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Catering to Students of Technology

The Hartford's IT College addresses the career and professional development demands of tech professionals while providing valuable resources on distribution of training assets.

Perpetual student used to be a mildly pejorative term for those indecisive about what to do with their lives. But the term also fits information technology professionals, who have decided to make their careers in a field requiring constant learning and adaptation.

About 18 months ago, The Hartford (Hartford, $167 billion in assets) came up with such a solution after tapping The Supplee Group (Baltimore), an "ART" (attracting and retaining talent) studies researcher specializing in IT, to survey IT professionals who had decided against working at the carrier. "We called people that had voluntarily left the organization and surveyed those who had been attracted to us but rejected our offer," says John Madigan, vice president, information technology human resources, The Hartford. What the study revealed was that career and professional development was a major factor for both attracting and retaining employees. "That's what really drove us to recognize that we needed to provide technology-based career and professional development that appeals to IT professionals and that's easily accessible," Madigan says.

The need was satisfied by creating The Hartford's intranet-based College of Information Technology, as part of a larger corporate university project built with Bloomfield, CT-based business learning consulting, products and services firm, Desai Systems. Rollout for the IT college began about a year ago. Since it became available to employees about six months ago, it has been "the main repository of developmental activity for IT professionals," according to Madigan. Working from a desktop browser, employees can log-on to the IT college site, where "they sign up for courses, order books, download articles and other materials and do searches on a variety of topics," he says.

Self-Directed Learning

By participating in the IT college, Hartford "students" can build learning plans for themselves and work toward a variety of professional development goals. "People can take the equivalent of night classes to learn something general, such as conflict resolution, or about specific topics like XML," Madigan explains. Employees can take a wide range of courses on IT topics such as program languages or server management courses, "or they can work toward bundling-up a series of courses for any number of certification routes," he adds.

Increasing employee satisfaction and qualification are worthwhile goals in themselves, but the IT college application brings other benefits, Madigan says. "It drives down our career development costs because you get more people doing desktop-oriented things and it's cheaper to deliver than having everybody going out to classes—though we also do a fair amount of that," Madigan says.

But the carrier gets even greater payoff from the information gleaned about cost and distribution of career development, and from communication fostered between managers and employees, according to Madigan. While employees are encouraged to use the system on an opportunistic basis, managers receive copies of employees' learning plans in order to approve choices or offer alternative suggestions. "It's been driving better communication between employees and their managers, while providing the employees tools to enable them to take more control over their career development," according to Madigan. While following the employee's efforts, managers are able to takethe initiative and provide mentoring through use of the college's resources. Using built-in notification features, "They can say, 'Gee, John, here's some things that might be good for you to enroll in or think about,'—so it goes both ways."

The system also served as a channel for training in its own use and for an online reward and recognition system. "It's given us a great platform to deliver other things," Madigan says.

Since employees access the system securely as individuals, it also delivers tracking of employee use of the system, providing a detailed record of career resource use and valuable insight into levels of participation, according to Madigan. "Right now about 60 percent of the IT population is actively enrolled."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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