Survey finds local governments face significant challenges when training staff members

Scott Cooper

A new study of local Australian government agencies has revealed a systemic problem affecting staff training processes. The study—which was conducted by online training provider GO1 and incorporated data collected from 55 Australian government organisations—cited budget constraints and a lack of technological resources as the primary reasons for a recent setback in training productivity.

Completed during the first quarter of 2016, the study paid close attention to the learning management solutions employed by each of the surveyed government departments as well as the methods used during training and the types of training courses that were preferred. The results were somewhat staggering.

The findings suggested a downward trend in the cultivation of properly trained staff members and signalled that:

  • Only around 43% of Australian government agencies use online training solutions to help prepare their staff to meet the needs of the public (which implies that over half of the government sector still uses traditional, non-digital methods for staff education)
  • Fewer than one in three departments use mobile devices to facilitate eLearning among personnel
  • Approximately 46% of agencies are still hoping to reduce their training budgets despite these issues

Breaking down these common concerns

The GO1 Local Government Study 2016 [which can be accessed here] exposed a range of obstacles that currently stand in the way of more efficient training program delivery, GO1 co-founder and chief technology officer Dr. Vu Tran said. “Local government is failing to switch over to eLearning despite the huge benefits it offers. The reason being given is that many agencies don’t have access to the technology required to be able to run an online solution due to budget limitations. [The agencies] also don’t have sufficient time to move to a new system [or] learn how to use and manage it,” Dr. Tran observed.

For the uninitiated, this means that, though online training courses such as those provided by GO1 offer comprehensive one-on-one solutions to help prepare personnel for the workplace, in many cases the technology simply isn’t there. It’s impossible, for example, to design an online class for new employees when your Internet is unreliable or your budget limits you to one computer for every five staff members.

Beyond the issue of limited technology, the survey results indicated further challenges facing the public sector. These included:

 A low rate of mobile usage

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the general technological deficiencies that were uncovered, the GO1 study suggested government departments were lagging behind when it came to mobile use. Though the world has entered an unprecedented digital age, fewer than one in three agencies reported providing their staff with the tools they would need to learn on the go. This discovery runs entirely contradictory to GO1’s experience in the field of online learning and education. “Having access to learning material on mobile devices and tablets lets people train when it’s more convenient [for] them. There are usually many higher priority tasks to complete when [staff members are] sitting at their desk. Mobile learning means they can access courses anywhere, and it’s far more convenient,” Dr. Tran said.

A general time shortage

The survey likewise showed that time was another pressing issue. Nearly 50% of respondents admitted spending no more than two hours on training each month, while only around 10% could claim they dedicated more than four hours per month on staff education.

And yet almost 20% of participants complained of having to devote as much as 24 hours a month to the management of training programs. This statistic is dramatically disproportionate to the number of hours spent in active training. As Dr. Tran sees it, such a disproportion provides a strong argument for a more widespread use of online learning solutions. “ELearning makes training easier and less time consuming and it’s much more cost effective,” Dr. Tran remarked, adding, “Half of the government departments surveyed [were] anxious about budgets and would consider a switch to a learning management system if it could cut training costs by half — which it would [, so therefore] it’s an opportune time for local government to start ditching legacy systems and invest in newer, more efficient training processes.”

A problem with maintenance

In addition to actual training time, there was also the issue of time devoted to the creation and management of training courses. Many organisations pointed to maintenance of training systems as being a genuine concern and also suggested that more traditional methods of staff education were difficult to monitor for industry compliance. These government departments seemed to crave the advantages of a flexible, reasonably priced platform—a solution that would afford managers the opportunity to build their own customised courses and administer these classes in an online environment that could track user progress and offer compliance reports.

A matter of budget

As is the case with so many agencies, the government departments surveyed by GO1 also disclosed a very real tension between the desire to increase staff proficiency and a desire to protect the bottom line. Close to 50% of study participants indicated they’d be quite likely to implement a learning management system (or LMS) if such a system could provide accredited courses for free. A cheaper LMS solution would no doubt free up valuable resources, which in turn could be diverted toward the acquisition of applicable technology such as desktop monitors, laptops, cell phones and other mobile devices. And more technology, of course, would allow more employees to be on-boarded more swiftly and efficiently.

