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National Association of Counties * Washington, DC            Vol. 30, No. 22 * November 23, 1998

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The Future for County Workforces Rests in Training

Dear HR Doctor:

What are some steps that my county could take to develop the skills of employees through training and mentoring?

"Concerned for the Future"

Dear "Future:"

Congratulations on being concerned for the development of the skills and capacities of current and future county employees. Their skills and attitudes represent the single greatest asset that an organization has.

In short, employee development and mentoring make good business sense, good human resources sense and good public policy. There are many things you can do.

Here are some of the HR Doctor’s favorite "prescriptions."

1. Create an internal Leadership Enhancement And Development (LEAD) Program.

The idea here is to nominate some number of employees, perhaps two or three dozen per year, to participate in a structured, formal program of personal skills development and organization contribution. Many communities have a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored leadership program focusing on learning about the community and how to contribute through community service. This same approach can work brilliantly inside a county government. Broward County’s LEAD Program now has 200 graduates and a decade of progress to demonstrate its value.

2. Create an internship program for the "next generation" of public employees.

One agency conducts an annual competition among all high schools in the county and selects graduating high school seniors with strong work habits and public service career interests for a one-year paid internship to help "jump start" their careers.

The program is funded without additional cost to the budget by using approved but unspent salary monies arising out of some of the organization’s vacancies.

This same program asks county agencies if they would like the chance to work with an intern. Last year, 50 requests were received for the 15 available intern positions. Over the seven years of this program’s life, 100 young people have had a chance to learn from county mentors and to contribute as productive employees with a strong loyalty to the organization and to public service.

3. Encourage return to school "lifelong learning."

Employees whose curiosity and thirst for education are strong will contribute more to the success of the county if the county demonstrates that it is their partner in encouraging their personal educational goal attainment.

This is a great opportunity for county partnerships with local colleges and universities. A program of tuition reimbursement and tuition discounts can be established and can grow wonderfully in the future.

At the same time these county needs are present, most colleges and universities are struggling to expand their own markets and are very willing to work with a county government to meet organizational needs.

4. Provide a centralized, coordinated and innovative resource manager for training.

Meeting training needs in a disjointed way can mean sending employees off in different directions to expensive training courses out of the area.

By having an employee development manager or resource coordinator to identify common needs between agencies, it is often possible, for example, to bring a training program on site and save considerable money and travel while enhancing the content of the training to be more agency specific.

This same employee development manager can be the organization’s greatest asset to assess needs and develop in-house, cost-effective training programs or university partnerships to address needs.

5. Adopt a school.

It is challenging and stimulating for a county agency — such as an engineering organization — to work with a local public school, which may have a math or science club to "adopt" the club or the students in a particular class. Assigning professional engineers or other employees to occasionally meet with students and give them a glimpse into the professional opportunities available, can open the minds and the attitudes of students — especially those at risk of dropping out.

Almost every county agency can participate. It begins with an initiative in partnership with the local school board or the principal of a local school.

The HR Doctor has found that the students are not the only ones who benefit from mentoring and internships. Sometimes the "crustiest" of employees is energized by knowing that he or she is going to be serving as a role model and "teacher" for a young person.

6. Recognize and value community service contributions by employees.

Volunteering for community projects provides a benefit, not only for the local charity involved, but also for the organization, as employees develop new skills to use on the job.

The HR Doctor recommends that counties encourage volunteerism by allowing credit for volunteer work in meeting job qualifications for promotion or by recognizing, employees who have made particularly strong contributions to charities, through awards and other means. A person who is active in such work is usually known as a county employee. This positive representation of the county in the community deserves organizational recognition. It also boosts morale.

These are a few ideas that go to one central point: The work force is rich with skills that can be and must be nurtured and developed. The responsibility rests with each individual, but the county government, itself, can made a sound business investment by opening doors for employees to develop and contribute further.

The challenges counties face to do more with the same or fewer resources will not be met unless the work force demonstrates skills, knowledge and abilities to get in front of problems.

An active employee development program, well supported in words and in basic appropriations, will make a major contribution to county success.

The HR Doctor would be pleased to send examples of program successes in the areas described above to anyone interested. All you have to do is write or e-mail the HR Doctor: Best wishes and "find thyself a teacher."

HR Doctor

(If you have questions for the "HR Doctor," e-mail him at Rosenberg is the Human Resources director for Broward County, Fla.)

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