December 11 - 12, 2017

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Federal Agencies Need to Modernize Training & Development Programs to Keep Pace with the Private Sector

Today’s federal training and development leaders are faced with numerous challenges coming from many angles. Extensive budget cutbacks, restructured programs, and the ever-pressing need to justify every single training dollar spent are creating waves of pressure for leaders to innovate quickly if they are to deliver on mission and fulfil taxpayer expectations.

Add to this the fact that many agencies are being affected by the so-called “silver tsunami”, with huge segments of their most experienced personnel being lost to retirement, and leaders must also find innovative ways to preserve the accrued institutional knowledge within their organizations and disseminate it effectively to new generations of employees.

Already, the federal government spends a significant amount of scarce budget dollars on training and development – budgets which are all-too-often slashed due to administrative overheads and the prevailing perception of a minimal return on investment. But even as allowances shrink, the need for skilled employees expands – especially as the retirement wave continues to swell.

In order for agencies to keep up, learning investments need to be optimized. The mechanics of how learning is delivered need to be streamlined, and training content provided in a way that maximizes learner retention, and renders the knowledge easy-to-apply in real-life settings.

Training and Development for “Connected Learners”

With tightening agency budgets, sending employees away from the office for days (or even weeks) at a time for skills-building courses, professional conferences, or executive development programs are fast-becoming things of the past. It wasn’t long ago when such learning activities were regular components of nearly all government employees’ professional development programs. But today, these costly and time- and travel-intensive opportunities have been scaled back significantly across the board.

Even traditional classroom training and computer-based e-learning training programs are often proving too costly for today’s budget-burdened agency. And, in any case, these things lack the accessibility, flexibility, and interactivity required to reach the digitally-savvy millennial generation of “connected learners” that agencies must engage and develop today. These employees have grown up online, which means that their learning styles and expectations for professional development demand much greater attention paid to interaction with the learning materials, as well as with each other.

Innovative new learning solutions – such as mobile learning, gamification, and social learning and collaboration initiatives – are being developed and utilized by a number of agencies. These solutions often cost less, drive employee engagement, and improve learning outcomes precisely because they are flexible, easily-customized, and focus on a wide-range of interactive multimedia content that combines seamlessly with on-the-job experience.

(Image source: blackboard.com)

Mobile Learning

With employees at many federal agencies – such as the Department of State and the Department of Defense – on-the-go at all times, often travelling far and wide in support of the agency’s mission, training and development programs need to be as mobile as they are.

Smart, handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets enable the delivery of training at the point and place of need, rendering anytime/anywhere training accessible to a global workforce. Such solutions are also cost-efficient, since the organization can create a single version of training that be used across multiple platforms, as opposed to investing in one-off solutions that require employees to be at a certain place at a certain time with a certain device (such as a desk/laptop) at hand.

There are, of course, security issues that impact mobile training, particularly if the content is laden with sensitive or classified information. However, many industries that deal with protected information on a daily basis – such as finance, healthcare and insurance – have successfully adopted mobile training solutions, showing that there are indeed ways to offer mobility without impacting security. Both the General Services Administration and the Defense Information Systems Agency have established mobile app security standards and requirements relevant for federal government agencies, which provide guidance on how to protect against threats.


The application of gaming mechanics to the learning experience has many benefits. Gamification encourages learners to progress through training modules, motivating action by offering employees the chance to compete against one another, and by offering incentivizing rewards.

By introducing elements of “fun” and/or competition to training, engagement levels and learning outcomes are improved. Indeed, according to a study conducted by the University of Colorado on the impact of simulations and games in adult learners, participants in gamified learning experiences scored 14% higher in skill-based knowledge assessments, 11% higher in terms of factual knowledge, and had a 9% increase in retention rate.

What’s more, gamification can help government attract young, new talent. Millennials will comprise more than one in three adult Americans by 2020 and make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, according to a Governance Studies at Brookings report. Appealing to the digital desires of this younger talent pool is important for federal agencies – however, regardless of age, gamification techniques are shown to help with onboarding and increasing learner retention across the board.

Agencies Need to Use Modern Tools

Understanding and leveraging evolving trends in learning and development will be central to overcoming many of federal government’s succession planning challenges. By implementing mobile learning, gamification and other social and collaborative learning initiatives, agency leaders can attract and engage a new generation of employees on their terms, and ensure that the public sector doesn’t fall too far behind the private sector in training and development, where many such practices are already commonplace.

The last word goes to Steve Dobberowsky, Principal, Thought Leadership & Advisory Services at Cornerstone OnDemand:

“Government agencies need to begin using the data and tools that the private sector has been using for years. They use it to see where they are spending money and getting results and where they are not. When they find those efficiencies, they leverage them for greater effectiveness. When they find the inefficiencies, they take immediate steps to resolve them. However, without the data and the knowledge, agencies are left blind.”

Training and development initiatives are set to be hot topics at this year’s HCMG 2017, taking place in Westin Crystal City, Arlington, VA, this December.

Download the HCMG 2017 Agenda for more insights and challenges facing the industry today.

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