If you're looking for deals on training, you're in luck—it's a buyers' market. Last fall, one of the first expenses that companies cut was training (companies don't consider training essential for short-term survival). As a result, over the past 6 months, many training centers have closed and many more have laid off trainers. But the good news is that you can take advantage of these developments and make the most with what's left of your training budget.

First, one side effect of the layoffs among trainers is that many good, well-qualified trainers are now available for private, inhouse training. Microsoft made Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) available to companies for private training in 1999. You can choose any trainer to lead your inhouse classes, but why not use a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) now that so many are available for contract work? With the appropriate hardware, an MCT, and the MOC, you can get the same training that you'd otherwise have to go to a Microsoft Certified Technical Education Center (CTEC) for. You control the quality of the class because you choose the instructor, and the cost is usually far less expensive per person than what you'd pay for CTEC training. Also, your company can run smaller classes than a CTEC would, and you can customize the class to fit your needs, which can save both time and money.

Second, most training centers desperately need students. Your enrollment might determine whether a center holds a class or cancels it. Training revenue is all or nothing. If a class doesn't run, the center makes nothing. With that in mind, you might be able to negotiate a better price, especially if you can be flexible about when you take the class.

Third, like the rest of us, training centers need cash in the bank to pay their bills. However, companies commonly pay training invoices 45 to 60 days after they receive them. By the time a center receives payment, 75 days might have passed since a student took one of its classes. In the meantime, the center still needs to pay its expenses. You can try to use this information to your advantage by offering faster payment in exchange for a lower price. You'll have a better chance of negotiating a discount if you get together with several other students who want to take the class. Local user groups are a good place to look for other students to join up with.

Fourth, shop around at colleges and universities in your area. Colleges are typically believe that their mission is to teach, not to make a profit, and many offer excellent deals on training. You'll probably have the best chance of finding a good deal at community colleges. Cisco has a program that lets colleges offer training at the same per-hour rate that the college charges for the rest of its classes. A college near me offers the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) track for several thousand dollars less than the same training costs elsewhere. Similar options are available for Microsoft and Linux training as well.

Fifth, call all the training centers to compare prices. Even if your company has an agreement with a particular training center, you can often get a better price if you mention that another center offers the same class for less. Always check out the instructor—a class that doesn't teach you anything is never a good deal, no matter what the cost. Remember that you're in the position of strength when you talk to a training center. Most centers have room to negotiate, especially if they stand to benefit.

Of all the options I've mentioned, the first—arranging an inhouse class for your company—has the most potential to save you money, particularly if you have four or more people who need training. Certainly, the more people in the class, the more savings you'll realize because the greatest cost—the trainer—is a fixed one.