Tech training gets muscle

Office of Personnel Management officials have issued new performance measures to strengthen training efforts throughout the government. The measures are expected to offer significant help to information technology workers, according to some who have criticized federal agencies for failing to formulate strategic, cohesive training plans to enhance employees' skills.

The Government Accountability Office issued a report last summer that painted a bleak picture of the training landscape. GAO analysts criticized OPM for not providing guidance and policies to help agencies improve training, as the E-Government Act of 2002 requires.

In response, OPM officials consulted with CIO Council members and produced a document called "A Guide to Strategically Planning Training and Measuring Results."

Agency leaders will use the methodology in the OPM guide to craft performance measures specific to their missions and programs. Those metrics will be factored into agencies' workforce scores issued by the Office of Management and Budget under the President's Management Agenda.

"Agencies will now have to report to OMB on the steps they are taking," said Mark Doboga, deputy associate director of OPM's Center for Talent and Capacity Policy. "Before, IT training was evaluated as part of an agency's overall training plan, but this highlights the special training needs of the IT workforce."

Some agencies have already put greater emphasis on the training needs of their IT staffs. "It varies from agency to agency," Doboga said. "Many of the agencies with large IT workforces are doing something in this area."

At the Homeland Security Department, the chief information officer's office has completed studies on how to tailor training to the needs of IT workers. DHS officials also appointed a new director who is responsible for overseeing the agency's IT training program.

But not all agencies have the training savvy to meet the needs of the IT workforce, said Yvonne Zhou, president of Futrend Technology, a human resources solutions company. "Right now, the problem is that IT training is sometimes handled by HR folks, but often it is handled by the CIO shops, which don't always have a clear understanding of training development," she said.

This lack of understanding can lead to lack of coordination in an agency's efforts to provide systematic training for its IT staff.

"In many cases, employees are allowed to go out and select the courses they want to take," Zhou said. Such lack of coordination can cause problems. For example, two employees from the same agency might pursue project management training but go to different vendors and end up with entirely different skills, she said.

OPM's new performance measures could help agencies spend training dollars better. To solidify the link between training initiatives and needed skills, OPM officials and CIO Council members have developed an online tool to help agency officials evaluate the proficiencies of their IT staffs and find gaps in existing skills before they begin crafting comprehensive training plans.

OPM's efforts are designed to give agencies a starting point for assessing training endeavors and expenditures. "What we've provided is an opportunity for agencies to make sure that their IT workforce is able to meet both the needs of today and tomorrow," Doboga said.

Max Stier, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for Public Service, said OPM's latest initiatives are important additions to effective workforce planning. "Identifying and addressing IT skills gaps today mean heading off problems that may arise tomorrow," he said, adding that "the government must stay ahead in this game."

Jones is a freelance writer based in Vienna, Va.

An index to new IT training resources

The following tools and guides are available to help federal information technology managers improve their training efforts.

  • The Office of Personnel Management and CIO Council’s IT Workforce Development Roadmap and Online Workforce Competency Assessment tool are available at itroadmap.golearn.gov. The site also has results from online competency surveys of the federal IT workforce.
  • OPM’s “Guide to Strategically Planning Training and Measuring Results” is available at www.opm.gov/hrd/lead/pubs/ spguide.pdf. It offers guidelines for measuring performance prior to training, setting short- and long-term performance objectives and evaluating performance objectives after training.
  • The Government Accountability Office’s “Guide for Assessing Strategic Training and Development Efforts” is available at www.gao.gov/new.items/d04546g.pdf. It describes four ingredients of strategic training, primary questions to ask when assessing plans and core characteristics of effective training and development efforts.

Links to these resources are also available on FCW.com Download’s Data Call www.fcw.com/download.

— Jennifer Jones

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