April 10, 2012 at 2:12 pm #158412
Each week, GovLoop partners with the Washington Post to host a question of the week. This week, we’re interested in learning more about government training sessions.
We’ve all been to training – both in person and online. And it’s usually a mixed bag, right? We learn a
little something, pick up 1-2 gems to apply on the job…but in the back of our minds, we wonder: was that really worth my time? That’s why this week’s question of the week is:
Is Government Training
Tremendous or Trivial?
We’re interested in learning of your experiences with government training of all kinds – classroom-based, webinars, simulations, etc.
1. How would you rate the level of training available to you and your colleagues?
2. What was your initial training experience like, and has your agency done a good job at updating that training and helping you advance in your career?
Feel free to share your responses publicly below, by email to [email protected] (your response will remain anonymous) or over on the Post.
By the way, if you are open to us including your quote in a write-up for the Post, please say “quote approved” after your comment.
April 10, 2012 at 10:30 pm #158436
Terrence (Terry) HillParticipant
Tough question Andy, but I have to say that we have a mixed bag. On the plus side – I have to say that we have some of the best training in the world for our military and law enforcement (e.g., FLETC, FBI Academy, etc.) training centers. In fact, it is so good that other countries send their best to our training. Also, many agencies subsidize training at our nation’s colleges and universities, that are also exceptional.
On the minus side – many of us are required to take a plethora of “mandatory” training using our “learning management systems,” which are the most efficient way to get information disseminated to a large audience annually. Unfortunately, this is also some of the most tedious, boring courseware available. It lacks any interactivity and is not engaging, but you get what you pay for.
Now for the potential – We could use live webcasts to interact with and engage learners. Also, we can design exciting training apps for smart phones that could capitalize on the features of gaming.
April 11, 2012 at 6:31 pm #158434
Going to agree with @Terry generally. Would also add that, depending on the agency, technical training seems to be first class. Perhaps because the ROI is rather apparent?! .
Most of my experience has been that initial training has been rather weak over the years. Perhaps similiar to the private sector in that the hiring people are trying to hire the best qualified people (an exception would be trainees or interns)
Another issue that comes to the table, when budgets get tight the first thing to go is training, which IMO is rather short-sighted…
April 11, 2012 at 9:44 pm #158432
Mandatory training is always a snooze fest. Same stuff year after year.
Other training is pretty good actually, when we can get it. Travel training, forget it, not happening….too costly and the mandatory travel website we have to use DTS is a nightmare to use.
Sometimes it is not “practical” to take what you have learned back to your workplace. Remember, where I am, if it runs up against a directive/regulation/publication/policy, it’s not going to be implemented. Everything we do is regimented by an order/directive of some type. So most of the classes center around team building, how to get along with co-worker and Myers-Briggs. I do enjoy the MS Office refreshers…but alas, there is only so much you can do with it. The instructors are really good and suggest different things, to which we <sigh> can’t use because the “network” will not allow it.
The most laughable training class I went to was a week long MS Office class. We all arrived fresh-faced ready to go (this was several years ago, maybe end of 2008…. The instructor seemed harried and out of sorts. He was passing around booklets and confessed he just copied them from the copy machine down in the training office (he was an outside contractor/instructor) because he thought we had MS Office 2007 and we were still using 2003. He made CDs for us to take back with us with tips and tricks, but they all had version 2007. We kinda smiled and “that’s ok’ him to death….. and he said, “I would have thought the government would be up on the latest software.” All 20 of us burst into laughter. He didn’t know what was so funny.
Last year another instructor said, “If you have your thumbdrives, you can come up here and transfer some of the sample files I have prepared to work on back at your desk.” Another burst of laughter…. a brave student raised her hand and said, “uh, we aren’t allowed to use thumbdrives.” The instructor looked at us like we were from another planet.
Adobe was another one. The instructor said, “Ok, on your Adobe Professional….” and a class member, said, “Well, um, we all don’t have Adobe Professional, some of us have the basic free version. It’s not in the network contract to provide Adobe Pro. If our organization wants an individual desk to have it, then they have to pay for it separately.” The instructor, blinked, and blinked again….not knowing where her next thought was coming from.
Training, yes, it’s great, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the network, or goes against a directive/regulation….etc. etc.
April 12, 2012 at 1:30 pm #158430
Like a couple of the previous comments, we have some of the best technical training in the world at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. However, if you want to improve any other skills, not so much. Untill a couple of years ago, we had a pretty good buget for outside training courses, seminars, or conferences. With some prior thought and a documented development plan, we could get travel funds approved based on improving a skill that may be valuable to the agency either right now or in the future. This allowed people to think about their career long term and what job changes they may like to make over the next few years. Now, most of that is gone and we have even been cutting technical courses that aren’t specifically required for qualification. Compliance training of course is boring and repetitive, but really doesn’t have to be. If management would stop thinking of this training as a necessary evil to get the box checked and provide legal coverage of the agency’s collective back side, we could actually create some interesting and engaging compliance training. I was at a conference recently where an eLearning designer from the UK told us about two complicance courses he had designed. They were called “How to Sexually Harass Someone” and “How to Successfully Launder Money”. By being creative in our thinking and design, even the same old routine topics can be presented in a different style to liven them up, create interest, and help with retention. The typical course that lists all the regulations and the laws that require you to follow the regulations will never be more than a check in the box, but applying a little creativity and psychology in design can be memorable and really produce a change in behavior that makes a difference in employee performance.
