able to teach another. I told him I'd research what it would entail. This article is the result of that research, and I learned that it's not quite as easy as just knowing your stuff about a technical topic. In a way, it's gratifying to see that the IT industry has very stringent requirements about who is in the classroom training the next generation of technical professionals.

If you want to become a technical trainer -- especially for prominent companies such as Cisco, Microsoft, Novell, HP and others -- the place to start is with your own technical skills. Most vendors want you to hold one or more technical certifications covering their products, at least for the products represented in the courses you would teach. For example, a trainer who teaches Cisco courses must minimally hold the CCNA certification. If the trainer is going to present a specialty course, he also must hold any related certifications for that specific topic.

The next kind of certification you must acquire is a technical trainer credential. This certification validates that you have the necessary presentation and classroom skills to teach adults. Just because you are an exert IT professional doesn't mean you have the skills to be a great trainer.

Most of the big vendors have their own trainer certification, such as:

* Certified Novell Instructor  

* Microsoft Certified Trainer 

* Certified Cisco Systems Instructor 

* HP Certified Instructor 

* IBM Certified Trainer 

* Citrix Certified Instructor

You would want to get certified by a specific vendor if you expect to train exclusively (or at least quite a lot) for that vendor. A good alternative is to get a vendor-neutral instructor certification, such as the CompTIA Certified Technical Trainer certification, or CTT+. Other resources for general technical training instruction include the International Board of Standards for Training, Performance, and Instruction and the American Management Association. The AMA offers the course Effective Presentation Skills for IT and Technical Professionals. Most of the IT vendors accept a general training certificate in place of their own, and having a vendor-neutral certification allows you to apply it toward various training programs.

Whether you pursue a vendor-specific or vendor-neutral training certification, you can expect that the testing process will include a live or video-taped demonstration of your teaching skills.After attaining all the necessary certifications, the next step is to find teaching assignments -- in other words, it's time to find a job. There are several options here. You could become a staff trainer for one of the IT vendors. However, those jobs are becoming scarce as the vendors are outsourcing more and more of their training to authorized training partners. So, you can work for a training provider, such as Next Step Learning, New Horizons, Global Knowledge or QA. Another option is to be an independent contractor and work for any and all of these companies. Training brokers can help independent contractors find training assignments and keep the schedule full.

High schools, technical schools and community colleges also hire IT trainers, mostly to teach basic entry-level courses to technology neophytes and career-changers. This is a good place to get some teaching experience as the students aren't likely to be quite a tough on you as IT professionals.

Like my friend Phil, you might be wondering what kind of financial investment you need to make to become an IT trainer. That depends on your starting point. If you aren't already certified on specific products, or you don't have your technical training credential, you'll need to invest in certification, which could include training, preparation and the certification exam(s). You may be required to have membership in a program for trainers. Cisco, for example, requires an annual Cisco Certified Systems Instructor (CCSI) Membership, which provides access to the electronic instructor kits and other resources. In addition, you'll need to maintain your certifications year after year, which may require update courses and additional exams.

And now for the million dollar question: “What can I expect to earn as a technical trainer?” As I spoke with my research sources, I heard all kinds of figures ranging from $60,000 a year to $150,000. Your earning potential depends on many variables, such as:

* How many courses you are able to teach.

* How often you teach.

* How many other instructors can teach the same course.

* Your geographic location

* Whether you are willing to travel to present courses.

* Who you work for.

Now is a good time to become a technical trainer, as companies like HP and Cisco have publicly stated they want to vastly increase the number of people certified on their products. That means lots of training courses will be taught over the coming years. Can you picture yourself as the instructor?

I'd like to thank the people who took the time for my interviews and helped me gather my information for this article:

* Anne Barnes with the HP Learning Channel and Next Step Learning

* Mary Jo Swenson with Novell Training Services

* Yolanda Salas with Cisco's Learning Partner Channel

* Troy McMillan and George Monsalvatge of Kaplan

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