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Challenges in Cooking Ham & Training Govies

Delicious smells permeate the kitchen as a daughter watches her mother cook a Thanksgiving ham. She’s intrigued by her mother’s process, especially as she cuts off both ends of the ham before placing it in the oven.

“Why do you cut off both ends before putting the ham in the oven, mom?” the girls asks.

“That’s how we’ve always done it, but I’m not really sure why, to be honest,” the mom replies. “Ask your grandmother.”

The girl asks her grandmother, but she has the same reply, and tells the girl to ask her great grandmother.

The girl approaches the delicate old woman and asks, “Moma, why do you cut off both ends of the ham before you put in the oven?” The great grandmother smiles. “Well, when I used to cook for the family, I had a very tiny oven.”

At GovLoop’s in-person event, The Future of Learning in Government, our first keynote Timothy Howell, Senior Human Resources Officer at DC Department of Parks & Recreation, provided this useful story. It illustrated the importance of understanding and updating government training processes — through means such as virtual trainings — to move past outdated methods and meet personnel needs. However, Howell noted that there are challenges, changes, and choices that must be made to successfully meet this objective.


With globalization and a distributed workforce, how does information span continental divides? And how is that information made relevant for an increasingly diversified workforce? If training works well for one group, it doesn’t mean it will work well for others.

Diminishing financial resources is always a challenge for govies. “Doing more with less” has become frustratingly common in government. And when tough choices need to be made, the training budget is usually first to get cut. “We know we budgeted for this, BUT…” is the start of an all-too common sentence for govies, said Howell. Despite having training initiatives in the budget, there are always competing priorities. Things get pushed aside, and the conversation begins again next budget cycle. So, how do agencies get financial resources committed?

The knowledge gap is another issue. As older employees leave the workforce, they take their knowledge and experience with them. Plus, some agencies have as many as four generations of employees in their workforce, who all have different needs. Even those in the same generation can have varying needs. Baby boomers, for example, can be “rocking chair ready” or “rocket launching ready,” Howell quipped. Facing this diversity, HR teams need to assess the needs of their organizations and align those needs with the skills of employees.

To overcome these challenges and bridge that gap, changes are needed in message, mindset, and mode.


In a society that believes 140 characters is a complete sentence, we need to make sure communication and messaging is clear, Howell said. The sender may think his message is clear, but how about the person on the receiving end? Communication is a shared experience, said Howell.

To prioritize training, there must be a change in mindset. Instead of some task to be completed and forgotten, training must be a business initiative, Howell said. Even just committing two percent of employees’ annual work hours to training – which would amount to about a week – would improve agency performance and illustrate a dedication to the betterment of that agency.

Prioritizing training is the first step, but ensuring effective modes of training is the next crucial step. While still important, face-to-face as the primary mode of training is a thing of the past, said Howell. Virtual training, through mediums such as GovLoop Academy, is committed to building a community and coalition of learners that is not bound by time or place.


Finally, no challenges can be overcome or changes implemented without making choices. If agencies stick with the status quo, they’ll be left behind. “For all the elevator operators and typewriter repairmen, what are they doing now?” asked Howell. As technology advances, employees need to follow suit.

An agency can also “wait and see.” If a particularly novel training concept is created, they can observe how it fares with other organizations before implementing it themselves. “The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese,” Howell said.

Or, for those agencies that don’t face much risk and want to blaze a new trail, they can make a major decision to adopt and implement “revolutionary” training tactics – such as the virtual space can offer. These agencies are focused on making different choices to change the environment.

Do You Choose to Change?

While easy to talk about, Howell admits that these choices are very difficult to make. Especially when using public funds, agencies must be very careful with the initiatives they choose – citizens don’t want their tax dollars used on wild, experimental ideas.

But new and effective methods are necessary, nonetheless, or else you may be wasting a whole lot of ham for no good reason.


Check out other posts from The Future of Learning in Government event here!

If you ‘re interested in working with our GovLoop learning development services team to create innovative online learning experience, drop us a line at [email protected] or find out more info here.

Image: Eugene Wei, Flickr Creative Commons.

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