The Federal Communicators Network is an independent, professional organization of volunteers founded 1995. Our members are government employees who run communications for U.S. federal government agencies, and we provide training, networking, and opportunities to share communications best practices.
Why don’t feds get training?
January 2, 2012 at 10:23 pm #148560
January 2, 2012 at 10:59 pm #148590
One hypothesis is that managers don’t see a benefit from training because the employee is unable to effectively apply the newly-acquired skills to their work. From my own observations, managers seem to believe that the most effective training method is “on-the-job training.” This is because the work is still being performed while the manager can directly observe the employee gaining the new skills.
January 3, 2012 at 12:38 am #148588
Yes Bill, you are correct. Another reason, “lack of funds”. The MacDaddy of USN-USMC, doesn’t see a benefit in “sending” an employee anywhere. Most training consists of “how to work with difficult people”, “refresher on MicroSoft Office” (we just got 2007, could 2010 be here by 2015?). In DoD, there are specific “policies and procedures” to follow. In this case, I would “love” more training. Reading directives/publications, etc al takes some degree of “understanding” and can be interpreted by whoever is at the top of the helm. I have learned over the years not to “question” why something is done a certain way, as you will be pointed to “read” the directive. Aha…yes, I would like some “training” on that. I don’t question anymore, seems to me, “the way we have always done it” still reigns supreme. (according to the directive of course). Newly acquired skills cannot be effectively applied to work, because they interfere with the directive/policy. Managers aren’t totally to blame as they are bound by the same directives, made from on high by people who have no clue how things work in the basement of DoD. I always believed that training was never a waste of time. As I get older in the system, I learn to accept what “is”. With the current hiring freeze, money for luxury things (i.e. training) is placed further away than the back burner. DoD is going to get hammered with money cuts, so it is best to keep quiet, hang on and ride the wave to retirement.
January 3, 2012 at 5:58 am #148586
It has been my experience over the past 50 years, generally, that if budgets get tight the first thing to go is training… The perception has been that it is better to cut training, which is a benefit, than to cut personnel. Only in a few cases has management realized that cutting the training budget is usually counter-productive (staff who don’t get the training that they think they need will go somewhere else, thereby increasing the budget expenses because of the hiring process)
January 3, 2012 at 6:48 am #148584
Charles A. RayParticipant
I think the attitude toward training varies from agency to agency. I’ve worked at DoD as well as State, and the two are completely different. At DoD, especially among the uniformed military, training is seen as essential, while at State there is still an aversion to any but language or area studies training. The culture seems to be that training is not evaluated, or that training evaluations don’t get the same weight on promotion boards as do evaluations of on-the-job performance. While certain training is now mandatory (leadership at certain levels, for instance), the culture still doesn’t really value in-service training as part of professional development. The ‘lack-of-funds’ problem is part of this. If the institutions truly value training and long-term development, funds could (or should) be made available.
January 3, 2012 at 4:04 pm #148582
I’d be curious what other say.
I had a few different jobs in government and training really varied.
I’d say in disciplines where you needed it clearly for your job, we got it. So as a program manager, you were forced to do training to get certain levels of certification. As an auditor, we had 80 hours of training every 2 year requirement so there was budget. At Education, the program I worked on was SAS so they gave us SAS training.
Other “softer” training seems harder to get – general leadership, management, or just wanting to get a skill to develop.
What have others seen?
January 3, 2012 at 7:06 pm #148580
For the most part, I think true training value is misunderstood and it is undervalued. When that happens it is left in the hands of people who never really give it up to the experts. Employees needs are not met and training is not rewarded; employees take training often because it is mandatory. Or, if the employee requests the training, it is taken at the employee’s risk of not getting his or her job done satisfactorily, too. Managers have to lose valuable employees to training time spent without immediate results because their focus is on the here and now, and performance is evaluated in the here and now.
