Do federal workers have access to adequate and effective job training?

They described a variety of experiences across agencies to the Federal Eye and GovLoop for our Question of the week. Quality was often — but not always — dependent on budget constraints and the individual instructors.

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Here are some of the responses we received.

“Most of my experience has been that initial training has been rather weak over the years. Perhaps similar to the private sector in that the hiring people are trying to hire the best qualified people (an exception would be trainees or interns). Another issue that comes to the table, when budgets get tight the first thing to go is training, which in my opinion is rather short-sighted.” — Henry Brown, Retired Federal Service Worker

“Early in my career I was able to attend leadership development classes that I think were very good. Now the Army has gone to more of a computer-based model. You don’t get the interaction with other people or instructor feedback, so the training is not helpful. Supervisors don’t want us spending duty time working on the on-line classes, even if it doesn’t interfere with our other work, unless it’s mandated training.

“I did try to do some of the on-line leadership training in my last assignment, and I found that the tests didn’t relate to the reading material. I have a Master’s degree, and I couldn’t pass those tests to save my life. Even in instances where classroom training is available, we don’t have any money to pay for classroom training unless it’s centrally funded. We do have access to Rosetta Stone language doesn’t relate to my job, but I enjoy it. “ — Anonymous Army employee

“Until a couple of years ago, we had a pretty good budget for outside training courses, seminars, or conferences. With some prior thought and a documented development plan, we could get travel funds approved based on improving a skill that may be valuable to the agency either right now or in the future. This allowed people to think about their career long term and what job changes they may like to make over the next few years.

“Now, most of that is gone and we have even been cutting technical courses that aren’t specifically required for qualification. Compliance training of course is boring and repetitive, but really doesn’t have to be. If management would stop thinking of this training as a necessary evil to get the box checked and provide legal coverage of the agency’s collective back side, we could actually create some interesting and engaging compliance training.” (See more) — Doug Tharp, Sr. Tech Training Program Specialist at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

“My work has done a very good job of making quality training available, or if I find good opportunities, allowing me to pursue them. One training program that I cannot speak highly enough of is Georgetown’s Government Affairs Institute. In fact, I’ll be taking a course on Thursday and Friday of this week.” — Kevin Carter, OPM

“I would say overall it is poor. I feel like the training either falls into two categories. The first is mindless but required “training” on required things like privacy and ethics. Useful subjects which are made generic and watered down to such a low level because nobody wants to spend the money to create different courses for different types of employees. The other is “career skills” which are intended for lower level employees. This is things like public speaking or organization which are things that most professional employees get through college and graduate school. While helpful for the lower level employees, it would be a waste of time for anyone above say the GS-7 level. If I want useful training I have to go outside of the agency and hope that I can get reimbursed, which is hard because our training budget is essentially nil.” — Veterans Affairs employee

“The most laughable training class I went to was a week long MS Office class. We all arrived fresh-faced ready to go (this was several years ago, maybe end of 2008.... The instructor seemed harried and out of sorts. He was passing around booklets and confessed he just copied them from the copy machine down in the training office (he was an outside contractor/instructor) because he thought we had MS Office 2007 and we were still using 2003. He made CDs for us to take back with us with tips and tricks, but they all had version 2007. We kinda smiled and ‘that’s ok.’ He said, “I would have thought the government would be up on the latest software.” All 20 of us burst into laughter. He didn’t know what was so funny.” (See more) — Anonymous federal worker

“Developmental opportunities are out there if you look for them... I’ve probably spent $10,000 and a month’s leave on my own leadership and character development because my career is worth it. Is yours? Our [learning management system] has simulations which are a great help as well. Look for them on yours. We need to assume responsibility for our own career development and not wait for others to give us time or money to do so.

“On the other hand, I’ve also experienced instructors so concerned with classroom management that it undermined actually teaching the students. Also, your report of hiring an instructor to train on the wrong version of software is a training office failure.” (See more) — Carol Davison, Human Resources Specialist at the Department of Commerce