CAD Manager Self-Improvement, Part 1

11 Sep, 2007 By: Robert Green

Get training for yourself and you'll avoid becoming obsolete. Follow these steps to get started.

As a CAD manager you’re always training others, but how much time do you really spend learning new skills? Do you have a learning plan for your career, or do you simply try to keep up with new software as it comes out and tread water as best you can? Most CAD managers fit into the latter category, and that’s a shame, because if you don’t challenge yourself to learn new skills, you’ll eventually become obsolete.

Over the next few issues of CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll focus on the entire process of CAD manager learning, from planning through resource identification to scheduling the time to learn. Along the way I’ll pass along many tips and tricks I’ve used to help myself continually learn new skills, in hopes that you’ll be able to use some of them in your own career.

Here goes.

First Step: Get Approval
If you want to break out of a rut and start learning some new skills, what’s the very first thing you need to do? This is a very important question -- one that, in my experience, most CAD managers can’t answer. What’s the first answer that comes to your mind? Here are the most popular answers that I get when I speak to CAD managers:

Make the time to actually learn

  • Find learning resources
  • Obtain funds to pay for the training

But here's an interesting point: None of these factors matters unless your boss agrees that you need to be trained in the first place! After all, when your boss sees the value of training you, he or she can approve the time, money, and resources it takes to get you trained, right?

Want to get started with a learning plan? Talk to your boss first. But wait -- don’t start talking until you have a plan, an approach, and a written report! In the following steps I’ll outline how to do just that.

How to Get "Yes" for an Answer
So what will you stress when you have the training conversation with your boss? Productivity, productivity, and productivity!

Your boss is interested in your learning plan only if the learning will benefit the company financially. Therefore, the burden is on you to determine how the training you need makes sense financially. Here's an example:

The wrong way to ask for Visual Basic training: “I really need to attend a VB.NET course because Autodesk’s core APIs for all its products now require us to move away from the old COM Object model to the new Visual Studio .NET development environment. This skill will be crucial for me to create routines that can integrate our CAD users with company databases to streamline data flow.”

Now, honestly, what would your boss think after this explanation?

The right way to ask for Visual Basic training: “As a company, we need to cut the amount of time our users spend searching through databases for information to complete their drawings. If I can attend a .NET course for three days, I’ll be able to create programs that can cut an hour a week of needless labor for each of our five CAD operators. At one hour per week for five employees at $40/hour, we’ll be able to save $10,400 a year in CAD labor if you’ll let me attend the course. My total cost for three days' labor and the $1,000 course will be $2,560 based on my $65/hour rate. This course will give a 400% payback!”

Now what would your boss be thinking? Do you see why this business-focused method of asking for training will work better? Keep this in mind as we move on to creating our list of learning topics.

What Should You Learn?
Now the fun begins because you need to figure out what you should be learning that will most positively affect your company from a productivity standpoint. Here’s a method you can use to build a list of learning objectives, which will form the basis of your learning plan.

Build a quick list. Simply list the topics you need to learn about to make you a better CAD manager for your company.

Prioritize based on need. Of the things you listed, which learning objectives could have the most profound impact on your company and when? Now you should have a list that is in order of importance.

Tally labor savings. Try to compute possible labor savings you could achieve as a result of learning a new skill, as I explained using the Visual Basic example. The more specific numbers you can produce, the better your chances of getting the training approved, so spend some quality time on this step.

Writing it Up
As you go about listing and prioritizing your objectives, I suggest you create a document in Microsoft Word where you can keep track of your thoughts during this process. Add the reasons and logic behind your requests as they occur to you.You know that your boss will ultimately ask you to create a brief report to outline your request, so why not put the needed support in writing when the thoughts are fresh?

I think you’ll find that the more details you write down early on, the easier it will be to make your case later, so don’t cut corners now. As you write your training requests, add as many numbers and financial justifications as possible and minimize the technical jargon. Remember that you’re far more likely to get training approval from an accountant than from a programmer, so base your request on financial principles and watch how quickly your training becomes a high priority!

Summing Up
You should now be able to get going on building your prioritized training list. There’s no time like the present!

In the next issue of CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll talk about how to persuasively present your training plan to your boss and senior management and have a serious conversation about your training needs. I’ll also share some ways that you can get your CAD users to support you in your training quest by getting them involved in the productivity debate. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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