January 3, 2012 at 7:23 pm #148578
I don’t have the answer to this but can share some things I’ve experienced from the Federal Communicators Network side:
1. People tend to be interested in training that has a direct application to what they do – not theoretical – at the moment that they need it. (Possible exception: college tuition)
2. The people who attend training in person are unusually highly motivated.
3. If the training is in a technical area that seems to be in wide use, but that the person is unfamiliar with, there is high interest. (Example: social media 101)
As a rule, in my experience, managers want you at work unless there’s a good reason for you to be out, but some are more understanding of professional development needs than others. Definitely if there is a work crunch and it’s “all hands on deck” you should expect that training takes second priority.
Another issue is the exorbitant fee that training companies sometimes request.
In any case, the entire mission of the Federal Communicators Network is to help federal employees find free training. We are having a guest speaker do a free training session (lunch & learn Webinar Jan. 19, register here) on how to engage employees in the business strategy – whoever wants to attend is welcome.
In addition a number of us have expertise in areas like social media, media relations, branding, writing, and more. And are willing to help others. Certainly in the GovLoop community the range of expertise is much wider. I think you could have an entire session just on LinkedIn (they asked me to do this at work), or personal branding.
FCN is going to have monthly seminars this year (hopefully) in these areas, but certainly the effort could be expanded. Not sure how, but it would be great if we had a kind of registry of experts who were simply accessible for Q&A – almost like Quora – on-demand training for gov specifically. Maybe GovLoop could build this functionality into users’ profiles, where we list areas of expertise, and then can chime in at a central Q&A area.
January 3, 2012 at 7:44 pm #148576
Ooh..I like your concept of on-demand training/Quora.
Next week we are launching a new redesign and sub-communities that integrate discussions in more of a Q&A area. Hopefully that’ll help.
So how would you structure it
-Sign up in profile as willing to help?
-How would you make discussions better so more like Q&A/Quora (I’m with you on this just thinking on how to actually do it)
January 3, 2012 at 11:12 pm #148574
I wonder if the question was rephrased, what the numbers would look like: E.G.
When is the last time you were involved in a learning activity relevant to your job?
I think we need to stop talking training, and start talking learning activities anyway, but I am unsure about the significance of the result in terms of what’s important.
January 3, 2012 at 11:51 pm #148572
- Nav button at the top could be added that says something like “Q&A”
- Add disclaimer of some kind (not official advice)
- Let people ask questions freeform, with explanation (both continually editable – like a wiki)
- The person inputting question can add tags and/or the system will (e.g. leadership, Twitter, acquisition)
- People subscribe to tags (topics) and are alerted there’s a new question
- People answer questions & get credits
- People can upvote or downvote answers and comment
- People can share their answers on Twitter, FB, GL as a status update
January 4, 2012 at 1:53 pm #148570
We have lots of training, managed-and sometimes taught-by HR people instead of people having on-the-ground experience doing the tasks and organizing and leading. So our training is mediocre at best. And much of it is not tailored to our work, although in years when the budget is good (I heard those exist) we can qualify for tuition at law school.
January 4, 2012 at 2:22 pm #148568
Michelle G. RosenbloomParticipant
I agree with Mr. Gov Loop on this one. It seems to be the soft skill set that is deemed “less important” or perhaps a “waste of time” probably because its results are more difficult to measure. On the contrary, work-related training and hard set skills are mandatory and required to perform the job well in the here and now.
Because I believe that training is important (EVEN soft-skill training) I think we have to ask ourselves two important questions:
1- What is the purpose of soft-skill training? What end result are we trying to meet? No, immediate results are not easily measured in a concrete fashion. But what about the health and happiness of our employees? It is important to discuss motivation, harassment, verbal skills, etc. We need to look at the bigger picture and care for the needs of our employees – on both a “hard” and “soft” skill scale.
2- If soft skill training is considered a waste of time — maybe it is a waste — on COMPANY time. What about thinking outside the box? Hybrid training courses? Playaway devices that can be brought home? Yes, we’d have to compensate our employees for their time spent on training – but what’s the harm in thinking outside the box and accomplishing the training somewhere else?
