Professional Development on a Shoestring


When your workload grows and your budget shrinks, professional development often gets pushed to the back burner.  Here are some ideas about finding training and development opportunities despite the obstacles.

Updating Your Individual Development Plan (IDP) – There are a variety of ways government employees make use of development plans, and not all processes are of equal value.  Some agencies require documentation of IDP forms and counseling while others do not.  Depending on the organizational culture and even your supervisor, you may or may not have direct control over what goes on your IDP.  I’ve found success using the individual development plan framework to calibrate support on my short-term career objectives with my management team.  For instance, an upcoming training event on social media for learning was directly relevant to our team’s business goals, and the IDP process provided a jumping off point for a funding justification.

Accepting a Developmental Assignment – Given the chance, you might have the chance to accept a task outside your regular scope of work or comfort zone.  In my organization, there are frequently opportunities to lead multidisciplinary teams for special projects.  While balancing the extra workload can be tough, I’ve gained additional perspective and made new connections via this process.

Making Time to Read – I was excited to learn they still publish books on real paper, and I’ve enjoyed staying up to date in my field by reading some new titles.  It’s refreshing to be able to turn my attention away from my computer for a few minutes, and I definitely experience greater focus and depth when I read a book as opposed to scan an article online.  I started with my department’s existing library, and then I worked to secure new titles for our staff based on recommendations and reviews.  As you’d expect, the hardest thing has actually been setting aside time each week.  Beyond the occasional power outage, I’m never in a situation where I don’t have other tasks to accomplish, so the most impactful decision has been recognizing that professional development to build expertise is a long-term commitment and takes effort.

Participating in a Mentoring or Coaching Program – There are obvious advantages on both sides of the mentoring/coaching equation.  My skills have improved a great deal from providing on-the-job coaching services, and I’ve applied to participate as a mentee in several mentorship programs.  Mentorship programs provide an excellent venue for connecting with positive influences inside (or outside) an organization.

Requesting a Detail –  This may or may not be an option depending on your workplace culture and policies, but in the National Park Service, there are frequently opportunities for qualified employees to temporarily fill a vacant priority position.  Detailed employees assume a new role and responsibilities for a set amount of time (say, 6 months).  While the sending team loses capacity for the length of the detail, they ostensibly gain a more well-rounded employee upon completion of the assignment.  There is also appreciation for the sponsoring team’s support for the greater mission.

Participating in An Online Community – Blogging as part of the featured blogger program was a new experience for me.  I knew it would be a challenge to carve out time from other priorities as well as simply express myself. However, the potential for undertaking a new developmental experience and connecting with other community members outweighed the cost.  I’d encourage government employees to consider participating in an online community of some sort. If not GovLoop, there are many niche communities of practice and most organizations have internal systems or social networks of some sort.

Taking Training – I’m in the training field, so while I recognize that we learn from so many different facets of the world around us, I have a soft spot for formal, structured training.  When there are no opportunities for participating in training locally or with a sister agency, I’ve had some success navigating the plethora of online courses out there. Our agency provides free access to a library of courses on Skillsoft, and many of our teams also have access to  MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are an emerging trend in academia and industry, and there are even some options to participate in a quality course for free.  I’ve also tapped into various webinar series provided by universities or vendors.  Finally, I’ve also worked with my supervisor to identify more significant training opportunities (i.e. virtual conferencing facilitation) that help us fill skill/knowledge gaps on our team, and worked to secure budget approval for participation.

Attending a Conference – Given funds and support, industry-sponsored conferences can be a great energizer.  Despite my best efforts, preoccupation with regular work responsibilities often insulates me from lots of other cool developments in my field.  Connecting with like-minded professionals on new ideas, lessons learned, and collaborative projects always enhances my productivity post-conference.

What’s your plan for professional development?

Dave Barton is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Rachel Niebeling

I’m also quite happy that books are still printed on paper! Sometimes the eyes need a break from the screen. Haha!

Great suggestions Dave! Thanks for sharing!