Restructuring Government Learning & Development Programs for Better Outcomes

For most people, the learning opportunity is a key factor they consider when taking a new job. As technology, work practices, and entire business models evolve each year, employees must continually improve their skills and capabilities to keep up with emerging trends.  

Although government organizations aren’t exposed to the same fast-paced challenges as businesses, these organizations have begun to recognize the impact of a learning culture. This has led to using integrated learning and development (L&D) programs to boost competence and drive growth. 

Government learning and development programs advance professional development within the organization, ensuring workers grow alongside their peers in the private sector while operating with the same level of expertise.

The 5 Learning Principles: Outcome, Skill-Focused, Optimized, Balanced, and Adaptive Learning.

Why Is Learning and Development Important?

Learning is a lifelong process, and there are always new skills to learn. In the workplace, learning and development programs align employee goals and performance with the organization’s expectations. This stimulates progress and efficiency.

On the flip side, having workers who are either untrained or have outdated skills hurts the organization’s bottom line and causes serious levels of inefficiency that put the company at risk.

Poorly skilled workers produce poor results. Often, new employees don’t come with the knowledge of the seemingly basic aspects of work, such as proper workplace behavior. Even when they do, many need time to familiarize themselves with the organization’s internal culture. 

By taking the time to get them up to speed, employers can ensure their new hires are well-versed in the company’s operational processes, boosting efficiency and productivity. 

Continuous government learning and development are further guaranteed by legislation in certain industries. Statutory training laws, such as the United Kingdom’s Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, make it compulsory for organizations to routinely hold certain training before operating in their respective sectors.

The Impact of Increased L&D Programs on Government Workers 

There’s a clear and direct relationship between L&D programs and an organization’s ability to achieve its goals. This usually motivates most private companies to invest in the continuous growth and development of their employees. 

However, government agencies are dealing with a separate set of challenges that create a different reality for workers.

Even in agencies where L&D programs have been adopted, the budget for these programs is usually the first to be cut whenever there are financial challenges. The long-term consequences of this action can leave federal employees under-developed or poorly skilled. This negatively impacts an organization’s ability to maximize performance and productivity. 

The habit of undervaluing federal employee training deprives government workers of the career growth opportunities that their private sector colleagues enjoy. Over time, the practice incurs strong feelings of dissatisfaction that drive the best and brightest out of public service.

By increasing L&D programs and curating more integrated federal employee training courses, government agencies can greatly improve the quality of public service delivery, outperform their set targets, and enjoy the passion and dedication that comes with having a motivated workforce.

Appealing to an Employee’s Sense of Purpose

For an organization to increase its performance levels, its employees must have the required skills and experience that will enable them to function on a superior level. 

According to Gallup, “the employee experience begins and ends with the manager.” This working relationship is essential in improving engagement and boosting performance. Employees function best when they feel empowered, and empowerment comes mostly from managers. 

To become high-performance organizations, government agencies must shift from a culture of compliance and adopt integrated learning strategies that focus on their employees’ growth and development.

What Skills Can Be Developed?

The dynamic nature of the public sector subjects it to inevitable changes that are often created by adjustments to both local and foreign policies. As such, the list of required skills varies per agency and changes over time. 

Despite this, some general ethics and values remain constant and beneficial. Here are some vital skills that government agencies might train their employees on.

Communication: As public servants, government employees must be routinely trained in effective communication. By equipping its staff with active listening and communication skills, a government will have an approachable workforce that commands citizens’ respect and admiration.

Problem-solving: Regardless of rank and experience, employees are there to help solve a problem. Employees who can make rational decisions while thinking out of the box are invaluable assets. Through targeted government learning and development programs, employees can be trained to identify problems as they unfold and determine possible solutions.

Time management: Good time management enhances efficiency and aids the creation of an optimized work process. When employees are taught how to prioritize tasks and meet deadlines, organizations enjoy outstanding productivity that often surpasses their initial targets.

Leadership: A public officer is a leader and must have all the required skills for effective leadership. Most government organizations are designed to encourage regular career advancement through periodic promotions. This means today’s employees are tomorrow’s managers. They must pick up the necessary skills to aid them when it’s their time to lead.

Prioritizing the Learner

According to Dr. Malcolm Knowles’s principles of how people learn, adults are self-directed learners who continue gaining life experiences that become an increasingly valuable tool for learning. He further theorized that adults also tend to be internally motivated and always need to know the reason for learning something.