January 4, 2012 at 3:46 pm #148566
Linda, you’ll find some argument that even though someone has on-the-ground experience, it doesn’t necessarily make that subject-matter expert someone who can convey the information well. When that happens, it, too, the result is mediocre at best. Most people who have no experience training only do it because they have to or to be visible; for the most part, they never really consider (or may have knowledge of) how the audience will retain what they need to know, nor do they care. I think there are subject-matter experts are of enormous value but there needs to be someone to help direct the information they hold.
As for training not being tailored to your work, that happens in especially large organizations, and/or especially where the organization is small, it can be a workload issue. Neither is a great situation to be in. I think we need to be more local in our emphasis as well.
January 4, 2012 at 4:17 pm #148564
I agree with Michelle that all training is important–even the soft skills–and that is usually the online versions that workers can do with minor irritation, and still gain something from it. The training gets marked off and doesn’t take an inordinate amount of time. If it is online the training can be taken usually offsite, but some workers resent doing it on their own time–especially if there their is nothing in it for them other than keeping their jobs.
Most training programs, or I should say the managers, leave out the “what’s in it for me” factor for the employees. Often training has negatives usually connected to time allowable and productivity in the office. “Love to do it on my own time outside of work” is not really going to happen unless there is motivation for this and it is allowable under Union rules, etc.
Believe it or not, some agencies regulate your time to the point where if you do something offsite and want credit for it, it’s not a good thing. However, in the military, I found it easier to get clearance for outside training opportunities–simply because the general feeling was that education and training of any kind was beneficial not only to the individual but to the diversity of the workforce. Obviously not the subversive kind of training.
In the agencies I’ve worked for, training and training plans were mandatory–but there were no gains for accomplishing these assignments other than checking the box, and no one to really help develop the plans. If you needed help, it was perceived as a negative for the employee (a competency issue). There is resentment at the local level that the actual training would have to come out of the operating budget somewhere or make extra work for your supervisor (and possibly others) and you to request it. Often these plans were scrutinized and scowled at if they didn’t fit the organizational picture perfectly. No one wants to look bad for the boss so the idea is to make the plans as benign as possible at a minimum cost. Not asking for training is not good either, nor is asking for what you really need. Too expensive. A matter of perception. For the employee, too much work for no return to really work at pursuing as anything other than a mandatory requirement. As for individual improvement, forget it.
January 9, 2012 at 8:46 pm #148562
As a former Navy Career Management Officer our employees were required to complete about SIXTY HOURS to earn certifications and be eligible for promotion and most of the time did so within a year. Because of this requirement most training was technical. Employees even said that they saved the DON $400,000 by attending $4,000 training programs. Because training and travel to it was free, supervisor permission was required to register. Because their promotions were contingent upon being trained and certified, employees would become very angry if I couldn’t get them registered for training as quickly as they wanted to attend. The problem was that supervisors that wouldn’t release them from duty to attend training for which they were registered, because they were “too busy”.
In contrast, at Commerce where I am working to implement an employee development program, some people are of the opinion that FORTY HOURS of training annually is too a large number. However, employees can earn 40 hours through developmental activities (knowledge transfer takes place most effectively when you apply what you learn), E-Learning Instructor Lead training and Mentoring. I also coach employees to consider including after work activities as part of their training plans. For example, coaching Little League is a leadership activity, so is serving as treasurer of your house of worship, etc. Employees can attend all the E-Learning they can get away with, much of it is soft skills training. We even have a person that don’t speak English take Instructor Lead Training?! Instructor lead training, which frequently costs money, requires supervisory permission.
Linda, as far as “only” OHRM staff conducting training I implemented a new performance management system after training all supervisors. This increased the International Trade Administration’s performance so much that our foreign competitors (Britan, Canada, the Dutch, Ethiopia and South Korea) noticed and copied our system. I won the Chief Learning Officer’s Gold Business Impact Award and the Training Officers’ Conference’s Strategic Human Capital Award. Because of budgetary shortfalls I intend to send our best perforamnce, recruiter, human capital, etc. trainers to training so they in turn can train their co-workers as a part of our employee development program.
I’ve also been very impressesd with some of all of my organization’s line staffs’ training expertise, and unimpressed with some “paid” trainers even from my alma mater. Trainers are as trainers do.
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