A while ago, I upset some of the senior managers – after a particularly stressful day, I suggested that we retire all of the existing office staff, and then go down the local junior school and select 30 children at random. I offered my opinion that these young people would be more IT literate than our current employees!
Of course, I was joking (mostly); but sometimes, it is difficult to understand why people find the simplest things so hard to do. For example, if you can’t print, then it would seem a fairly simple thing to do to check that the printer is turned on, and has paper and ink in it. Yet not a week goes by without someone complaining that their printer is “broken”, and then upon investigation, we find that it has run out of consumables.
A few years ago, I tried to carry out some research into the effectiveness of our support team: I analysed the number of support requests and how quickly they were resolved. But then I looked at what the actual items were; and most were what we would refer to as very basic IT problems. Some related to simple hardware issues such as cables pulled out, others were minor software related items; where is my “lost” file etc? Only a few really needed “an IT person” to fix, just someone with a reasonable level (as we see it) of common sense.
Now the first reaction was to check if this was down to laziness on the part of the staff member; after all, let’s be honest, it is easier to pick up the phone and call for help than to try to fix something yourself. However, it became obvious from the analysis that there was a large number of support issues that came down to the various individuals lacking some pretty basic IT skills.
I then carried out some more research and it soon became clear that many of the staff had actually had no real computer training – at best, they had been shown a sequence of steps to perform; click button A, click button B then button C, then print. But if it didn’t print, they often just pressed the same buttons again as they didn’t know why they had to press those buttons. When I asked, they had difficulty explaining what they were doing. They just couldn’t explain in terms that I could relate to (in many cases because they didn’t know); and some of the instructions I offered were clearly just as meaningless to them.
This worries me; a great deal of time is wasted and productivity suffers as a result. Users feel frustrated that they are unable to work with the tools, and morale begins to suffer. Then the IT staff turn up, and too often the user feels belittled by someone that shows annoyance at having to deal with a very minor problem.
So the immediate reaction would be to suggest that all staff should be better trained; clearly this offers benefits, yet too often, the reaction of management is that the users don’t need to become “IT trained” in order to carry out simple tasks. This is possibly true – but equally, we cannot continue to put people in front of a PC and give them so little training that they make as much work as they actually achieve.
To offer an analogy, many people drive cars – but we don’t allow people to climb in and drive off without undergoing some form of training and taking a basic skill test to prove they are ready to be let loose on their own. Whilst using a computer is not quite as serious (for the most part), it still makes sense to ensure that the person using it has a certain level of knowledge to make them as efficient as possible.