Training Keeps City Employees Ready and Able to Do their Jobs

By Jennifer McMahon, Director of Human Resources

When a governmental organization starts feeling financial strains one of the first places they look to cut costs is training and professional development. While a common mantra is to “run government more like a business,” that notion seems to be invalidated when it comes to professional development. Business has long understood that investing in their employees’ development is vital to their success. It’s no different in local government. Since we are using taxpayer dollars and are required to comply with transparency laws and expectations, communities like St. Charles carefully scrutinize training opportunities and identify ways to save money on such endeavors.

Local governments tend to run lean in terms of staffing because they are publicly funded. Employees are expected to be knowledgeable and skilled in a variety of areas. Because of this, it is imperative that City employees receive regular training in skill development and education to enhance their knowledge in their areas of responsibility. In addition, local government employees must stay abreast of changing federal, state, and local law that will impact how they do their job. For example, police officers are legally required to do a minimum of 40 hours of training per year just to maintain their certification. Congress’ new tax law will impact how the City administers its payroll, W2s, and health insurance. Finance and HR staffs need to be trained on that implementation.

Aside from the required technical training needed to effectively do their job and remain competent in their profession, local government employees attend training on best management practices (BMPs) in the public sector. BMPs are constantly developing as technology changes, demographics evolve, or citizen expectations increase. BMPs allow a community to deliver a high level of service in a cost effective manner. Professional organizations in public administration, public works, IS, finance, planning, building and code, public safety, or law enforcement collect or develop BMPs and then offer training on them. For example, IS staff has learned how to leverage existing software programs to automate several internal approval processes. This has saved staff time (and therefore dollars), as well as enhanced the City’s ability to be transparent.

Finally, there is the need for management and leadership development. Baby boomers are retiring from public sector in record numbers. They are not only a much larger generation than the one that follows them, Generation X, but a great percentage of the Boomers went into public service. Over the last three years, the City is averaging 13 retirements a year. Tomorrow’s leaders need to develop management and leadership skills now in order to ensure that a community is well managed going forward. As supported by many studies, the business world already knows the value of leadership development and how it is crucial to a business’s next stage of growth. The same holds true in local government. Recruitment and promotion of the next generation of leaders relies on quality professional development. A survey released by the Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement, reveals that professional development is one of the top three factors that keep employees engaged, reducing their likelihood of leaving. “Training and development are key drivers of engagement,” according to Robert Lavigna, Director of the Institute. “If you improve engagement, you can improve performance, productivity, retention, customer service, and citizen satisfaction with government.”

For citizens, businesses, and visitors, the quality of a community is born out of the services that the local government employees are providing. Skills training, education to enhance knowledge, and leadership development are vital to meeting citizen expectations and creating a community where people want to live, work, play, and do business. The City works hard to secure training at a low or zero cost. For example, this year, a series of webinars were offered to supervisors on employment and labor law for $89 per session; five to 20 supervisors per session attended. Broadly, however, looking only at the dollar amount spent on training is negating the return on investment that the employee brings back to St. Charles to make it a better place.