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Growing Your Technical Support Staff

by Miguel Guhlin
technical support

Visit smaller school districts and you may find a situation that emphasizes high performance. A small team of dedicated technical support staff, all working hard, even overtime, to solve tough problems. For these technology support heroes, professional learning opportunities are on the job or at an infrequent conference. In fact, most learning happens when technicians take the initiative to learn on their own.

No professional learning, however, translates into low pay, making it unfeasible for technical staff to earn certifications on their own. In conversations with technical staff, low pay and time was mentioned as an obstacle to their pursuit of training and certification opportunities. Peer training is not available since no one on staff is at a sufficiently high level to provide training to others. While this situation is common, better outcomes are possible.

A Proposal for Improvement

In one of my former school districts, I submitted a proposal entitled Staff Development for Technical Support Staff. The proposal recommended that my school district (as an enhancement to the technology department budget) fund the Computing Technology Industry Association’s (CompTIA) A+ training for all district technicians. What’s more, the district would also pay the first attempt of the cost of the certification. Certification and training would be linked to job descriptions and advancement.

Did You Know?

The 2018 System Administrator and Technical Support Conference is specifically designed to offer useful and practical information to individuals like you who provide hardware, software, network, and infrastructure support for PreK-16 educators. We have created this conference specifically for the tech savvy system administrator, and we have planned a comprehensive package of strands that covers the real-world problems you are encountering, while offering solutions you can use.

Identifying Costs and Providers

In researching the cost of specialized training and supporting staff in obtaining certification, the cost worked out to approximately $11,980. Courses varied in cost, as did the cost of certification exams. One challenge involved finding who would provide training. I first considered local community colleges, but these were too far away from my school district to be feasible. What’s more, the cost was quite high.

After further research, a colleague suggested TestOut’s LabSim. The costs at the time identified for my team included:

  • CompTIA or equivalent:
    • $800 per course
    • $300 per certification exam
  • Cisco Certified Network Assistant (CCNA):
    • $695 per course
    • $300 per exam
  • CompTIA Linux+ Training
    • $495 per course
  • VMWare Server Support
    • $3,500 per course

These costs were a necessary investment. Most of the team lacked the technical expertise to get things done. Most were high school graduates who lacked any specialized technical training or certifications. They were hired because they professed an aptitude in computer and simple network support. Having a great attitude towards customer service was also a hiring qualification. As a result, it’s easy to have a team with great attitudes but little to no enterprise level technical training. If that’s a problem in your school district, then consider what a difference specialized training can have on their lives and the quality of service in your district.

Planning Implementation

Prior to launching the initiative, these implementation phases were identified:

  • Phase 1 – All staff would be notified of the opportunity and then complete the commitment form.
  • Phase 2 – Purchase of content would be accomplished and then participants would have the time of the license period to complete training and then until August 1 of following school year to complete appropriate assessment.
  • Phase 3 – Upon receipt of certificate, technicians will be advanced the following budget year to the next level. 
  • Phase 4 – Technicians may at any time present proof of successfully completing the certification exam. New staff will be allowed to complete certification course and exam as funding allows.

In addition, a commitment form was put together for all technical staff to sign.

Key Expectations

Some of the key expectations shared with technical staff included the following:

  1. All technical support staff will be given the opportunity to complete CompTIA A+ training available through the district’s chosen provider.
  2. Successful completion of the CompTIA A+ certification exams should be the final result of agreeing to this commitment.
  3. Keep an electronic log of how time is spent each week with four clock hours spent (more instructions on how to log time will be shared).
  4. Team members will be expected to join a study group that will meet periodically, the schedule to be determined by the group and study leader.
  5. Advancement requires current CompTIA A+ certifications (two exams).
  6. Technicians that complete CompTIA A+ certifications will be eligible for promotion pending positive job appraisals at the discretion of the director of technology in consultation with human resources and payroll departments.
  7. All proof of certification must be submitted no later than July of each year (sooner is better).
  8. Support the district for two years once training and certification have been received.

As you might imagine, the final expectation sought to allay upper administration fears that staff would disappear after earning their certifications. Several staff members earned CompTIA A+ certification and/or CCNA.

Make Things Better

The goals of this proposal included providing staff development opportunities to district technical support staff that enhances their services to the district. It also established a baseline for growth and demonstrated the district’s commitment to better service through learning. Ready to make things better? Get a copy of this proposal to adapt for your own purposes.

 

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