An array of training topics

Finally, the GO1 Local Government Survey 2016 revealed that the challenges mentioned above were all infinitely compounded by the fact that employees must be trained in a wide variety of subjects.

To get a better sense of exactly which topics Australian government agencies would consider to be the most important fields of study, the GO1 survey asked respondents to specify their choices for the most essential training courses within two separate spheres: professional development and industry compliance.

Top 10 professional development courses

According to the survey, “leadership” emerged as the most crucial course in the area of professional development. This topic was then followed by “workplace health and safety” and “customer service.” A clear majority of respondents listed these courses among their top three most sought-after classes. The entire top 10 list was as follows:
1. Leadership – a look at the ultimate “roles and responsibilities” assumed by business leaders and an analysis of how the actions of these individuals can help foster a communal culture

2. Workplace Health & Safety for Contractors/Supervisors/Employees – an overview of the hazards that may be encountered in the workplace and an introduction to techniques for emergency response and disaster prevention

3. Customer Service – methods for improving customer satisfaction and sustaining a positive attitude during person-to-person interactions

4. Report Writing – thoughts on streamlining your writing style and ideas on how to structure work reports that are both clear and easily digestible

5. Supervisory Skills – a look at enhancing leadership skills to promote a safe, friendly and productive environment

6. Resilience – tips on learning to adapt when met with new challenges or faced with an unexpected business catastrophe

7. Team Building – an overview of the primary features and functions of a team and thoughts on boosting group morale while promoting maximum output

8. Time Management – methods for simplifying daily tasks, minimising procrastination and building effective communication skills in order to use your time as wisely as possible

9. Problem Solving/Reasoning/Creativity – ideas for approaching industry challenges with a careful line of reasoning that yields uniquely impactful results

10. Systems Training – the “dos and donts” and “hows and whys” of educating those you supervise

Top 10 compliance courses

When it came to compliance, “workplace health and safety” also made it to a top three spot among popular training courses. Still, the curriculum identified as the most vital/most highly utilised among the 55 surveyed agencies was “traffic control.” The finalised list of top 10 programs for compliance education included:

1. Traffic Control – tips on creating a safe work space, maintaining appropriate levels of professionalism and keeping the lines of construction communication open

2. Codes of Conduct – a look at upholding legal and ethical standards in a professional setting

3. Workplace Health & Safety – an overview of the hazards that may be encountered in the workplace and an introduction to techniques for emergency response and disaster prevention (with an eye towards meeting exacting government and industry requirements)

4. Bullying & Harassment – guidelines for employee behvaiour that will prevent incidents of mistreatment and malpractice

5. Building Regulation – thoughts on remaining up-to-code when working on a construction site

6. First Aid – methods for providing emergency care to your co-workers

7. Induction Training – ideas for introducing new employees to their workplace environment, especially when said environment poses potential risks or heath hazards

8. Drug & Alcohol Awareness – a review of the ways in which drug and alcohol abuse can inadvertently affect a community of co-workers and thoughts on how best to protect yourself and your company against such effects

9. Confined Space Training – preparation guidelines for completing work within a designated “confined” space and thoughts on how to stay safe in these enclosed areas

10. Leisure Centre Compliance – methods for meeting legal safety requirements when working in multi-purpose leisure centres, particularly those with pools (such courses should instruct employees in fundamental lifeguarding techniques)

Dr. Tran feels these lists are extremely telling. “These are [the types of] training courses that government organisations can’t afford to skip,” he said, adding “Keeping up with compliance is one of the most critical components in training. When you’re setting the standard for the community, it’s paramount that you yourself are well trained and informed in all of the areas that you deal with on a daily basis. ELearning can really help simplify this and track all the critical courses that have been completed.”

Indeed, the results of the GO1 survey seem to support Dr. Tran’s observations. It would appear as though government organisations would be best served by the employment of a digital learning management system—a solution that could simultaneously roll back costs, save time and keep agencies as honest and compliant as possible.

View the full GO1 Local Government Study 2016 here.


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