After 20 years as director of the Alameda County Training & Education Center, Elsie Lum retired in October. She sat down with Tom Holub, strategic consultant on TEC’s new web site, to discuss her time at the Center and its role in supporting Alameda County staff.
TH: As you look back at your 20 years at the Center, what are some of the ways you think you’ve helped TEC become more important to Alameda County?
EL: In the big picture, I think I’ve established a center for learning. My vision all along has been for Alameda County to become a learning organization. By that, I mean that everyone sees themselves as learning individuals, and that they’re going to continue learning for the rest of their lives, but more importantly, that the organization supports it, that we’ve created a system and a culture that supports it.
The vision of our previous county administrator, Steve Zaley, was to create “institutionalized” training, as he called it, and I really think we’ve started to do that, and that’s the major legacy. Anybody can remodel a building and make it look pretty, but if there’s no meaning behind it, it could just go away tomorrow. A strong vision is what’s gotten us through thick and thin over 20 years.
As first it was pretty thin; I didn’t have any trainers so I just did the training myself. Now we have two full-time trainers and a bunch of volunteer trainers; the County is placing a value on training for its staff. That’s really timely, because there’s a generational change going on. I’m not the only Baby Boomer getting ready to retire; there will be many more in the next five years. There will be a talent gap; they’re already having a hard time recruiting leaders.
TH: In thinking about that shift, how have you positioned the Center to address those needs? Delivering training to Millennials is probably different than delivering training to Boomers. What does that look like?
EL: In traditional training, people come and sit in a class for a day or a week. In the Millennial value system, learning has to be quick and relevant, it can be shorter, the topics can be more varied. We bought a whole bunch of online learning libraries, video format, that people can take at any time. Those are not used as much as they could be, so we’re working on providing better access through Open Access. Everyone should be able to grab a piece of content, whether it’s a 30-minute video or an online book, based on their own motivation and their own career goals. We’re in the process of opening that library to 24/7 access, so people will be able to learn on their own time, without needing to get approval from their boss.
One of the challenges with government is the layers of rules and approvals needed to get anything done. Learning should be wide-open; if you want to pursue it, there should be resources available for you. We can help people meet the organization halfway; we’ll provide the resources if they’ll provide the motivation. We already have people who are doing MPA and certificate programs here, spending their own money, doing it on their own time, at night. We’re trying to make it easier for them.
That’s another accomplishment I think about; making learning accessible. Online learning, certificate programs, degree programs, MPAs; it gives us a more talented workforce.
We have a project underway to install a more contemporary learning management system that’s 24/7, with better online learning. It will have a career component, so you can define your career goals and it will help you find relevant learning opportunities. It’ll be way more robust than we have now. We’re in the RFP process right now; it should launch sometime in 2017.
TH: As you’re stepping out of your role here, what do you see as the things that will keep the Center successful?
EL: I think I have an awesome staff, the best I’ve had. They’re really talented people who care about Alameda County, and want to see is become a learning organization. It can really transform lives; it’s a really important mission and vision. Also, the County is very supportive of the concept and the program; our administrator (Susan Muranishi) has been to so many of the program graduations and has always been supportive of the graduates. She sponsors a bunch of great programs in executive development, leadership development, supervisory development, so there’s strong organizational support and strong talent. It will continue; the value of learning is understood.
Learning is not an event anymore; it’s a lifelong process. This web site will also help make learning more accessible. It will help make everything feel easier to navigate, figuring out what resources are available, to ask someone a question, or just find out what events are happening here that might be opportunities to network and learn from each other. It’s a very different kind of web site from acgov.org or a traditional HR site; it’s interactive, more like a learning site, a portal to learning.
TH: If I were a new Alameda County staffer, what message would you want me to have about what the Center is going to do to help with my career?
EL: There are two factors there: one, how is the Center going to help me in the job that I just got? How will it make me a better employee, what skills can I improve on, what coaching can I get? And two, what is my career development path? What is my next job after this? What will the qualifications be? We might look at creating tracks where people can look at the technology track or the financial track and have a set of courses to take or people to connect with, online resources related to that interest.
My daughter is on that same exploration path. She’s graduated from college and is still looking for her career; she’s tried three different jobs in three years, and she’s not done yet. There’s a different kind of career path these days. Millennial get bored easily, they learn really fast, and government has to learn how to keep up with them. Career changes will be faster and richer, and the Center can help people track that better, and work with HR and the people to match them to opportunities.
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