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Interview: TrainSignal’s Scott Skinger on the rise of online IT training tools

IT education is finally catching up with today's IT pros, according to Scott Skinger the CEO and founder of TrainSignal, a Chicago-based IT training provider. TrainSignal recently launched an online training platform (think Netflix for IT) that offers IT pros unlimited access to hundreds of top-notch courses, industry renowned instructors and career advice from anywhere at anytime. ITProPortal caught up with Mr. Skinger to learn about his new platform and get his take on where IT training is headed.

What factors would you say are contributing to the worldwide IT skills gap?

As simple as it sounds, the IT skills gap can be traced back to a lack of educational resources. What people are learning in the classroom right now is not necessarily what will get them a job once they graduate. In addition, new technology is developing at such a pace that specialized IT courses taken today will become obsolete a few years down the road. Employers are demanding workers with the most current IT skills, and education providers needs to adapt to an environment in which education needs to become an on-going pursuit throughout one's career.

That's where TrainSignal comes in. Our mission is to help everyone from new to experienced IT professionals to succeed in their careers by providing easy online access to hundreds of the most current and highest quality IT training courses and materials.

What was the impetus for creating an online training portal when you already had a strong customer base and success with the DVD model?

I founded TrainSignal with a vision for creating the best IT training courses that are easily available to as many aspiring IT pros as possible. Over the past 10 years, we developed an incredibly loyal user base around the world selling our IT training courses on DVDs.

Despite our success, I took a step back a few years ago to assess where the business was and what our users wanted. More and more, our users were becoming reliant on cloud-based information and tools, and that's where we needed to meet them. To continue being a leader in our industry, I decided to throw our old business model away. A few months ago, we launched an entirely new online training platform that gives our users unlimited access to the training materials they need to succeed in today's workforce.

What makes online training a good option for IT professionals over other methods such as classroom courses or seminars?

Our new online training platform has allowed us to build a product that is more valuable to our users for a variety of reasons, the first being access. Courses taught in a classroom only give an IT professional access to information on a very particular subject within a specific time frame. As IT professionals have become expected to have a much broader range of IT knowledge, access to one course at a time simply is not enough. TrainSignal's online platform offers users unlimited access to all of our hundreds of courses for one flat rate subscription fee.

Another major advantage is flexibility. TrainSignal's online platform allows users to take courses at a pace that suits their schedules. Users also have the ability to refer back to course material anywhere at anytime, which is especially handy on the job.. Alternatively, once a classroom course is over, you have no way of going back and reviewing those lectures besides what's in your notes.

Finally, an online training platform gives IT professionals assured access to industry renowned instructors. At TrainSignal, quality is our first priority and we only work with the best, most committed instructors. In a classroom setting, you sometimes just don't know what kind of quality of instruction you're getting.

Is e-learning as successful as onsite training courses?

We recently conducted a survey of over 2,000 IT pros and found that almost 70 percent prefer online video training over traditional and expensive classroom training. By making our IT training services on-demand and cloud-based, IT pros are able to access the highest-quality training at their convenience and for an affordable price. Brick-and-mortar classroom courses simply do not allow the kind of flexibility and comprehensive access that IT pros demand today.

The one concern I've heard voiced by some folks I talk to about online versus classroom training is the potential for reduced interaction with peers and instructors. While we cannot completely replace the collaborative experience of an in-person course, we find that our students are extremely engaged in the online forums asking questions and learning from each other. All of our instructors are committed to the success of their students, and many will tell you that they develop long lasting relationships with their students who keep in touch. We are also working on developing a communication channel on our platform that allows instructors to interact with users directly, which will provide a more personal learning experience.

How often should IT professionals commit to taking new training courses and certifications throughout their careers?

IT certifications are an essential aspect of any IT pro's career growth. Technology is always evolving, and the people who manage that technology need stay up-to-date with new certifications on a periodic basis. The best IT pros I know use training not just when studying for a certification, but on a regular basis. 69 per cent of respondents to a survey we conducted of over 2,000 IT professionals nationwide, said that they refer back to training materials at least monthly. Knowing this, we transitioned TrainSignal to an online, subscription-based model. This gives our users unlimited access to the courses and training materials whenever they need it.

What role should companies play in providing training to their employees?

In this day and age, training your employees just when they get hired is simply not enough. Protocols and technologies are changing so quickly across all industries that employers need to take a greater stake in the lifelong learning of their employees. When we started out, almost all of our users were IT professionals whose employers didn't offer them any training options at all. We are now beginning to see more companies take advantage of our multi-user subscription package to give their employees the training tools they need to keep up with the pace of innovation.

What types of courses are most popular this year?

We are seeing a sharp increase in demand for skills right now that support three overarching areas of technology: cloud management, security infrastructure, and big data. While a wide variety of skills can be applied across all of these areas, I'd recommend aspiring IT pros look into courses that help prep for any of the following certifications: Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Private Cloud for cloud skills, Apache Hadoop CCDH for the most in-demand skills in big data, and any security related certifications from CISCO's CCNA to CompTIA Security+. By using online training to master the skills in any of these certifications, you'll be sure to have employers clamoring for you.

Desire worked at ITProPortal right at the beginning and was instrumental in turning it into the leading publication we all know and love today. He then moved on to be the Editor of TechRadarPro - a position he still holds - and has recently been reunited with ITProPortal since Future Publishing's acquisition of Net Communities.