What Can Corporate Executives Learn From Government Learning Initiatives?
There is no doubt that the government faces unique learning challenges not seen in the private sector, but there is still plenty that private-sector chief learning officers can learn from the way the government works through its learning issues and initiatives. According to Brandon Hall, Ph.D., CEO of industry research firm brandon-hall.com, the federal government e-learning market is expected to grow from $600 million in 2002 to $2.7 billion in 2006. Widespread adoption of e-learning solutions can help various agencies within government address unique business challenges and deliver a proven return on technology and learning investments.
According to Jim McCarthy, senior manager for vertical marketing at Docent, there are several large and unique learning challenges in the government space. First, after Sept. 11, 2001, the issue of homeland security has loomed ever larger in the government’s eyes. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security has created a whole new slate of jobs, roles and procedures for a very large number of government workers.
“What this means,” said McCarthy, “is a lot of new training, new coordination, new standard operating procedures for all sorts of folks who need to be trained on issues such as emergency preparedness, counterterrorism, responding to weapons of mass destruction, which most private-sector businesses are dealing with.”
In addition, the government faces unique budgetary pressures. For one thing, government agencies are under increasing pressure to make a business case and prove return on investment for information technology expenditures, which means that learning and training must also prove its return on investment. In addition to better ROI for IT spending, McCarthy cited demand for greater worker accountability and performance in government agencies.
“The administration recently introduced giving bonuses based on merit to senior employees in the different government administrative offices,” said McCarthy. “This is just a little example of how they’re trying to get closer to paying based on performance and merit.”
The third budget-related issue the government faces is the new requirement that each government agency have a chief human capital officer. “This is really quite a breakthrough,” said McCarthy. “The government is saying that each agency really has to have a chief human capital officer, which is probably fairly equivalent to a chief learning officer. The idea is to create a culture of continuous learning, attract good employees and retain good employees. So this is a recognition by the government that training is really critically important to ongoing success.”
By 2005, according to McCarthy, 50 percent of federal workers will be eligible for retirement. So, the government is also seeing new training requirements surrounding the replacement of these workers. “New people need to be brought in, and all those people with years of experience and expertise are going to be walking out the door at retirement,” said McCarthy. “So it’s a major challenge for government to be able to transfer that knowledge efficiently to the new people coming in.”
Because of the bureaucratic nature of the government, it has clearly defined job titles and functions, and it defines the skills that employees must have in order to be able to take a position and perform a job. McCarthy said this differs a great deal from the private sector, where employees generally “wear a whole lot of different hats.”
“In the government sector, you’ve got a job that is fairly clearly defined in terms of pay scale, qualifications, certifications required to perform the job, training that is required to perform the job,” said McCarthy. “So the government has a fairly clear definition of what training needs to be done and also, a culture of continuous training for job advancement.”
In the private sector, job roles are not as clearly defined. “The private-sector folks wear a lot of different hats, a lot of different jobs,” said McCarthy. “Often, training is not part of the corporate culture the way it would be in a very formal, bureaucratic government environment.”
“The government has to do more training and perhaps even takes training more seriously than in the private sector,” he added.
But of course, there are similarities between government and private-sector learning initiatives. Perhaps most important is the need to function efficiently and prove a return on investment. Docent has had a great deal of success bringing return on investment to private-sector companies. For example, One Beacon Insurance Group used Docent to provide industry-specific training and build professional knowledge through a centralized portal for employees and agents. According to McCarthy, the company saw a 199 percent ROI and a six-month payback on the investment. And PSS/World Medical Inc. saw a 110 percent return on investment and payback in just over a year when it used Docent to deliver regulatory compliance, safety compliance and general human resources training.
“In the regulatory area, we’re clearly defining who is allowed to do a task, making sure that they get trained on it,” said McCarthy. “And there’s a great return on investment from officially managing that process so that the whole organization—whether it’s the government or the business—is functioning efficiently with less downtime, fewer accidents and fewer claims.”
In the government sector, Docent has delivered numerous successful training solutions. For example, McCarthy said that the Army is using the Docent Learning Management System and the Docent Content Development System (CDS) to train mechanics in its Comanche Helicopter program. “We’re providing training for mechanics who need to be certified and trained in order to work on the engines of those helicopters,” said McCarthy.
In addition, Docent has helped the State of California Automated Welfare System Four-County Consortium deliver training that is far more accessible for its employees using the Docent LMS. “The mission of that agency is to provide welfare and social services, and they’re using the Docent LMS to deliver courses for training employees, and they’re also tracking the performance of those employees,” said McCarthy. “Part of that is tracking who has been trained, who has not been trained, having an action plan to get them trained.”
By delivering learning with verifiable results, government agencies are able to address both the unique challenges they face as well as the requirements for return on investment. These are lessons that carry over to the private sector as well. By training employees and measuring the results of that training, companies will see increased return on their investment, as well as other, less tangible results.
Emily Hollis is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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