Despite declining budgets, CHCOs still desire outside training opportunities

A new survey federal CHCOs, deputy CHCOs and CLOs by Federal News Radio found budget challenges and workforce turnover is causing agencies to value training and...

Federal chief learning officers are gaining a higher profile across the government. A majority of the respondents to an exclusive Federal News Radio survey of federal chief human capital officers and CLOs say these executives are highly valued in their agency.

Sydney Heimbrock, the chief learning officer for the Office of Personnel Management, said while the CLO role isn’t new, it’s gaining prominence in light of budget challenges and workforce turnover.

“It’s becoming a much more strategic leadership partner for the agency’s leadership overall, because people are realizing particularly when we have hiring freezes and attrition, it forces us to literally do more with less or to figure out how to do less with less,” Heimbrock said in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio. “The talent that we have on board becomes so incredibly critical, so we have to make sure we are taking care of our people and the way to do that is to make sure they have access to the education and training they need, and to make sure there’s a good strong career development program that engages employees as full members of the corporate team and makes them feel like there are really career opportunities for them in the federal government.” To be sure, CLOs are not glorified guidance counselors. Political and career officials are counting on them to be strategic and operational partners to ensure the workforce has the skills necessary to meet the agency’s mission.

“We’re all facing the pretty severe pinch of lack of resources, very rapid changes in mission and heightened expectations for the kinds of services we are expected to deliver,” Heimbrock said. “We’re seeing within our industry some really radical changes going on very quickly because of the digital revolution, and so being able to keep pace with them or even getting out ahead of them so we don’t find ourselves devoting resources to learning technologies that are obsolete before we can even get them up and running, or miss opportunities to collaborate with each other across agencies where we could save scarce dollars by sharing training resources.”

Federal News Radio’s conducted an online survey of federal CHCOs, deputy CHCOs and CLOs over a three-week period in April. We surveyed more than 80 human resources and training executives and received 26 responses — of which 10 came from cabinet-level agencies, five from large agencies and 11 from small or independent agencies. All respondents were career employees and 11 identified themselves as CHCO or deputy CHCO, 12 as CLOs and three as other senior level HR or learning managers.

This was Federal News Radio’s fourth CHCO survey, but first where we included CLOs.

Free doesn’t mean easy

One big opportunity that Heimbrock and other CHCOs and CLOs say agencies need to take advantage of is free online courses offered by colleges and universities.

Currently, respondents said when they are looking for outside training resources, 84 percent said they use contractors or for-profit organizations, while 60 percent said they look to other federal agencies, while only 52 percent said they look to universities, college or other non-profits. The totals add up to more than 100 percent because respondents could check all that apply.

Heimbrock said when it comes to free resources, CLOs need to be that strategic thought leader because this approach could easily overwhelm or even be scattershot for employees.

“If we were to just suddenly open up access to training in lieu of other educational and development opportunities, then employees might feel like they don’t have a good basis to choose which courses to take and where to focus their time, which is a precious resource for any individual,” she said. “We have to be strategic how we use free resources from the outside as well as how we use internal resources within the government and our government partners. That’s where you see CLOs having to step up and be strategic leaders, really good strategic thinkers and understand the ultimate outcomes we are trying to achieve for our organizations.”

One way CLOs can lead this effort is through the CLO Council’s big role under the human capital management effort within the Office of Management and Budget’s category management initiative.

Heimbrock said through that effort, agencies should be able to collaborate and share more easily.

As a key part of the category management effort, OPM and the General Services Administration are working together on a new massive training contract, called Human Capital and Training Solutions (HCaTS) contract.

The survey found most CLOs will use or likely will use HCATs once it’s available.

Most training budgets cut

Part of the reason for the category management initiative is training and education have taken a big hit over the last few years across the government. OMB hopes by sharing resources agencies can take advantage of the more resources for less money and invest what funding they do have in training for specific critical skill gaps for their respective agencies.

According to the survey, 26 percent of the respondents saw a 26 percent-to-50 percent decline in their training budgets over the last three years, while 30 percent saw a 0-to-10 percent decline and 8 percent said their training budget increased. Of those who saw their training budgets decrease, 38 percent say they relied on more online classes and 28 percent say they just gave employees fewer training opportunities.

