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Employee Development – Investing in the Future

Declining revenues due to economic woes have had another detrimental effect on state and local government – employee layoffs are at new highs and the depletion of key programs is having a huge impact on service delivery. While there are some who point to government ‘bloat’ as a causative factor in recent and projected layoffs, data suggests that the reduction of government chub began to occur long ago. And, recent cuts have done nothing but eviscerate important capabilities that will again be required as populations grow and demand escalates.

As a proponent of lean government, I can also say I am a proponent of the dual dynamics of data-driven performance management and employee development. As state and local workforces shrink, greater demand is placed on those left behind. Retirement of Baby Boomers is also weighing heavily on local programs that rely on deeply experienced workers to chart a course through these difficult times while providing adequate, if reduced, services.

Due to the changing nature of government jobs and the fact that training and development is typically the first organization element to be cut, we are facing a growing gap in the skills required to manage and provide services. Populations are still predicted to grow. And, compounded by the growing number of poor and disadvantaged, expanding infrastructure needs, the potential for escalating crime, and the general trend toward deferred maintenance, state and local government agencies will be taxed far beyond their ability to meet public needs and expectations. This is in addition to public education, which is seeing staff and services eliminated to the point that mandates and missions cannot be achieved. Is there an easy fix? No. There has been such a huge increase in government programs over the past forty years that constituents feel entitled to their continuance. Unfortunately, balanced budget statutes trump public demand. Certainly, the future holds interesting opportunities for debate and conflict.

Job gains may be slower than originally predicted because many companies and public agencies will first rely on automation and knowledge-centered jobs to satisfy demand. However, basic skill development is needed in many critical but traditional positions, including fire, police, waste treatment, water treatment, solid waste, administrative services, public health, building inspection, recreation, assessment, engineering, surveying, and literally dozens of essential public services. Without adequate planning for future needs and commensurate professional development, the skill gap will be enormous – and not easily overcome.

The oldest Baby Boomers turned 60 in 2006. According to the Social Security Administration, close to 80 million Americans, equating to 10,000 per day, will be eligible for social security benefits. While many are delaying retirement (a recent survey by Watson Wyatt Worldwide indicated that 44 percent of respondents 50 or older plan to postpone retirement and half of those will delay three years or more). Bottom line, we will be losing some of the most experienced and talented technicians in many areas of federal, state and local government and few agencies are equipped to counter this trend. Without remedy, look for operational efficiency, productivity and quality to decline. While the ‘Net Generation,’ i.e. those who have grown up using the Internet, can assume jobs requiring information and knowledge acquisition skills, they will be unable to compete for more technical positions and few will have naturally occurring leadership or management skills.

The American Society for Training and Development cites the fact that 79 percent of surveyed organizations say a skill gap currently exists in the organization. Various sources cite multiple reasons why skill gaps persist – retirements, lack of training dollars, inability to attract talent, and the specter of instability.

For every segment of government there must be a vision for the required workforce. That is not to encourage the build-out of large employee bases, but merely to advocate matching the realities of predicted demand with necessary skill sets.

Cowlitz County, Washington has recently approved the development of an employee and professional development curriculum. The Futures Corporation will be ‘framing’ the curriculum and helping to develop the internal capability to provide ongoing training services. After working with state, city and county government for so many years, one of my greatest frustrations has been the lack of quality employee development and training. This is now catching up to those who eliminated training services. The pace of change and technological advancement, especially in technical fields, will quickly surpass current knowledge and skill levels once Boomers retire. Without organized and formally supported training, many government agencies will not be able to sustain basic services and will see a corollary reduction in response capability, program quality and efficiency, and employee productivity.

Leadership and management development coupled with technical training holds a very important key to preparing for future challenges. Unfortunately, those challenges are not in the distant future. They exist now. What level of support does training and development have in your agency, state, city or county? Done well, employee development and training services need not be expensive. But it must be organized, formal, supported by decision makers, and have a place at the budget table. This one element of public management can have a profound impact on lean but capable government.

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures)

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8 Responses

  1. Really like the blog–especially what you said about the aging population and the gap that exists in the workforce.

  2. John, I couldn’t agree more. Great insights. Your post is directed at different levels of government agencies but the same thing is happening in for-profit companies, as well.

  3. […] vital. Companies will be completely different in 2050 (or even sooner). Futurist John Luthy of the Public Futures Blog says, “Leadership and management development coupled with technical training holds a very […]

  4. Excellent Article!

    If I could write like this I would be well chuffed 😉

    The more I read articles of such quality as this (which is rare), the more I think there might be a future for the Web. Keep it up, as it were.

  5. interesting take on the subject, count me as a new subscriber!

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