Training Practices in State Government Agencies

Article excerpt

A succession of factors impacting the economy continues to create new competitive pressures for organizations. Movement to a service economy, greater international competition, dramatic technological development, and increased pressure to provide first-time product or service quality as well as greater operational efficiency are all changes to which organizations are adapting. While private sector firms may feel these pressures more forcefully, public sector organizations face many of the same challenges. This reality has magnified the importance of successful training programs with measurable results. As a consequence, training has become one of the most critical aspects of human resource management effectiveness.

The literature provides extensive data on the assessment of employee training needs, data-gathering methods, cost-benefit analysis of training methodologies and post-training outcome assessment in the private sector, but little material exists related to training in the public sector. Analyses of public sector training that do exist in the literature either focus on the federal level(1) or evaluate the effectiveness of large municipal programs.(2) With the exception of a few limited studies,(3) training practices at the state government level have been largely ignored.

This lack of attention to training efforts at the state level is surprising given the size of estimated appropriations for training in that sector. Estimates of training dollars spent by state governments stand at $12 billion or higher. This figure compares to an estimated $600 million to $1 billion spent at the federal level and $45 billion in the private sector.(4) With such a large investment in training by state governments, a comprehensive examination of training activities in this sector would represent a valuable addition to the training literature.

This study describes findings from a survey of 140 state government agencies in 30 states. The survey instrument includes basic questions related to training needs assessment, types and methodologies of training and training evaluation. The results address standard training practices and the degree to which state government agencies adhere to accepted practices in determining training needs, developing programs with outcome variables incorporated in the design, and assessing training outcomes.


The steps involved in carrying out an effective training program are well documented in the literature.(5) The steps involved in this process include training needs assessment, data collection, design and delivery of the training approach, and post-training assessment and evaluation. Each step in the process must accomplish its purpose to ensure that training programs achieve their intended short- and long-term objectives. This approach to the training process provided the outline for the present study. The questionnaire items used in the survey served to document the extent to which effective training processes occur in state government agencies.

Surveys are mailed to 323 government agencies in 30 randomly selected states. One hundred forty (140) usable surveys are returned for a response rate of 43 percent. The relatively high response rate suggests that the data on training practices reported in this study are likely to be representative of state agency training programs nationally. In addition to analyzing responses for the sample as a whole, the survey data are also analyzed by agency size (i.e., number of employees in the unit) to determine whether size had a significant effect on reported training practices. For the purposes of this analysis, agencies are divided into five categories by size (0-99, 100-499, 500-999, 1000-4999, and 5000 or more employees).


The survey data follow the steps in the training process outlined earlier: the assessment of employees' training needs, the collection of data for assessment purposes, training methods used, and evaluation of outcomes following training. …