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September - 2007 - issue > Cover Feature
Technical skill augmentation
Sriram Rupanagunta
Monday, September 3, 2007
Organizations worldwide are engaged in time-critical product development or service development projects to meet the customer demands in their respective market segments. Much of the successes in these projects depend on the people who are contributing to them, their skill sets, and productivity levels. Depending on the market segment that an organization caters to, technology refresh cycles could be anywhere from six months to six years. With technologies constantly evolving it is not uncommon for organizations to witness acute shortages in the skills required to efficiently move forward with their projects. The most scalable form of addressing the shortage is to augment the team’s skill set so as to match the requirements of the organization as well as the employees’ needs.

Augmenting the team’s skills benefits the organization
Technical skill augmentation can be carried out in several ways. This starts out as some form of training – either internal or external. Organizations and especially managers have to be very cognizant of the fact that the training sessions only provide about 25 percent of the knowledge and skills required and that the larger chunk of the skill acquisition is actually dependent on the level of support provided by the organization in the workplace.
Let me give you a example as we experienced it. When we kick-started our operations as Aarohi Communications, a venture-funded startup, in Bangalore in 2001 we knew we were getting into a very niche storage networking segment for which enough skill sets were not readily available. The unique storage processor that we were building required expertise in Fibre Channel as well as exceptional firmware development skills both of which were hard to come by at that time. Our immediate plans were to get the right talent and augment their skills to suit the requirements of our startup. Hence, when we grew our team, we focused heavily on candidates with exceptional data networking skills, while maintaining high importance on the right aptitude and attitude. Once we had the core team in place, we set the wheels in motion to get the entire team ramped up on their knowledge of storage area networking (SAN) and Fibre Channel protocols. We started off with initial internal training sessions, but what followed the training really paid-off for the company. We established weekly technology sessions, an informal peer support group with assigned mentors, easy access to technology aids and references, and ad-hoc sessions on technology exchange. The process also enabled newly trained staff to systematically migrate from non-core tasks to core tasks - providing the necessary time for ramping up on skills and confidence. It is needless to point out that we replicated the process for other areas of development as well as when we grew from being a team within a smaller organization to a large team.

The way forward
Technical skill augmentation should be an integral part of any growth-oriented organization. Any effort related to expanding one’s skill set should expand beyond the initial training and carry forward the everyday activities within the work place. The real ownership for augmenting the technical skills lies with not one but two entities:

* The organization that is willing to commit to long-term investment in its people and ensure that they have the right skills required to achieve the business goals. The efforts also motivates the staff to stick with the organization for a long term.
* The individual staff members who are open to identifying areas of skill development as it relates to the goals of the organization, while ensuring that there is an associated career development.

Implementing such effective skill augmentation programs ensures that there is continuous knowledge transfer within the team and also improves the camaraderie which reflects in overall improvement in productivity of the organization’s project teams.

He can be reached at sriram.rupanagunta@emulex.com
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