Industry Chatter: new approaches to training, performance

Thursday - 7/15/2010, 7:24pm EDT

Nick Schacht

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by Meg Beasley
Federal News Radio

Your agency's training budget is the second most likely target for the chopping block - surpassed only by travel - but you're facing mandates to increase workplace performance. Today's Industry Chatter guest, Nick Schacht, President and CEO of Learning Tree International, says there are solutions to this dilemma. His is one company giving agencies hard data to show training programs work, while simultaneously reducing the costs of those programs.

"The thing about training, unfortunately, is because it's so intangible and doesn't directly yield results it's hard to justify as a budget line item… as a result people look at training and say, ‘ we can cut that because we're not cutting a mission critical program somewhere'," Schacht says.

Learning Tree contracts with government agencies and private firms around the world. Schacht says the company helps employees improve their skills and knowledge so they can be more effective on the job and the performance of their employers ultimately improves.

In recent years, Learning Tree has used technology to make distance learning more effective; and the budget-friendliness of distance learning is causing its use to go up sharply. If agency heads are looking to save money, though, they will want proof that these new training programs are worth even a reduced expense.

Schacht says there are four levels of program evaluation:
-Did students like the class?
-Did the students learn anything?
-Have the students put what they learned to work on the job?
-Is that new behavior making a difference to the organization?

The first two levels can be conducted in the classroom, but the third and fourth levels are more difficult to gauge because they require longer term evaluation and assessment. And the data from those levels are most important to agency heads.

Schacht says Learning Tree's new partnership with Grant Thornton could solve the data collection problem for the last two levels. Recently implemented in VA's Acquisition Academy, the new program features separate curricula and boot camps for different levels of employees. Learning Tree will conduct the first two evaluations, of the course and student knowledge, in the classroom.

During training students will also be required write a plan of action of how they intend to apply the training to a specific project. Grant Thornton will follow up to see if employees have worked with their bosses to implement the action plans, addressing the third level of evaluation. Level four evaluation comes at the end of the project when agencies assess if the project was completed more efficiently than expected.

"It's really a performance improvement program as opposed to a training program," says Schacht. He expects this depth of analysis to yield quantifiable data to demonstrate the value the dollar value of the training. While the VA is the first agency to implement this program, Schacht predicts many more to follow because of the performance improvement mandate.

"All agencies are wrestling with this," says Schacht. "All agencies have similar issues and so if the federal government can take a step back a say ‘how can we approach this on a broader perspective across all agencies? If we get a program that is developed by the VA but serves the needs of other agencies, wonderful'."

Agencies are also interested in cybersecurity training but are finding it difficult to implement because of the constantly changing nature of threats. Schacht predicts a continuous training model will be developed but says that many professionals already take it upon themselves to update their own knowledge.

A recent Office of Personnel Management survey found that while 75 percent of federal employees were satisfied with their jobs, only 55 percent are satisfied with the training they receive. Schacht says that though this is an upward trend from past surveys, it shows the government has room for improvement.