Training the IT Work Force From the Ground Up

Faster, flatter, friendlier.' That's how Mobile Ala. Mayor Michael Dow sees the city's government in the 21st century.

Faster, flatter, friendlier." That's how Mobile, Ala., Mayor Michael Dow sees the city's government in the 21st century. The city took a big step toward that vision last December, when it unveiled its Technology Learning Center, a $100,000 facility in which Dow hopes to incubate fresh ideas about how government works best.

"We are committed to being service-oriented and customer-driven, to reducing our operating expenses and to making the most of our tax dollars," he said in a letter soliciting funds for the center. "This training center is a cornerstone of our strategy to shape Mobile's government by building a capacity in our work force to solve problems rather than merely react."

Mobile's Technology Learning Center offers the city's 2,200 employees the chance to learn basic and advanced computer and programming skills and, in so doing, to become qualified for better-paying positions. In turn, the mayor believes the center will help the city turn out a technology-savvy work force from the bottom up.

"Most of your public entities are behind the curve on technology because of its cost and because trained personnel usually go to the private sector," Dow said in an interview. "It's hard to get the people who have the necessary skills. The training center offers us the ability to touch all of the employees, instead of just sending a few of them off to high-priced schools."

Moreover, city officials hope the center will help spark new ideas about city service improvements from the entire work force, not just technology elites. "The employees are more productive because they're not getting hung up on small computer problems," said Chris Lee, the executive director of administrative services for the city. "As employees become less intimidated by technology, they will be the ones coming up with ideas on how we can use it next."

Added Susan Farni, the director of the city's municipal information systems, "There have been no negatives with this center."

Based on an assessment of the city's employee training needs three years ago, a pent-up demand for training services existed throughout the city's government: Out of the city's 2,000-plus workers, 1,690 requests for training were recorded, mostly for basic training in word processing and spreadsheet skills. "Our core curriculum uses the software programs the city currently has," Lee said. Beginning, intermediate and advanced classes are available on Word for Windows, PowerPoint, Excel, Oracle and the Internet.

Classes in application development programs and techniques also are taught, while the center hosts brainstorming sessions for programmers and users to define new service solutions. Indeed, city programmers seem to have their hands full. They are redesigning Mobile's purchasing system, creating a citywide system for handling citizen requests for information and services, and fine-tuning the city police department's incident-report software. A citywide imaging project also is under way, as is a records management program for the fire department and a program to enable departments to formulate budgets on-line.

The center consists of four rooms: a traditional classroom with a dozen workstations; a classroom in the round for the development of applications and specialized training on new programs; a multimedia laboratory with small booths for self-paced, computer-driven learning; and a conference room, which is hooked up to a satellite dish. Throughout the center, the computers are of at least 486 vintage, and instructors can use inter-active whiteboard technology (Smart Board from Smart Technologies Inc.) for ease of presentation and for capturing lecture notes to disk.

Getting Up and Running

To launch the center, Mobile renovated a group of rooms in a city hall annex at a cost of $70,000. About half the funds and much of the equipment came from technology vendors, including BellSouth Cellular, Compaq Computer Corp., Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc., GTE Mobilnet, Lucent Technologies, Digital Equipment Corp., Motorola Inc. and Woolpert Consultants. The city spent another $35,000 on computers and other equipment.

"We had a great response from the private sector," Dow said. "They look at it as an opportunity to put their equipment in here and let the entire city be exposed to it." For their contributions, corporate donors can use the center as a beta site for testing new equipment or technology. For example, Compaq is using the training center to try out multimedia computers.

While the investment has been reasonable, city officials believe the center will pay for itself in improved productivity as well as in time and training. "We couldn't afford the loss of time from our work force that traditional off-site training demanded," Lee said. Now the center's staff is conducting another needs survey to plan future training programs.

So far the city has used a pull, rather than a push, strategy to lead employees through the system. City employees sign up for classes on a volunteer basis; employees also can earn development points toward a raise by participating in computer training and other forms of education.

The center also has been a morale booster. "Training is a good way to enhance self-esteem," Lee said. "We want to be an employee-centered organization. If we want that to be more than platitudes, we need to have programs like these."

"People say you can't run government like a business," Dow noted, but he insisted, "We can be just as efficient and well-organized."

Vicki White is a free-lance writer based in Inverness, Fla. She can be reached at sffvjw@citrus.infi.net.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.