President's Message

  Continued training important in public works

Judith M. Mueller
APWA President

Is the continued training of modern public works professionals important? You bet it is.

I believe that all public works professionals today accept the reality that lifelong learning is a part of being a professional. While most of us have completed what might be called a formal education, continuing to learn to stay abreast of what is new in our profession has become a part of everyday life. It has been clearly proven that a well-trained work force is a more effective and efficient work force and, over the years, we have come to realize that formal training is necessary for all of our employees. The days of supervisors simply training people how to do things on the job is no longer acceptable in public works.

In addition to the obvious benefits to management of continued training-to increase the skill level and knowledge of its staff-there is a less tangible, albeit equally significant benefit that the training provides. By emphasizing additional training, management is sending a clear, positive message to its staff. In short, a public works department that has superior training is a place where people want to work. When employees understand that management is investing in them-which is what training clearly is-it becomes a motivator for the employees, and it says that management is willing to invest time and money in its staff. Ultimately, there is a higher level of satisfaction at the employee level where there is a strong commitment to training.

What kind of training does it take for someone to move forward in his or her career? Aside from technical instruction, the biggest area of training we are currently seeing regards training employees to take the step up to supervision-educating employees in the tools they need to be good supervisors, to make that move from co-worker to supervision. Naturally, this is a very difficult move for some people to make. It is extremely challenging to go from being a co-worker to someone who not only has to lead, but has to accept the difficult supervision and discipline responsibilities that go along with that.

One roadblock to the continued training of a public works department, of course, concerns the difficulty of keeping the training in the budget. Much depends on the philosophy of the city manager and the county executive and how committed they are to training. Whenever the economy slows down, we invariably see travel budgets cut back, which means that staff cannot attend as many conferences and seminars. This is why it is important that our chapters have the opportunity to provide more local training, which can be conducted far less expensively.

Chapters making great strides in training
Speaking of the chapters, I am very excited about the work they are doing in training and continuing education. A number of members have taken the construction inspection course, and it is now offered at the chapter level. There are currently many programs for public works professionals that are well presented at the chapter level.

We are also seeing a higher level of coordination with the Local Technical Assistance Programs (LTAP) around the country, working with chapters to try to create new training opportunities.

I am also encouraged by the chapters-for example, the Florida, Kentucky and Michigan Chapters-that have begun formalized public works academies/institutes and are conducting ongoing training. It takes an incredible commitment on the part of the education chair and the education committee to organize and sustain programs such as these, and it is exciting to see some chapters move in this direction.

On the national level, one of the most exciting programs we have done in the past year is the Click, Listen & Learn workshop series. As I travel around the country, I have heard great enthusiasm from members for this easy, inexpensive way to learn and share information, without the cost of travel or being away from the office. The enthusiasm for this and other education initiatives indicates that there is a great deal of interest on the part of our members for continued training and education.