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Haves And Have Nots: A Look At Funding Training For Public Employees

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Kate McGovern and Dennis Martino
February 20, 2023

In the public sector, agencies have numerous funding streams. Some are based on fees for services, and others on general income taxes, property taxes or federal funding. This crazy quilt of a funding plan creates an inequity for advancement of staff and creates some havoc for elected officials aiming for effective long-term planning.

As former Training Officers for the State of New Hampshire, we witnessed a great disparity in training funds for staff. There are “Have” agencies and “Have not” agencies. There is an adage, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Here is where cooperative efforts across agencies can raise the tide. A high tide can be achieved if states fund training in a comprehensive manner, as they do with other employee benefits. States have benefit plans for health insurance, workers compensation and other programs that are standard for all employees, regardless of funding source. These plans cross over from agency to agency.

If a state government viewed training as a benefit to all, it could pool money to allow any employee from any agency to participate in sponsored training such as Basic Supervision, Lean, Conflict Resolution, Project Management and Strategic Planning.

On the other hand, treating access to these skills as optional, to be rationed based on ability to pay, is problematic. As a former colleague of ours once said, “if you were GE, would you not train your supervisors?” In the public sector, many supervisors have been promoted because they were the most senior in their programs. With years of experience in their field of expertise, it is assumed they will be effective managers. Yet, supervision is a totally different skill set. It is not something you learn in engineering or social work school. Inexperienced supervisors are prone to cause personnel problems, workplace tensions and staff turnover.

The rationing of training results in other inefficiencies. The “Haves” (agencies with training funds) tend to start their own programs, expending funds to design and provide them. While it is appropriate for agencies to train specialized skills specific to their responsibilities such as emergency response, it is wasteful for the “Haves” to run classes in core topics such as conflict resolution and business writing. Moreover, there is value in providing a standard set of fundamental programs for all employees, as there are rules and policies that reach across agency boundaries.

Ideally, the state training unit would provide a full range of introductory, mid-career and advanced programs based on best practices and workforce needs. A series of core programs should be required of each new hire within the first 90-120 days. Employees would take other classes based on role and job description. Class could also be triggered by promotions into new roles, or design of career ladders. The training unit staff would be responsible for regular enhancements to the programs based on evolving best practices.

Achieving this new state of training is a challenge for states with the “Haves” and “Have Nots.” They may assume that the way it’s always been done is the only way. Yet, creative funding solutions could be found to provide equal access to essential skills. One such option is for each agency to be tithed to pay for trainers to work under Training Officers who have a broad background in education and training. The goal of universally available training can be achieved with the will to do it along with the ability to broaden our view of states as single employers.

With a comprehensive program, agencies would be better managed. Moreover, such programs can offer career paths to develop and retain a competent and motivated workforce. As noted by Ottawa University:

“It could be argued – and rightly so – that employees are a company’s greatest asset, and, therefore, investing in their training and development is key to sustaining business growth and success. This commitment makes sense when you consider the lengthy processes businesses carry out to recruit and hire qualified staff. Oftentimes, though, the emphasis on caring about the professional development of employees ends after they are hired.”

With workforce training broadly and comprehensively available across state government, both management and employees will benefit. And yes, the biggest beneficiaries would be the state’s citizens.

Author: Kate McGovern, MPA, Ph.D. is a Lean trainer and practitioner in the public sector. Formerly a professor for the NH Bureau of Education and Training, Kate is currently an instructor at College Unbound. She is the author of A Public Sector Journey to Lean: Fighting Muda in Times of Muri. [email protected] @KateMcGovern_

Author: Dennis Martino, MS, Ed.D, is the former Director of the NH Bureau of Education and Training. He has taught Organizational Leadership and Public Administration courses at the graduate level at several colleges. Prior to his academic work, he worked in Labor Relations as a union advocate and contract negotiator. Dennis is an NOHS Educator and Fellow-National CPM Consortium [email protected]

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