Keep Ahead of the Learning Curve, Part 1

27 Apr, 2011 By: Robert Green

A CAD manager's job demands an up-to-date skill set — which in turn requires a carefully planned training program.

As a CAD manager, you train all your CAD users and make sure they're productive, but how much time do you spend training yourself? If your answer to this question is zero, then you're allowing yourself to become outdated — not a great career plan for a technology manager.

In the next two issues of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll motivate you to update your skill set, and I'll pass along some ideas for aligning your desire to learn with your company's needs. Interested? Here goes.

Getting Started

First things first: Before you begin the training, you've got to make a plan. Any good CAD manager syllabus must include, at minimum, the following elements:

  • A list of topics you need to learn about
  • The resources you'll need to learn about your topics
  • Financing required for your training resources
  • Time allocated to actually do your learning.

Now let's work our way through the plan step by step, and we'll draw some conclusions as we go.

Define the Essential Topics

Of course, you already have some idea of which topics you'd like to learn about, but a better starting point is, which topics does your company need you to learn about? Put another way, what knowledge would your boss actually pay for you to learn, and allow you to spend time at work learning? It's a lot easier to embark on a learning plan if your boss will help you, so keep his or her perspective in mind.

To get the idea of how to build your topic list, let's analyze a fictional CAD manager's circumstances:

Lois is a lighting designer in a multidisciplinary design architecture firm who's been a CAD manager for several years. She's comfortable with managing AutoCAD-based tools, and has a good rapport with users due to her ongoing training sessions. Lois is comfortable with setting up basic CAD standards, but she doesn't have a lot of experience with translating AutoCAD files to Revit, nor does she have experience using Revit. Lois's senior management team is becoming concerned about an impending transition to Revit, given their lack of experience with it and the lack of staff knowledge.

Given Lois's story, what should her learning topic list focus on?

Topics = Needs

If Lois designs her learning topic list to address company needs, she's going to learn new skills, become more valuable to her organization, and become more employable in her career field. Here's how I'd advise Lois to build her training topic list:

  • Acquire specific skills to send and receive Revit files to and from customers.
  • Acquire more general Revit skills that will be key for the company's future use.
  • Study how other companies have implemented Revit; learn what works as well as what doesn't.
  • Study how to best train company users so that the adoption of Revit will go as smoothly as possible.

This learning topics list gives Lois a number of advantages:

  • She will become very proficient with Revit.
  • She will be able to help her coworkers with the few Revit needs they currently have.
  • She will be able to help transition her coworkers from their current CAD usage to a more Revit-centric culture when the time is right.
  • She will make her management team much more confident about the company's ability to make the leap to Revit.
  • She will be able to learn the Revit skills she needs over time so she can still be productive as a lighting designer while she learns.

How to Ask Your Boss

Now that you've got a learning plan and a topic list, it is time to approach your boss. As you make your case, remember that your boss will only be interested in investing training time and money in your learning plan if it will benefit the company (and by benefit, I mean financially).

Your learning objectives must meet your company's needs, or your managers will never pay for your training.

Therefore, the burden on you is to communicate your training needs to your boss in a way that is comprehensible and makes financial sense for the company. Lois might approach the subject this way:

"We're seeing more and more need for Revit skills in our current projects, and the burden seems to be coming my way. I feel unprepared to handle the task, but if I can get a little support from you so I can take the time to learn Revit and apply these new skills to our project needs, the whole company could benefit. I've tracked down some resources and prepared an estimate of what it'll take for me to learn the minimum skills we need to do our projects with Revit."

Now Lois should continue by saying:

"And when it comes time for us to expand our Revit usage, I'll be well prepared to help other users learn the software, because I already have great training skills and good relationships with our CAD users. This could be a real winning scenario for our company."

If you were Lois's boss, would you be impressed? I would be.

Get On It

Now it's up to you to build a learning plan for yourself and set out your learning objectives in a way that you can present to your boss for approval. Don't underestimate the need for the steps covered here; a well thought-out plan is essential to securing approval.

In the next edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll show you how to take your learning topics and prioritize them financially so you know exactly how to approach your boss with your new learning plan. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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