Examining Training in Large Municipalities: Linking Individual and Organizational Training Needs

By Jacobson, Willow; Rubin, Ellen V. et al. | Public Personnel Management, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Examining Training in Large Municipalities: Linking Individual and Organizational Training Needs


Jacobson, Willow, Rubin, Ellen V., Selden, Sally Coleman, Public Personnel Management


Both practitioners and academics in the private, not-for-profit, and public sectors are increasingly focusing attention on organizational and human resource management performance. An important component or predictor of government performance is its training infrastructure. It helps organizations recruit and retain workers, as well as ensure that workers have the requisite skills and opportunities to perform in their current and future positions. Training is a direct means of developing individuals, and subsequently organizational capacity. This capacity, in turn, is linked to overall organizational performance. This article utilizes data collected as part of a national study of local, state, and national government--the Government Performance Project. Specifically, it focuses on training in the largest municipalities in the United States.

First, this article briefly reviews the existing research on training, demonstrating the need for a holistic examination of training in the public sector. Second, using data from the Government Performance Project, it describes the nature of training in 33 of the 35 largest cities in the United States. Finally, drawing upon what was learned through survey questions and personal interviews with city officials, this article presents a training model that integrates employees, the organization, and the environmental context in which employees and the organization operate.

Approaches to the Study of Training

Based upon our review of training literature, the article discusses three broad approaches to research. First, the bulk of research focuses on specific types of training such as management training programs and technical training, but the majority of this scholarship is directed toward private and not-for-profit sectors. Second, attention is devoted, particularly on the part of the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) and the American Management Association (AMA), toward understanding the availability and nature of training in private firms. Again, attention toward public sector organizations is limited. Finally, existing studies of public sector training are focused primarily on case studies of specific programs, such as the United States Postal Service's technical training program.

A recurring discussion in the training literature relates to the categorization of training--management training, technical training, and skills of an aging workforce--and the inclination on the part of scholars is to limit their research to a particular type of training. These studies date as far back as Katz's 1955 piece on management training and skills. (1) More recent studies focus on technical skills, the utilization of technology for training, and information on the utilization of technology. (2) Other contemporary studies explore how to teach the aging workforce the skills needed to work in the information technology workplace. Yet another category of research explores how to improve the learning process of older employees. (3)

In addition to studies focused narrowly on specific types of training, a body of work exists that examines the availability and nature of training in the United States. Because of the studies' designs, they focus minimally on opportunities available in the public sector. Surveys conducted by ASTD and the AMA review a cross-section of large organizations across the country. However, government organizations comprise only seven percent of the ASTD sample. (4) The AMA study reported findings only related to basic skills training offered by private sector employers. (5) Although both the ASTD and AMA studies had large sample sizes and used extensive survey methods, the under-representation of public sector organizations in these studies means that the largest employer in the country is not being fully evaluated.

As implied by the proceeding discussion, scholars and professional associations have devoted considerably less attention toward understanding training within the public domain. …

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