Less than two years ago, a group of local government leaders approached Waubonsee Community College’s workforce development department to request a one-day customized professional development workshop. They wanted to help their communities thrive amid growth and change, and they knew that to do that, they needed to make sure their municipal employees had the updated knowledge and skills to navigate changing times. Their request was reflective of a need that can be found in many local governments today: Ongoing professional development for municipal employees is vital to ensuring the highest levels of efficiency, effectiveness and ethics to the taxpayers they serve.

The last decade has seen many changes in law, technology, politics and communications nationwide. Smartphones did not even exist ten years ago, much less systems such as emergency text alerts or online bill paying.

To respond to that need, that initial one-day workshop grew into our nationally recognized Communities of Excellence program. We are proud of this program not only for its success, but also because it reflects the high caliber of leadership and vision in communities throughout our district, and it demonstrates an area where a community college like Waubonsee holds great strength – service to community.

This program, established in April 2014, has already served more than 80 participants from nine communities. Enthusiasm and support for this endeavor affirmed the need.

The program provides training through networking, benchmarking and best practice sharing among participants. An added bonus to this process is that it builds a culture of community between municipalities in the district through the relationships built among participants. The result of these efforts is a workforce of employees with current knowledge of the issues that impact their roles within local government and the professional skills to provide more efficient services for taxpayers and a tighter network among our district’s government employees.

So what happens when you put accountants, public works employees and human resources staff in the same room for more than 90 hours of specialized training? During a recent recognition ceremony for participants who completed the program, a common theme was that the class discussions and projects were the first time that many – no matter how long their tenure in local government – had been able to step out of their department silos and collaborate with others. They learned that while their tasks might differ, the root issues are actually similar. Adding tools like project management and conflict management to the skill set of employees throughout an organization does have long term rewards.

As these communities – suburban and rural – that surround Chicago continue to grow and change, they’ll need to prepare and educate their employees so they can adapt with the ever-evolving places they serve. Community colleges – firmly rooted in the culture and network of their district – can understand these needs and leverage the resources to deliver results quickly. The investment by community leaders in providing a high quality of employee professional development is significant. It affirms their position at the forefront of innovation in local government, shows they are committed to spending taxpayer money efficiently and strengthens the network of governance throughout our area. We are proud to be part of these strong communities with a dedication to continuous quality improvement.