April 12, 2012 at 3:11 pm #158428
Janina Rey Echols HarrisonParticipant
It’s a mixed bag for sure with my agency. Some training works and is great, others seem to be fluff. There is no budget for training and most worthwhile training requires travel and cost is prohibitive. We are under a travel ceiling which makes it less likely to happen. Then there is the time required. Since staff leaving is not being replaced, again due to budget, most of us are picking up more duties and have less time for training.
I prefer online classes so I can take courses with less expense and at times when I have less distraction. I can move at my own pace and not be bogged down as in a classroom setting.
There are very few classes available for my line of work so career advance is not going to be dependent on training. The training I did receive was cusory at best.
Our agency could stop doing a lot of classroom training which requires travel and major expense and do more webcasts so they are more like online and yet interactive. I could do those from my desk. Our training needs to be more up to date.
April 12, 2012 at 3:47 pm #158426
Developmental opportunities are out there if you look for them. I obtained some of my best superintending my 2,000 members church’s Sunday School where I learned to take care of the production capacity (my employees the teachers) while respecting the parent. I also learned a lot getting the Admiral to restore the training benefits he cut off after my predecessor mismanaged them. I learned on another training project that I was a visionary, strategic, systems thinker under nail it down leadership and to keep my mouth shut. Political savvy is a fabulous skill to possess. I’ve also expereinced instructors obsessed with where people sat in classrooms, and serving themselves and not the students. Training science teaches us that the most knowledge transfer takes place when we apply our learning to a problem so take advantage of developmental opportunities.
I’ve problably spent $10,000 and a month’s leave on my own leadership and character development
Our LMS has simulations which are a great help as well. Look for them on yours.
We need to assume responsiblity for our own career development and not wait for others to give us time or money to do so.
As for hiring an instructor to train on the wrong version of software, that is a training office failure.
April 12, 2012 at 4:51 pm #158424
They should have used lynda.com and may want to consider for the future for up to date courses in short video format.
April 12, 2012 at 10:07 pm #158422
In this case it was not the training office failure. You see, everyone “assumes” that the feds are up on all the latest and the greatest technology. The instructor was hired to teach a week worth of MS Office. And that is what the instructor brought with him.
I will say the feds in the “beltway” have the latest and the greatest….. When you “branch out” especially in DoD at installations….we have the crumbs that no one else wants. It’s still 1999 here. It’s almost the millenium and I’m sure we will catch up one day.
As a GS5, I don’t have 10K in my back pocket to “go to school”…..as most of the “worker bees” at our installation are single number GS’. Right now we are trying to keep the Angel of Death (aka BRAC) away, so keeping quiet is the way to go at this point.
I would be willing to bet that most lucky feds have the following:
* unlimited travel and training at their disposal
* a gov supplied blackberry/android
* Adobe Pro on their work computer
* the ability to use a thumb drive
* the ability to “stream music” from the work computer via Pandora, Spotify or some other music site
*. the ability to go to any website on the net and read at their leisure, including GovLoop (GovLoop is blocked here)
* are not under a hiring freeze
I do agree with you that knowledge transfer takes place when we apply our learning to a problem. However, when your “trainer” has all the tools at their fingertips and gives you “tips and tricks” you CAN’T utilize because a directive/policy/regulation is in place to prohibit it, or your “outsourced technology contract” doesn’t accept it…….well…..that’s a bit hard to do. Until the wise ones on high change the regulation/policy/directive…..we will remain technologically behind.
April 13, 2012 at 6:23 am #158420
Like many others, our training budgets have been slashed over the past several years.
The best classes I’ve attended have been leadership courses delivered under contract with different colleges and universities. In most cases, these courses had a good balance of lecture and experiential activity (25/75 approx.) and we’re spread out over several days or weeks with interim homework assignments. The best developmental activities have always been OJT when I was given opportunities to take on increasingly complex work that was slightly above my skill level (i.e., coordinating a cross-departmental project, preparing and delivering a recommendation to a senior leadership team, etc.).
I’ve recently become fascinated with the ‘flipping the classroom’ approach, where students view recorded lectures outside the classroom, and then spend classroom time working collaboratively on assignments. It sees like it would work well for adult learners, cost less, and make better use of both the instructor’s and students’ time.
April 13, 2012 at 1:50 pm #158418
I look at this question a little differently. First, was the training effective? Second, why or why not? I often teach a planning course we provide and it is a weeklong course that is about 70% hands-on. Students generally show better retention for the subject and are engaged in the class. Online required training, probably no so much. Other types, such as facilitated discussions (like my recent anti-harassment training) also seem to work much better than online for knowledge retention.
But in the end, it all seems to comes back to cost. Online is probably easier and cheaper per hour of instruction, but its effectiveness seems low. So to answer the question: I would look to effectiveness as the main factor in whether training is good or bad (no one would admit training is trivial!). Right now, I would rank them as classroom is the best, online the worst.
April 13, 2012 at 6:15 pm #158416
Is mandatory training effective? My friend April Mills says no, and gives an alternative in her resent blog post:
April 23, 2012 at 5:39 pm #158414
Great question! And this is clearly a topic on which many people have numerous thoughts to share. Love seeing the discussion! A recent blog post even references this specific discussion on GovLoop and offers insights based on how the DAU and other organizations have implemented new procedures for training and development: http://feduc.us/?p=785.
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