Aceing education in a tough market

Aceing education in a tough market

Depth of expertise built over 20 years is central to success at Ace Training, one of two major players in a market where many have fallen by the wayside.

Managing director Tony Skelton joined the privately-owned company in 2000, and says he has since seen 23 IT training providers go out of business.

“The market’s not that big and entry into our segment of it is not easy. It takes years to create your credibility and your skill level,” he says.

Skelton says Ace’s market share for Microsoft training nationally has grown during his tenure to the point where it accounts for about 58 percent of technical (systems) IT training and about 80 percent of desktop training.

This performance comes at a time when he has observed major consolidation in the market that has forced the so many competitors to close.

It was Skelton’s motivation to lift the company out of a downturn that saw him join Ace at the start of the new millennium.

“From the mid to late ‘90s the market went through a bit of a dip. That was one of the attractions for me to come in when the company needed to be revitalised.”

Skelton and Bruce McLean are 50:50 shareholders in the business – McLean is a trainer who has worked at Ace for about 18 years.

It is with good reason that Skelton describes Auldhouse Computer Training as Ace’s “only nearest competitor”. There are many similarities between the firms – Auldhouse was formed in 1988, a year after Ace, they have branches in the three main centres, both partner with Microsoft and each has more than 30 staff.

In addition to Microsoft, Auldhouse supports training for Red Hat Linux, Cisco, Citrix, Crystal Design, A+ and UNIX.

However, Skelton says the key differences are Ace’s independence in being privately owned (the Auldhouse brand is owned by Gen-i), its NZQA registration and its bid to address IT skill shortages through the Diploma in Computer Technology.

Ace has five Microsoft certifications on the government education register, something Skelton says is unique in Australasia. It is also the exclusive local IBM authorised education centre (other than training done by the vendor itself) for software, excluding Rational.

Late last year Ace launched the Diploma in Computer Technology, which includes an internship with a Microsoft business partner or a corporate.

The diploma aims to combat skill shortages by training in Microsoft .Net development and systems engineering, and getting graduates into partner organisations and other firms to train on the job. It aims to attract entrants with business experience.

Skelton says Ace ensures its training is relevant to industry needs by having long-term partnerships and being in almost daily contact with these partners and with customers.

New Microsoft technologies could provide a significant boost for Ace. Skelton says its customers are keen to be trained in Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange 2007, adding it was the first local training provider to offer scheduled Vista courses.

Ace’s involvement in combating the IT skills shortage extends beyond the computer technology diploma.

It is working with the Ministry of Education to improve standards of IT teaching in secondary schools. “There’s a distinct lack of skill there, but it’s not the teachers’ fault,” Skelton says. Ace advocates the introduction of scholarship level ICT in secondary schools, and would offer teaching for the scholarship if it was established.

Other future markets for Ace revolve around an ongoing demand for software training, particularly Excel, and the strong emergence of CRM.

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