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Training and Development in the Great Recession

Succession planning is often intertwined with the quest to improve personnel. Many organizations report an increasing turnover rate as the Baby Boomer generation retires. This will create a vacuum in knowledge, skills, and leadership in many organizations. Strategically planning for employees to replace these retirees is necessary to safeguard a smooth transition of power, continuity of leadership, future sustainability, and an organization’s continued success.

The Riverside Police Department, a mid-sized law enforcement agency in southern California, provides for a real life example of these important public administration issues. Its strategic plan notes that all eight members of its command staff (captain and above), more than half of the lieutenants, and well over half of its sergeants will be eligible for retirement by 2015.

Recruitment and selection strategies are important, but training and development should remain a key concern. Contemporary theories such as human capital management expand customary notions to include a focused, strategic management of personnel to ensure the right people are in the right jobs, the work is in alignment with the organization’s mission, and that results are to be emphasized over processes.

Many in the law enforcement field would report that training opportunities were abundant with rich tax revenues produced during the height of the housing boom in the mid 2000’s. Unfortunately, many of those in leadership positions view training and development as a discretionary portion of their allocated budget and consider it one of the first items to be reduced or eliminated during hard times, as experienced in the Great Recession.

Training and development is an investment in what most leaders would call the most important asset in an organization: its employees. Going beyond the obvious increase in practical competencies and skill sets, training and development shows the working staff that leadership considers them an asset to the organization rather than a cost. Employees want the best tools, training, and environment to do their job well. There is an expectancy that goes beyond eight hours of work for eight hours of pay. Most want to be valued and have a future in their organization. A healthy training budget can create a culture that generates employee retention, an engaged workforce that has the motivation and commitment to the mission, and a workforce that is more effective in helping to achieve the organization’s goals.

The problem arises when rationalizing real-life fiscal constraints with a reduced training budget. Plato, for example, said he would prefer a single boxer in “perfect training” to two, “rich and fat” boxers. What public sector agencies need are highly trained and well-equipped employees decidedly committed and driven toward achieving the organizational mission. Why would one create a bumbling, confused, four-person team without the proper tools when one could have a highly functioning, equipped, and dedicated two-person team?

Law enforcement in particular is routinely the most liability-prone portion of governmental operations. One of the main components routinely found in civil claims has been law enforcement agencies neglecting to properly train personnel. Public safety leadership needs to not only strive to ensure its personnel does the job the correctly, but also be able to demonstrate in court that it has a properly functioning organization. Lawsuits are rarely addressed with a singular issue, but the core complaint in many of them could be averted through a vigorous and well-documented training program.

With few exceptions, employees skipping training this year will not immediately be felt by the department. An agency will not feel the effects of these decisions this week or even this year. In an organization with a continually reduced training budget, however, personnel will struggle to acquire, sustain, and develop skills sets. It will stagnate the organization and inhibit its ability to learn about, adapt to, and resolve critical issues in an ever-changing world. Additionally, this budgetary decision goes beyond concrete aptitudes by not expressing an investment in its employees. All of this hurts future leadership potential, sustainability, and the public administration pillar of efficiency and effectiveness. The overall effects of these choices will be realized in five years, ten years, and possibly for a generation if some of the current practices endure. In sum, should an organization satisfy today’s bottom line while neglecting the future?

Moving forward, agencies need to think strategically and consider their options. For example, should an agency consider allowing itself to shrink through attrition? That might free up training dollars for those remaining, but would the reduction in personnel undercut the effectiveness of achieving its mission and the desired high level of services? Would maintaining high standards of training and development offset having less staff? Would any of these decisions require a reexamination of the organizational structure, its goals, and what it can realistically achieve? These are the difficult decisions that must be examined by today’s public sector leadership.

The economic woes are not going away anytime soon and leaders must face reality. Organizations must become creative in ways to achieve desired training and development. This could include increased DVD and webinar training. Hosting training courses reduces travel costs. Utilizing “train the trainer” schemes, in which a small amount of employees are sent out to learn new skills and then brought back into the organization to teach others what they learned, are cost effective and allow training to be tailored to the department. Increased job rotation should be considered. Employees interested in advancement could be coached through a special project that they would not normally handle.

Finally, mentoring must not be the exception but become part of the organizational culture. Supervisors should survey the talent pool, identify candidates, and show interested employees what they are doing and how to do their job. This can be difficult for some to do because in a sense it gives away a base of power. However, it gives the working employee a better understanding of the supervisor’s job and what he or she needs, thus increasing efficiency. It also provides the employee with an improved opportunity to succeed in the promotional process and a smoother transition to their next position in the organization.

Turnover is constant in every agency. Continuing to hire replacements, but reducing the training budget would be like hiring 10 new firemen but then selling two fire engines. No manager would make a personnel-to-equipment decision like that. Yet theoretical concepts like human capital management, a workforce sustained through training and development, and succession planning must be stressed to those in a position to make decisions. These issues are more critical to the future of a public agency than any police car, fire engine, or public utilities truck. Organizations must review their budgets, reevaluate what they want to achieve, and become creative to realize training and development for its personnel while retaining its strategic focus to ensure continued success of the organization.


Author: Kevin Townsend is a Sergeant with the Riverside (CA) Police Department, an MPA student at California Baptist University, and a member of the Inland Empire chapter of ASPA. He can be reached at [email protected].


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3 Responses to Training and Development in the Great Recession

  1. Lorena Norris Reply

    February 21, 2013 at 12:27 am

    This is an issue that needs to be addressed more in the department I work for. It comes at a perfect time with budget planning underway. Thank you for sharing your article Sgt. Townsend. Your points are clearly understood. Keep up the great work.

  2. Brian Reply

    January 29, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    This article lays out valid arguments in regards to training. Leaders need to know agencies will pay now or pay later. Departments can invest in training their officers so the can respond and handles calls accordingly or they can payout in a lawsuit later. There have been a lot of previous incidents that show proper training would have minimized or eliminated the end result. Good job Sgt. Townsend.

  3. Robert Morrison Reply

    January 26, 2013 at 9:48 am

    Very well thought out and so true. As a police agency supervisor you are to be congragulated on your insight.

    Innovation and new ways of thinking are always good to review and see if they can make your police agency more efficient.

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