By applying a human-experience lens when creating organizational L&D programs, a government will end up with initiatives that reflect and complement natural learning behaviors.

The Five Principles for Learning and Other Strategies

To give L&D in the public sector the required upgrade, workplace learning programs must be aligned with the following design principles.

Outcome-Based Learning

Outcome-based learning is a design principle that seeks to connect learning to mission objectives. Since adults naturally need to know the reason for learning anything, workplace education must be directly connected to tangible mission outcomes. 

This approach provides the double benefit of greatly motivating workers while directing education resources toward concrete mission objectives. It also indirectly connects learning to employees’ career growth, incentivizing them to act.

Skills-Focused Learning

This design principle is concerned with creating personalized learning journeys that are linked to the learner’s skill needs and experiences. This approach uses an employee-specific learning schedule and curriculum that focuses on improving the learner’s weaknesses.

Under this design principle, employees engage in self-directed learning journeys that are personalized, user-driven, and adaptive. The freedom of these self-directed programs optimizes the learning process by allowing employees to pay more attention to areas they’re struggling with.

Balanced Learning

This design principle was developed on the premise of there being no one-size-fits-all solution to learning needs. Adults usually adopt various learning styles, and the evolving nature of technology means that these solutions can take many forms. This may include self-paced online courses delivered in bite-sized pieces, as well as: 

  • Mentorships
  • Hands-on experience
  • Custom boot camps
  • Virtual reality

Although multimodal education has existed for a while now, its adoption has accelerated thanks to the recent shift to remote work and the rapid growth of the technology that enables it. From macro-learning to virtual reality training and experiential learning, employees undergo a rigorous learning regimen that builds all-around competence. 

Adaptive Learning

One similarity between the private and public sectors is the ever-changing work environment. This requires continuous improvement and adaptation to stay up to date with current practices. 

The design principle of adaptive learning seeks to continuously and dynamically improve learning by anticipating skill needs with the understanding that such needs are constantly evolving. 

By adopting a proactive approach to L&D, government agencies can ensure their workforce is well-prepared to handle future technological and societal disruption.

Optimized Learning

Thanks to recent advances in technology, it’s become relatively easy to optimize L&D to fit learners’ needs. Today, L&D programs can rely on the already existing wealth of knowledge on the Internet to make learning more accessible. They also allow employers to easily track and assess learners’ progress. 

One key takeaway of the optimized learning design principle is that it doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Rather, it encourages organizations to leverage the capabilities of partners within a wider learning ecosystem to achieve their L&D goals.

Types of L&D Programs

Proper utilization of L&D programs leads to higher employee retention rates while also optimizing productivity. Here are some examples of how learning and development programs can be designed for different purposes.

Orientation: This is the first interaction new employees have with the organization after they’ve been hired, setting the stage for what they can expect going forward. As the first learning opportunity, orientation programs help new employees familiarize themselves with their new company’s mission and values; they also provide insight into key policies and procedures.

Onboarding: This refers to the process of introducing new employees to the organization’s internal culture and operational processes. It’s usually scheduled to last from a few weeks to several months, depending on its size and the processes.

During this program, employees are introduced to their responsibilities and obligations. They’re also exposed to career growth opportunities.

Technical and soft skill development: As the name implies, these programs are focused on helping employees develop technical and soft skills relevant to their career path in the organization. 

Technical skills mostly require job-related tools to complete tasks and directly affect day-to-day operations. Some general examples include content writing, data analysis, coding, and programming.

On the other hand, soft skills are interpersonal and dictate how employees interact with each other. Some examples include conflict resolution, time management, and communication.

Mentorship: Mentorship involves the passing of wisdom and knowledge from more experienced employees to those just joining the fold. This practice rewards all parties involved, as mentors can share their experiences and help mentees advance their careers.

Mentorship programs ensure a sharing of experience and insight throughout the organization. They also boost employee engagement and strengthen the bonds between staff members.

Coaching training: Coaching training programs are guaranteed to boost productivity and ensure competence. Employees are more likely to understand what they need to do when they have a supervisor or manager who offers guidance and direction. By empowering managers with the skills to be effective coaches, organizations can gradually improve results for underperforming employees. 

Upskilling in government programs inspires greater change by placing public employees on a level playing field with their counterparts in the private sector. Beyond the operational benefits, having a framework for helping government workers regularly improve themselves discourages top talent from leaving. This framework also ensures that the public sector is managed by the best and brightest in their fields.

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