“We have learned to do different with less, while still delivering a quality product to our customers,” wrote one respondent.

Another said there is “greater collaboration and sharing of resources among federal trainers.”

While a third commenter said, “We have a systematic way to prioritize external training. That system allows us to ensure we’re meeting the great mission priorities and developmental needs. We developed the methodology in partnership with our agency program offices and it’s working well for us.”

Heimbrock said OPM took a two-pronged approach to deal with training budget cuts. First, she partnered with CHCO Mark Reinhold and chief operating officer Angela Bailey to design a corporate learning strategy that aligns to Director Katherine Archuleta’s strategic goals and looks at the skill gaps and corporate culture initiatives.

Second, Heimbrock said OPM is relying on analytics to help focus training efforts.

“We’re taking a look, really for the first time, across the agency at what spending is happening naturally down at the individual component or employee level. If you look at those spending patterns across the agency, you start to see some similarities to what people are buying. But instead of buying as corporate purchase because we are not coordinating very well across the agency, we’re buying as individual people, which, of course, increases the cost and transactions costs,” she said. “It’s sort of a mini version of the Category Management idea where we pull together all those spending behaviors and turn it into a corporate spend which then allows us to negotiate better prices and achieve economies of scale. We are hoping that will free up some training resources that we can then invest more strategically on agency priority goals.”

Addressing skill gaps is both a huge priority for CHCOs and CLOs, but also an area of strength.

CLO Council shows potential of shared learning resources

The Interagency Chief Learning Officer Council is a central body comprised of federal chief learning officers or their equivalents that meet periodically to share best practices and create engaging learning opportunities for federal agencies and organizations. Through interagency collaboration, we strive to discover cost effective learning opportunities that the federal government can implement. We collaborate with and between our member agencies for the express purposes of saving taxpayer money, sharing best practices, influencing policy, and maximizing the use of finite government resources to deliver effective and engaging learning and development opportunities to all government employees.

A sample of some of our most recent collaborative efforts include sharing e- learning courses and materials, designing and developing frameworks for supervisory, managerial and performance management training, Human Resource University (HRU) support and establishing a Federal Coaching Network and Database While all of these initiatives have saved agencies millions of dollars, the Federal Coaching initiative won the Human Capital Management Government Award for best leadership development program and to date, total cost savings is estimated to be more than $1.3 million, with an additional $700,000 expected in fiscal 2015 as participants complete coaching assignments. The council’s collaboration and support of HRU has also resulted in a cost savings of more than $120 million.

Randy Bergquist. Chairman of the Interagency Chief Learning Officer Council, and assistant director for Learning and Workforce Development at the Justice Management Division, Department of Justice.

A majority of respondents (63 percent) said their agency identifies skill gaps as good and almost as many (54 percent) said their agency implements specific training or education approaches to address those missing skills.

At the same time, however, 42 percent of the respondents said their agency doesn’t do a good job tracking training to overcome the skill gaps.

Greater funding, support needed

Heimbrock said OPM is helping agencies identify and address skills gaps through a new workforce planning methodology.

“For each occupation you have a set of competencies and you can assess your employees against those competencies and figure out where are the current and project gaps,” she said. “I think it’s the foresight and projection that we really need to focus on so that we are not always feeling like we need to catch up with the gaps left by attrition. We are getting out ahead of it and looking at not only where do we see potential employee turnover where we will need to address with some skills training, but where are the changes coming in our industry that we can start preparing for with some learning investments today.”

Money was a common theme across the survey. When respondents were asked about what could OPM or the White House do to improve training or education in the short term, several said consistent funding and support.

Additionally, several other ideas emerged.

“As the most senior federal manager, the President can do a better job talking about the fact that training and education are not only mission enablers, but are also part of the mission of every federal agency,” wrote on commenter.

Another said, “Mandate that every federal employee receive certain number of hours, like 40, of training per year like the medical, legal, contracting, etc. If you make it part of the job, it will happen. Online courses, coaching, and other types of development should count.”

Still another said, “It is too complex to procure training services, especially with vendors we have relationships with. Training should be like ordering supplies with little or no competition needed and outside the procurement process.”


Better trained supervisors key to improving morale

With online learning for feds, OPM sees narrowed skills gap

GSA pitches acquisition reforms to Obama

New HR training contract pushes toward RFP release

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.