I was recently intrigued to read a blog by Paul Wilkinson about IT service management (ITSM) training: “Has ITSM Training’s Focus on Guaranteed Pass Rates Gone Too Far?” And when Paul invited me to respond, I couldn’t resist. This is my perspective on his blog, and we’re mostly in agreement (hopefully this isn’t a spoiler).

Before I respond though, I need to say that Paul stands out in the ITSM community for his passion and his integrity. Paul consistently challenges organizations – whether they create, advise companies on, train people on, or simply use industry best practice – to change how they behave, and feels the disappointment when they don’t.

Enter the straw man

The title of the original blog is guaranteed to get people reading – “Has ITSM training’s focus on guaranteed pass rates gone too far?” is almost intellectual clickbait.

I know that on my website, and in my team, we focus on training content, outcomes, and audience as part of our sales process. Occasionally a customer will ask about pass rates, but it’s typically in the context of eLearning success vs. classroom success, rather than looking for a guarantee.

However, expanding my research and looking at other training companies, I did find some examples of training organizations offering a “guaranteed pass,” but I wouldn’t describe it as a major focus area.

So, do I agree with the blog title? Not really. But reading on into Paul’s blog, there’s a lot for me to agree with.

A quick summary of Paul’s training “wants”

Paul would like to see:

  • A focus on knowledge transfer and behavior change, not tick boxes and passing an exam.
  • A focus on experience and practice, not education and theory.
  • More rigorous analysis of job candidates, not just accepting a training certificate as evidence of capability.

And who could argue with any of this?

A trainer’s perspective on this

Paul mentions accredited training organizations, or ATOs, in his blog. Here are some of the things you might not know about being an ATO:

  • ATOs in the ITIL, PRINCE2, and RESILIA schemes purchase an intellectual property (IP) license which allows them to develop training courses. And ATOs are only allowed to develop the training courses that are part of the formal certification scheme under this license. If they want to develop any value add or specialist courses, they must go through a separate licensing process with its associated fees. The syllabus documents themselves restrict what ATOs can do and the level of innovation they can offer in their training.
  • ATOs are (most commonly) commercial organizations, responding to their customers’ expectations. If customers value certificates more highly than knowledge transfer, the ATO market will adapt to provide what their customers want. So, who drives ITSM training’s focus areas? The market – the IT and ITSM practitioners.

In the IT and ITSM forums I regularly visit, one of the most-common questions I see is “What’s the fastest/cheapest/easiest way to get ITIL Foundation?” As an ATO, we pride ourselves on the quality of our materials, but does this mean we are losing the $10 customer?  Or, to put it another way – if the market is looking for the cheapest, easiest option, is there any ROI for my business to invest in quality, tutor support, mentoring, etc.?

Where do we go from here?

  1. If the market (the customers) wants ATOs to focus on knowledge transfer and changing behavior, it needs to ask for it. ITSM teams need to work with purchasing and procurement teams to select their training partner based on business value, not just price. Remember when McDonald’s starting selling salads and healthy options? It was a direct response to market demand.
  2. Employers and recruiters need to focus on the outcomes of training by measuring things that are more complex than “Did you pass the exam?” Training doesn’t have to include an exam – why not just buy the course?
  3. Exam administration companies can do more to keep exams secure. Online exams taken away from the training venue can decrease trainer exposure to questions and their ability to use these past papers to buoy up pass rates.
  4. Individuals can invest in their own development by joining continual professional development schemes, e.g. the AXELOS membership scheme, and using guidance like itSMF UK’s Professional Service Management Framework to identify target areas for building their skills and capabilities. An ITIL Foundation certificate on its own might not mean very much; but supplemented by ongoing learning, blogging, sharing, presenting, and networking it can mean a lot.

So, Paul is right to flag up the ITSM training issue, but we need everyone involved to play their part in the solution.