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From ‘Google, Foogle!’ to Digitally Skilled Employees

In early March, the Director of Human Resources at Anne Arundel County, Maryland’s Department of Health, Grace Jibril, joined GovLoop online to speak about reskilling and upskilling. Days after the webinar, the World Health Organization deemed the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic and swaths of government employees moved to telework. Since early March, a lot has changed.

To get Jibril’s updated perspective on reskilling and upskilling in government, GovLoop circled back and interviewed her in July. She shared her stories around retraining employees and the pivots that the agency made while teleworking.

The interview was in written form and slightly edited for brevity and clarity.

GOVLOOP: In the GovLoop webinar in March, you mentioned you had to upskill employees who were accustomed to paper-based processes to do electronic ones. How did you approach training them?

JIBRIL: In my previous position with the Department of Labor as a federal contractor, we had a largely unskilled workforce whose educational experience did not go beyond high school. They had limited to no experience in computer-based programs. As the senior human resources manager and trainer at the site, I had to adjust my expectations and training material while understanding the insecurity and fear of learning new things.

I was forced to check myself and not get frustrated when an employee retorted that they “did not know Google from foogle!” It was important that I adjust my training to accommodate these workers without appearing to minimize the critical role they played in the success of the organization. It was important to approach them with the utmost respect by not degrading the quality of the training content and not assume an aloof or patronizing posture.

On the other hand, there were challenges when it came to the more highly skilled employees in the academic, administrative and management departments. On many occasions, they acted as if they knew it all and were not in the mood to enhance their capacities as directors, managers or supervisors.

When confronted with situations such as these, it was important to be understanding and develop a rapport that eventually led to a high level of professional respect. This allowed me to offer a clear picture of why the information being provided in the training would result in the enhancement of their skills and support them in managing their employees.

What are the challenges you’ve faced in providing reskilling and upskilling opportunities for employees?

Very often, the upskilling and reskilling of employees is concentrated at the top and among those at the management level. When looking at upskilling and reskilling your workforce, it is crucial to ensure you take a top-down approach that touches all staff members without having the unintended consequence of only providing mid- to upper-level managers the ability to advance or upskill. We strive to provide trainings and opportunities for all staff members.

How has the pandemic impacted your workforce training?

For our organization, circumstances brought on by COVID-19 has forced us to rethink how we utilize our workforce. Since we have a large number of medical staff members, reassignment of roles has been a major factor to our success so far in managing and implementing policies that provide vital services to the public.

Many employees have had to adjust to new work environments through reassignment. They may acquire new skills that are unrelated to the work they were previously doing.

The positive results of these reassignments have been that many employees have exhibited previously unknown strengths in areas outside of their typical roles. These employees are poised to advance to junior and mid-level management positions as a result of the leadership they have displayed in the oversight of our COVID-19-related programs.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent report, “Upskilling and Reskilling the Workforce for the Future.” Download the full report here.

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