HR University showing worth, expanding after first year

Tuesday - 3/20/2012, 5:44am EDT

Kathryn Medina, executive director, CHCO Council

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Speed dating inspired HR University's recent "flash mentoring" event at the Patent and Trademark Office's Virginia headquarters. Sure, there are more business suits and less makeup than at the typical dating event, for starters. But the basic idea is the same: to get people out of their typical routines for a quick, fun and easier approach to an often anxiety-laden subject.

Participants from 20 agencies sat at round tables and nervously chit-chatted as they waited for the buzzer to sound, signaling the start of their first mentoring session. Senior human resources leaders, including Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, joined their tables and listened to their stories. Then, they offered a few pearls of wisdom.

"I see where they are in terms of what they need and where they're going," said mentor Gail Lovelace, who retired last year as the chief people officer for the General Services Administration. "If I can have one person leave here more inspired to do their jobs well, that's what I live for. My career was where it was because of the mentors I had."

In addition to flash mentoring events, HR University has just added college-accredited courses to its online platform. OPM and the Chief Human Capital Officers Council launched the learning platform last year amid growing concerns that tight budgets would force agencies to cut back on training staff. The mostly online platform allows agencies to post their training curricula so that others can use it for free.

In its first year, HR University has saved agencies $12 million, said CHCO Council Executive Director Kathryn Medina.

"It used to be that several agencies would recreate the same type of content but they would tailor it specifically to their own agency. When they did that, they would miss out on pooling those resources," she said.

Shared services paying dividends

The savings estimate represents "one agency making the investment and putting it on HRU," she said. "When another agency accesses that training, it means they had their own need for it. But instead of building their own training, they're getting it in for free."

About 28 agencies are either posting courses to the site or encouraging staff to register for courses. Nearly 10,000 federal workers have signed up for the HR University courses, she said. OPM plans to double enrollment by the end of this year.

While the HR University focuses on human resources-related issues, it is trying to attract managers and supervisors in addition to human resources professionals.

For example, she said, "you're talking about having difficult conversations and supervisory responsibilities," in new training on upcoming changes to the way managers evaluate employees' performances.

To welcome new users, OPM recently put "Expedia-like" search functions in the course catalog, Medina said. It also now posts users' evaluations of courses using a five-star system.

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