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Are Government Workers Learning Anything?


The impending perfect storm of federal retirements, hiring freezes, and sequestration is giving government executives a lot to manage.  No other position in the federal government is poised so perfectly to take on these challenges as the chief learning officers (CLO) within each agency.

“We are at an inflection point right now within the federal government,” Tom Fox, the Vice President of Learning and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service told the Government Business Council (GBC). “The government needs to fundamentally change because we don’t have the resources we had in the past. The chief learning officers are right in the middle of that inflection point. They can help empower their employees for the changes [ahead].”  

Before the CLO position was created, agencies would go out and purchase the training and learning vehicles they needed for their staff without any single strategic vision. The lack of coordination often led to program duplication, which sucked needed funding out of shrinking budgets. Not only that, but lack of clear goals left agencies without a single vision of future workforce and learning needs.

Any solution to the challenges ahead will need to start with CLOs preparing the federal workforce with the tools they need to adapt. The Government Business Council, the research arm of the Government Executive, was compelled to contribute to the conversation around this unique challenge and completed an extensive study on the character of chief learning officers in the federal government. According to the study of over 400 federal managers, 32 percent of them indicated that their agency does not even have a CLO. Of the agencies that do have a CLO, only 30 percent reported that their CLO encourages a culture of learning.

Creating a strategic vision for learning is one of the essential responsibilities of the CLO and being associated with that vision is tantamount to that cause. Ensuring that federal employees associate the learning culture with an overall strategic vision will not only propel more staff members to get involved in learning, but will ensure that employees associate learning and training as an essential part of achieving his or her mission. A new breed of CLOs are doing just that.

Thom Terwilliger, CLO for FDIC Corporate University, is rounding out a 5 year action plan to enhance the FDIC’s leadership and development courses. “We have 18 months left [in our plan]…and we now have 5 core courses for leadership development and they start with new employees and go up to the executive level,” said Terwilliger. “Additionally, we have rolled out on average 30 to 35 electives to expand opportunities for learning.” Indeed, the new breed of CLOs are making learning and training a strategic goal across departments and agencies and are working to ensure that the vision is widely shared.

Learn more about chief learning officers in the federal government by reading GBC’s report. Also, come join the conversation on how to create a culture of learning at your agency by joining the Government Business Council at an event on Thursday, Dec. 13


Dana Grinshpan is the Research Manager for the Government Business Council (GBC), the research division of Government Executive, where she specializes in primary research development and survey instrument creation. Prior to joining GBC, she worked for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), assisting in the research and writing of work on South Asian regional cooperation. She has a Master of Arts in international security and political economics from the University of Chicago and graduated magna cum laude from Ohio State University where she holds a B.A. in international studies with a minor in Arabic.

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