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

The people who help our counties, cities, towns and villages run smoothly have seen rapid change in the ways government units operate over the last decades. One challenge in anticipating and adjusting to these changes for local governments has been the availability of professional development opportunities customized for the distinctive challenges of the wide variety of positions. Through their strong ties to the communities they serve, community colleges are particularly suited to rise to the challenge.

Community college districts are as unique as the communities they serve. The Waubonsee Community College district covers 600 square miles that includes Illinois’ second largest city, several suburban towns and villages as well as rural areas. Because the duties of administrators and staff of the governmental units that serve this area cover such a broad range, our staff worked closely with them to create a curriculum that addressed the specific needs of our communities. As a result, a team of content experts with decades of experience created and now facilitates Waubonsee’s Communities of Excellence program.

Communities of Excellence offers municipal employees focused learning for improving processes, attitudes, knowledge and skills. The education offered through this program provides the expertise and skills that taxpayers expect from local government. Topics 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.

This program was piloted at Waubonsee in the spring of 2014. Within the first six months, enrollment grew from an initial 18 to 39 participants. The participants included a diverse mix of leadership, staff and line positions. Employees initially came from a total of 11 different departments, such as Buildings, Streets, Finance/Accounting, City Clerk’s Office, Human Resources, Police Department, Parks and Recreation, Information Systems, and Compliance. We’ve served more than 80 people through this program. Last year, Communities of Excellence was named the 2015 Exemplary Program in the Continuing Professional Education category by the National Council for Continuing Education and Training. The program’s administrators were invited to present before a national audience and have licensed the program to other community colleges to assist their communities.

To date, two cohorts have completed the 96 training hours required. The benefits to the community include improved organizational productivity and efficiencies, hands-on practical skills immediately transferrable to the workplace, enhanced communication capabilities, and an ongoing appreciation of lifelong learning.

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

We are proud of this example of collaborating with our local government leaders to provide a program that continues to bring lasting value to so many throughout our college district. Communities are the stages upon which our daily lives play out. Given the importance that communities play in our lives, why then, should the places where we live, work, worship, play or visit be anything less than communities of excellence?