Strategic Public Sector Learning and Development: Agencies Should Employ Five Guidelines to Ensure Current and Systematic Learning within the Governmental Workforce

By Ice, Jerry | The Public Manager, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview
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Strategic Public Sector Learning and Development: Agencies Should Employ Five Guidelines to Ensure Current and Systematic Learning within the Governmental Workforce


Ice, Jerry, The Public Manager


From fighting terrorism abroad to managing the economic recovery here at home, the U.S. government has taken on more new roles and responsibilities in recent years than ever before in its history. That's translating into expanded missions and increased job responsibilities in many federal agencies and state and local governments. Effective continuing education and training are critical to sustaining the kind of skills-based government workforce required to meet the government's current and future needs.

If done wisely, an investment in education and development doesn't just affect individual employee performance and productivity on the job; it also has an impact on employee alignment, engagement, and overall performance. Not only can learning and development be a significant catalyst for driving culture change and organizational transformation, it can also

* socialize and quickly acculturate new hires to an agency's mission, organizational culture, and work values

* communicate clear and specific work expectations to employees at a departmental, team, or work unit level

* align and engage employees (both new and current) around changing mission requirements or priorities

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* reward high-performing employees with customized professional development and career enrichment opportunities

* retain highly prized workers by giving them regular opportunities to enhance and refresh their skills

* create a nimble and resilient workforce accustomed to continuous learning on the job

* foster a strong learning culture.

However, many government organizations have yet to develop a truly comprehensive and systematic approach to employee education, training, and development. Mission critical skills and competency gaps clearly exist, and are likely to become more apparent in the years ahead as Baby Boomers begin to retire in large numbers. These needs are most pressing today in some areas of defense, intelligence, and national security.

With these clear benefits in mind, we've developed five guidelines that professionals should employ when designing education, training and development, and performance improvement initiatives for government workers.

Guideline #1: Consider all the ways you can incorporate continuing education and training into the employee lifecycle--from the first day on the job to skills training and career advancement opportunities.

Despite research conducted by the Recruiting Roundtable revealing that effective onboarding programs can improve employee performance by up to 11.3 percent, many employees report that the initial process is often dismal--an experience that can negatively affect employee morale and long-term employee retention.

Robust education and training from day 1 brings new hires quickly up to speed with the organization's culture, values, and work expectations. This is a critical point at which to cement strong ties with a new hire. Key onboarding activities, such as clearly communicating performance expectations; providing early feedback; involving co-workers and peers in early socialization of a new employee to the work culture; and providing early job training are critical to boosting performance (Partnership for Public Service/Booz Allen Hamilton).

James Perry, chancellor's professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University and co-editor of Motivation in Public Management: The Call of Public Service (Oxford University Press, 2008), has been researching the public service motivations of government employees for decades. He said in a 2008 article in The Public Manager that the work motivations of public employees "are based on a different set of values than one finds in industry or even the nonprofit sector." Specifically, they're more strongly motivated by the call of public service, a desire to serve others, and a wish to do good.

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