Tom Trice

Continuing education a serious business

Tom Trice
APWA President

"It is the capacity to develop and improve their skills that distinguishes leaders from followers." —  Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge, Warren Bennis and Bert Nanus, 1985

This statement came as a result of a study of 90 top leaders conducted by world-renowned leadership guru Warren Bennis and his coauthor Burt Nanus. It seems obvious once you read it but when you think about it in your own life, weren't the major changing points in your career, in your professional achievements or in your personal successes often connected to education or skills improvement? In the public works profession, our daily routines often bring us numerous opportunities for "knowledge exchange." But, do you have a plan for a more formalized continued education in your professional life? And equally important, are you assisting those who will take your place to develop their educational career path?

APWA views adult continuing education as serious business. It is the first of three goals in our Strategic Plan: "APWA will be the members' primary gateway resource for education, knowledge exchange, and services." To that end, I have encouraged two new initiatives through our Education Committee this year. The first is the formal establishment of Public Works Institutes in the chapters; the second, the exploration of a degreed program in public works through several universities.

Over seventeen chapters now conduct Public Works Institutes though many vary in length, content and frequency of offerings. We are defining these institutes as extended training in the management aspects of public works geared towards first-line supervisors and public works directors. The subjects encompass everything from communications to finance to basic supervision.

A task force of eight members met last May, and over several months of discussion and research formulated a template of eight core subject areas to be covered in 90-hours of education. The intention is for the chapters to conduct this program at the local level in order to reach people in their region on a one-to-one level. The national template allows chapters the flexibility to adapt their institute program to specific regional and cultural needs. To assist in this endeavor, a content manual written by many subject matter experts in public works will be available later this summer. This manual can be used as a resource by both the instructors and the students. Also, APWA will be offering a free Train-the-Trainer program the Saturday prior to the start of the Minneapolis Congress. This is open to any chapter member who serves as a subject matter expert for chapter programs and who wishes to hone his/her training and platform skills.

Our second initiative, establishing a master's degree specialty in public works, will take more time and effort to materialize. While many master's programs, such as master's in public administration and master's in engineering specialties, have elements common to public works, they are not comprehensive training to our profession. The current thinking is that students should be able to pursue an existing master's degree program with a specialty in public works. The twelve-member Task Force, including several academics affiliated with major universities, met in late January and has embarked on a series of visits to colleges across North America. We hope that if we can institute programs in one or two locations, others will follow and eventually encourage more students to pursue the field of public works. I will keep you posted on the progress of this plan.

Beyond these new endeavors, I am very pleased to report that we have conducted over 50 Click, Listen & Learn web broadcasts over the last four years, reaching over 40,000 people. APWA will continue to offer as many options for learning as we can within our own budget limitations.

Speaking of that, I am well aware of all the funding cutbacks that have been occurring throughout our city and county agencies. And it is almost criminal that education budgets are the first to go. How can the quality and safety of the services we provide citizens in their daily lives be maintained without continual training of public works employees? Change is a constant in what we do. Whether it is the latest technologies, best practices or new safety and security requirements, the public works professional has a need to keep abreast of it all. If the predictions that the Baby Boomers will jump ship in large numbers within the next 10 years are true, we can only hope that enlightened management is training their successors now.

Education is an investment in you. It is something that cannot be taken away from you. There is a cost to any type of education, whether it is monetary or a sacrifice that you have to make to complete the process. Many will not invest in themselves if their employer is not footing the bill. If you are ready and willing to move ahead in your life, then make the investment yourself. Do not wait for someone else to do it for you. You will quickly learn that what you spend today soon becomes an "investment in excellence" in the future.

I'd like to close with a quote from J. Edwards Deming, "Learning is not compulsory...neither is survival." One of his famous fourteen points for organizational success involved instituting a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.

Help me get the word out to our agencies and our governments that ongoing learning needs to be compulsory because survival of our cities and towns definitely is our goal. It cannot be achieved without qualified and competent leaders such as you.

I would like to thank Patricia Kutt, APWA Director of Education, for contributing to this article.

Editor's note: Further information on any of the initiatives mentioned above is available by contacting Becky Stein, the Education Project Manager for Adult Education, at