The Value of Training and Continuing Education

My father spent the bulk of his career with Burlington Industries, who at their peak were the largest textile company in the world.  The last 12 years of his time there saw him in charge of training the workforce, especially management.  25 years after official retirement and at 81-years-young, Dad continues as a management and labor relations consultant, to whom manufacturing companies send their managers to learn more about how to treat their workers the right way, making them more productive and efficient, while happy and fulfilled in their work.

My father-in-law was a long-time employee of General Electric and was a graduate of the company’s executive management training program in the early 70s.  The skills he learned in that program allowed him to be dropped into a host of leadership positions both at GE and elsewhere.  GE, #3 on the Forbes Global 2000, continues to have such programs today that invest in its workforce.

As our economy has moved away from Big Business and more toward smaller entrepreneurships, proper continuing education and workforce training — especially for managers — has fallen by the wayside.  Caused by a combination of tight budgets, a perceived need for immediacy for the deliverable, and an occasional arrogance or defensiveness on the part of some successful small business leaders who think their success has put them above it all, this lack of proper continuing education holds back many companies from reaching their potential.

Your Humble Author has been in the Web business since 1995 and has largely been self-taught.  For years my hardcore technical skills were developed through a combination of books and blogs, curiosity and trial-and-error, and asking questions of my more technical friends.  Experience is unquestionably the greatest teacher, but it must be on top of a solid foundation of core skills that were properly instilled through a combination of lecture, lab, and apprenticeship.  

Akamai is changing the learn-it-yourself attitude I’ve been struggling with for years.  Thank Heavens.

I recently returned from a week-long corporate orientation at the end of a 2-month curriculum that ensures all workers, including management, have a solid foundation in the principles and core technology of the company before going out into the field.  This is an investment the company makes in each employee to ensure we not only know what we are talking about, but prepares us to present complex ideas to clients in a manner that keeps us from both patronizing and technobabbling them.

Even better, training doesn’t seem to stop with the completion of bootcamp.  Rather, it just marks the beginning of opportunities for perpetual learning, cross-training, and employee improvement that takes place every week, every quarter, and all year long.  As a team, we continually strive to teach each other as a group.  The senior members on the team realize there is much to teach the newbies, and in a fair bit of turnabout, they actually listen to the experiences newbies bring with them to the company and find ways to share it alike.

This passion for learning comes from the top down.  Tom Leighton, Akamai’s co-Founder, was a professor at M.I.T. at the time the company was founded during the late ‘90s and still holds a position at the university today.  His respect for education and instilling it as a company virtue is an attitude that can only come from a true educator.  Today, even though he has a billion-dollar company, he’s still the consummate professor, eminently approachable, and primarily interested in having his students (in this case his employees) solve challenging problems.  I recognize the personality traits; just as Dad was a career management consultant, Mom was a career educator.  Between the two of them, I was brought up to respect learning and to develop a strong work ethic.  But I digress …

While I’ve never heard it said Akamai intends to have the best-trained workforce in the Internet industry, it does seem to be an unspoken goal.  And the results show.  The passion for education develops confidence.  Confidence inspires creative thinking.  Creative thinking solves greater challenges.  And that is how we progress.