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.

  • Robert Falkowitz

    Regarding point 1, in my experience organizational customers don’t bother with a detailed analysis of needs, whether that would be beneficial or not. Instead, they depend on a) the pass rate; and b) the feedback from the participants. The latter can be pernicious, as it is often filtered by the participant’s perception of ITIL rather than the perception of the course itself and its delivery. Indeed, it is also affected by the grade on the exam (if known at the time).
    I think there is typically a great big gap between the idea of getting people trained and how the organization makes use of that training or how it changes what people are expected to do, based on that training. Instead, there is a phenomenon (common, in my experience) of simply imagining or hoping that the mere fact of having participated in the training will somehow spontaneously change things. Ha!

    • Thanks for the feedback Robert. You remind me of some recent feedback we received on a customer satisfaction survey “I didn’t want to do this. It is a job requirement”.

      Quite what we’re meant to do with that, I don’t know…

  • Peter Gerritsen

    Couldn’t agree more and I think most serious ITSM trainers are somewhere idealists who hope to get course participants enthusiast about what they are teaching and to help them to achieve better results with what they’ve learned in the training. The ITSM training market being what it is right now does not help. It has become a sort of “self fulfilling spiral”. Organisations (are made to) believe that having a bigger percentage of employees who followed the standard training and successfully passed the certificate will help to deliver a better service. Trainers and training organization want to make a living, and the accreditation organizations (Axelos and others) are looking to make profit. As Claire stated, if you want to create a tailor made training for a customer, you need to pay all kind of licences to use “proprietary” materials that state to be made out of Good Industry Practices (I think that that is perhaps the reason that Axelos consequently speaks about Best Practice: a Good Practice that you cannot exploit without paying IPR fees).

    What needs to be done through training is to generate a return on (the training) investment. That can IMHO only be done if you are able to act on trainees competences (a construct of Knowledge, Practical skills/application and Attitude). And every serious educator knows that this CANNOT be tested by Multiple Choice exams alone. But…. everything needs to be cheap and fast and we all know that real assessments take time and are expensive. So, we end up making a living whist drowning people in “mandatory” theoretical knowledge and prepare them to pass The Test.

  • Peter McKenzie

    I am a huge fan of education – in all the ways you can get it… Formally or informally. I was once asked by a recruiter filling an open role “do you require the candidates to have a degree?”. My answer was “I need someone *capable* of getting a degree and having one is good proof – but not the only proof”.

    I also see the value of experience.

    I liken education to a wardrobe and experience to clothes. Lots of clothes are great but if they are all over the floor it is hard to find them when you need them and it’s hard to match outfits. A big empty wardrobe is not that useful – except when you are ready to fill it. It is the combination of the two that is of most value.

    Certification for no reason but certification is, as Claire says, not why trainers love their jobs. The training courses I have enjoyed most are the ones that have the knowledge transfer and then the experience transfer of the war stories that say why it is important. When I have trained people I get the buzz from watching people realise that the training is helping them to solve real problems (and that they are not alone in having the problem).

    There will always be certificate collectors. However, I agree with Claire that the ITSM community should be asking for more from the ATOs, who are generally happy to deliver it.

  • Wings2i

    Good set of pointers on ITSM training…