A colleague of mine was working at a hiring fair recently. A veteran came to her asking for help in applying to a job. She was happy to oblige, but he didn’t know how to use a computer. He didn’t even know the basics for turning it on, connecting to the internet, create a new document in order to apply. It was sad, she told me, but when she showed him how to do it he understood how and even later showed her that he had learned and remembered what he taught her.
While it is relatively rare for many people today to not know how to do computer functions like these, that disconnect between the potential employee’s actual skills and what their potential employer really needs is all too common. In my opinion, there is a systemic lack of investment in training across the country, and in U.S. Federal agencies in particular.
In my experience in both individual offices and across a large organization, the benefits of up-to-date, high quality, and agile training are immense, and measurably so. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good publically available example online at the time of this writing, but I encourage you to look to your experience and other studies and just note how powerful good training is to increasing not only productivity, but also employee retention, and reducing both service and security failures.
Also note that the benefits of training are national. Even if the trainee leaves your organization, the country is still going to benefit from their being more skilled — like the veteran who learned how to use a computer will now be a more productive member of society.
The key to making training work is to tie it directly to an end goal that you can track and measure. Too much training that is done is overly basic and out of date — and performed without any follow-up. Take for example the university system, which asks university professors who have not been in the working world for years, if ever, to teach concepts like web design and moble application development. These fields are being practically revolutionized from year to year — any training system that can’t keep up with that is doomed to fail. Then, to make matters worse, many universities still do not attempt to measure the success their graduates have in getting jobs and linking it back to the quality of the education that they received.
The way I solve this in my office is: First, I acquire access to a variety of training resources, one of them being the awesome Lynda.com. Then, as I work with people in the office and our projects evolve, I determine what skills they need to do and improve their project. Sometimes, it’s not the training that they thought they needed. Once that determination is made, I plug them into the pre-existing, high quality, and up-to-date training resources we already have to give them the fundamentals. Then, as needed, I add customization to each user’s training, and even require that the employee produce their own additional training documents, like “how-to’s”, FAQs, and Wikis, to share with other employees. It helps keep the training and knowledge ball rolling.
But it all starts with setting aside resources for that training, and then applying it with the end goal, the project at hand, in mind — what do you need to know for that project, and how best can we get that to you?
I had training for a few years–in software I didn’t have on my desk. Took me 5 years to get the software. Last year, I decided to get a Masters degree in Public Relations–I am classified as a public relations specialist, though my background is in journalism. I was told my agency would not pay for classes and that I should take courses more closely related to my job!
We put amazing capabilities at the very fingertips of federal employees, but fail to teach them how to use them. We also fail to integrate many of the technology capabilities so employees are typically only using 10% of the resources the agency paid for. Moreover, sadly enough, most employees do not know what they do not know and they are not asking how to use the tools they are given.