Why OPM is prioritizing higher education for feds

A new training push might be equipping feds with skills that could help them jump to the private sector, but one leader says that's okay.

Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

Marking the one-year anniversary of its truED Alliance with Champlain College on April 27, the Office of Personnel Management touted the fact that almost 1,800 feds and their families have taken advantage of steeply discounted online coursework.

A major goal of the partnership is to "help to close skills gaps in areas such as cybersecurity, human resources, leadership," said Beth Cobert, acting OPM director, in a statement.

Federal participants have flocked to the B.S. programs in business management or cybersecurity, MBAs and the M.S. in executive leadership.

But what if the program gives feds the certifications they need to find more lucrative work in the private sector?

"If we lose some very good talent to private industry, that doesn't bother me," Susan Camarena told FCW. "We're trying to make sure we're taking care of our people no matter what."

Camarena is a lifelong public servant who is currently on a year-long detail with the White House Leadership Development Program, as well as teaching executive leadership as an adjunct professor with Champlain.

She said feds who jump ship because Uncle Sam helped them acquire valuable skills will likely say positive things about government work, prompting their new private sector colleagues to explore federal service.

Plus, there's no guarantee ship-jumpers will be gone for good.

"They may be back," she said.

Dr. Mika Nash, academic dean in Champlain College's Division of Continuing Professional Studies, noted that she's careful not to emphasize private-sector job opportunities with feds. Besides, she said, most federal employees are mainly interested in developing skills they can apply in their own agencies.

Camarena said showing genuine interest in employee development generally boosts retention.

The fact that her superiors offered her chances to try different things and gain new skills helped her decide to stick with public service since 1981, she noted.

Both Camarena and Nash noted the agencies are in dire need of skilled leaders and technologists, especially as Baby Boomers retire in droves.

When she returns to her home agency, the Transportation Department's Federal Transit Administration, in October, Camarena plans to push her colleagues toward truEd coursework.

"I want more people from DOT to be taking this course, this opportunity," she said.

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