Meeting Professional Development Needs of Municipalities is a Task for Community Colleges

The people who help our counties, cities, towns and villages to run smoothly have seen rapid change in the ways government units operate over the last decades.  But, it might surprise you to know that some employees have had to update their skills without professional development or training.  That’s why when Waubonsee Community College’s Workforce Development Division began an inquiry of local civic leader’s greatest needs a few years ago, we discovered the pain points that government organizations faced in the development of their workers.  The college was seeking to partner and provide ongoing professional development for municipal workers, we were happy to rise to the challenge.

Community colleges are uniquely suited to this type of endeavor, because it requires an intimate knowledge of the diverse needs of the communities we serve, and also because it allows us to tap into our unrivaled network of subject matter experts.

Because our district encompasses 600 square miles that span a mix of urban, suburban and rural areas, and because the duties of administrators and staff in municipalities covers such a broad spectrum, we knew one of our challenges would be finding a curriculum that united those differences. This is where our Workforce Development Division was able to meld together local community resources with the content expertise of carefully selected experts in government operations.

What came of these efforts is our Communities of Excellence program, which offers municipal employees focused learning for improving processes, attitudes, knowledge and skills. The education and skills offered in this program are likely the types of expertise and skills that – as taxpayers and residents – we all hope for and demand in our local government workers. Topics covered include municipal customer service, action planning, communication skills, organizational teamwork, leading during change, budgeting and reporting, creating a positive culture, streamlining processes, ethics, working with difficult people, government and governance, labor law and employment, conflict resolution and succession planning.

At Waubonsee, this program piloted in the spring of 2014. Within the first six months, enrollment grew from an initial 18 to 39 participants. These included a diverse mix of leadership positions and staff and line positions in participating communities. They came from a total of 11 different departments. To date, we’ve served more than 80 people. Last year, Communities of Excellence was named a 2015 Exemplary Program in the Continuing Professional Education category by the National Council for Continuing Education and Training. The program’s administrators have been invited to present around the country and have assisted other community colleges in launching similar efforts.

So far, Waubonsee has seen two classes of students graduate from the program, meaning they completed a total of 96 hours of training. The benefits to the community include improved organizational productivity and efficiencies, hands-on practical skills immediately transferable to the workplace and encouragement of lifelong learning and professionalism.

The program is not only meeting professional development needs, but has also become a place for networking, benchmarking and information sharing among participants and communities we serve.  Participants have said they feel they’ve gained increased efficiency, accuracy, task prioritization, process improvements, workflow gains and improved communication.

Given the importance that communities play in our lives, should the places where we live, work, worship, play or visit be anything less than a community of excellence? We are proud that we were able to work with our local government leaders to provide a program that continues to deliver value to so many throughout our district.