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A manager's role in developing and reinforcing strong training.

One difficult aspect of developing a quality training program for juvenile institutions is identifying the program's purpose. Without giving considerable thought to what staff are to learn and what they are to do with what they learn, managers can unknowingly create new problems beyond those associated with an untrained work force. Bad training can be worse than no training at all because it contributes to low morale and spreads false information. No facility needs either of these problems.

Some examples of important training areas in juvenile facilities include such basics as counseling, adolescent development, security and self-defense, first aid, behavior management, suicide prevention, prevention of communicable diseases and crisis management. The North Carolina Division of Youth Services (DYS) involves all direct-care, facility-based staff in a mandated basic training program that must be completed during the first year on the job. The basic training curriculum covers these topics and provides an overall orientation to state government, the juvenile justice system and the particulars of each facility's treatment program.

In addition, we are continually training on issues that emerge due to changing laws, social conditions and programs. Training areas we are developing for use in the near future include awareness and appreciation of cultural diversity, the Americans with Disabilities Act's effect on hiring procedures, and training for teachers in addressing varied learning styles in the classroom.

A good starting point for any training program is to have the training coordinator conduct a training needs assessment. Almost any training primer can describe the steps needed for a thorough needs assessment. It should analyze every facet of the organization's services and explicitly state the agency's mission and management's goals.

Staff can make an important contribution to preparations for the training program. The training coordinator should ask staff what they believe needs to be taught and why the proposed content will be helpful. Although not all trainees will have constructive ideas, they will appreciate having the opportunity to voice opinions and see their contributions incorporated into the program. Staff who are treated as capable, professional employees will make valuable contributions to the program.

In North Carolina, each facility's training committee annually submits a list of in-service training topics to the staff development unit. These topics result from staff input at planning conferences and staff meetings. Trainees in the basic training program also are asked to suggest new topics that should be included as a regular part of their training session evaluation.

Once the needs assessment and staff interviews are finished, the training coordinator should prepare a summary of all the information. In all probability, more training topics will have been generated than one could ever afford to deliver. Training topics need to be continually reviewed. Some will lose their relevance, and new topics will emerge as a result of changes beyond the facility's control. How does a training coordinator decide which topics to include in the program? The answer is that the training coordinator does not decide. Management decides.

Good training is a tool for managing the organization. When managers are aware of the institution's most salient needs, they can address those needs through training. For that reason, training needs to be stimulating and inviting. However, there can be no cat-and-mouse games. Employees should not have to wonder or guess why they are in a particular training session or what the criteria for success are. Tell employees what they should know, why they should know it, what they should do, why they should do it and how they will be evaluated as a result of using--or not using--new information and skills.

Each training component should include a variety of learning activities that address participants' need to understand why the training is important and relevant, what information is essential and how to use the information. They should have the opportunity to speculate and experiment with "what if?" situations. Not everyone will agree with the new learning; nevertheless, give employees an opportunity to react to the training along with an opportunity to practice using the new information and skills. In skill development it is crucial that learners have an opportunity to practice new skills and receive feedback on their performance. This principle is usually recognized and practiced in areas such as self-defense and first-aid, but it is equally important in teaching counseling and communication skills.

In turn, managers need to reinforce the newly acquired training by recognizing staff who practice the new learning. When managers do not expect and require the use of training, employees see the training as meaningless exercises and lectures. Because juvenile institutions rarely have tangible incentives that motivate employees to continue working in high-stress environments, managers cannot afford to discount the effects of personally recognizing those who perform their jobs well. According employees dignity and respect often is enough to make them reconsider taking other more lucrative jobs.

In North Carolina, we recognize long-term employees who have used their training and experience to become exemplary workers by appointing them as mentors for new employees. Mentors help orient new employees and give valuable feedback from the perspective of an experienced co-worker. The title of mentor conveys that management has respect for that employee's ability and needs that employee's expertise to provide a positive initial experience for new staff.

Training sessions provide employees an opportunity to explore alternative task solutions and to learn from the experiences of others in the class. Since no one wants to fail on the job, the exchange of information and exploration of new ideas provides a forum for analyzing what works and why. In addition, good trainers also can interpret management priorities, answering questions and sharing with employees the rationale for policies and procedures.

DYS trainers provide the most visible and accessible aspect of management's willingness to interpret and explain changes to line staff--especially during times of program revision or mandated procedural changes. For example, during a recent training session on bloodborne pathogens in the workplace, DYS trainers were able to take some procedures still being developed, present them to line employees and then take their input on feasibility and feed it back into the planning process. Training participants also added situations and examples to those already contained in the training materials, thereby enriching the information presented with front-line experience.

Training is essential in any organization where managers recognize its potential for changing facility conditions and attitudes toward juveniles and new programs. Besides following the tenets of good instruction, a training coordinator must work closely with managers to design relevant training responsive to the organization's needs. And, along with setting priorities, managers must take every opportunity to reinforce training to realize management's vision for improved services.

Gwendolyn C. Chunn is director and Cindy Thacker is the chief of staff development for the North Carolina Division of Youth Services.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Staff Education
Author:Chunn, Gwendolyn C.; Thacker, Cindy
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Words:1128
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