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Building leaders: Civil Service employees learn management skills.

The Graduate School, a Washington, D.C., institution, offers federal Civil Service employees at grades 5 through 11 two programs to boost their leadership skills, the three-month Aspiring Leader Program (GS 5-7) and the six-month New Leader Program (GS 7-11).

The programs are free to employees selected by the Department, with the employee's bureau paying the employee's tuition and travel and per diem expenses, if any.

Passport Specialist Joelle R. Quirk said the NLP improved her career and her personal life. "Participating in the NLP has been the single most important decision I've made, professionally and personally," she said.


Increased Competency

Alice Ross, who graduated from the NLP in February, said the program "increased my awareness of the skills and competencies I needed to work on, to better work with others outside of the areas I was used to."


Ross has spent the past 10 years doing J-1 visas for exchange programs in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and now wants to move into human resources work. In the NLP, she did her 30-day developmental assignment in that specialty.

She hasn't gotten a new job in HR yet, she said, but she expects to because the NLP "gave me new tools and initiative to become a leader."

Students in the NLP and ALP get to work with other agency employees because both programs are based on "learning teams" of students who are drawn from a variety of federal agencies, said Kimberly Robinson, director of the Center for Leadership and Management at the Graduate School. The school was until last year housed in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Robinson said the use of learning teams makes the ALP and NLP different from similar programs for private-sector employees, in which aspiring managers might be grouped only with others from within their company.

Another advantage of the programs for federal employees specifically, Robinson said, is that they emphasize the management, supervisory and leadership competencies that the Office of Personnel Management sees as critical to individual and organizational success in the federal government. The programs also emphasize self-awareness, leading by building coalitions and collaborating, and effective communication, she said.

Two differences between the ALP and NLP are that NLP learning teams must jointly produce a final project and team members must each engage in a 30-day developmental work assignment outside of the office where they usually work. Both the ALP and NLP involve readings on management, manager interviews, shadowing managers as they work and developing a leadership development plan.

Instances of employees leaving the Department after taking the NLP are rare, said Lana Chung, Leadership Program coordinator in the Office of Civil Service Human Resource Management. In fact, the Department benefits, she said, because the employees gain needed skills and become "connected, not only within State, but with other organizations."

Employees who succeed in the programs have to be self-starters who are good at networking, she said. For instance, they must independently arrange where they'll do their 30-day assignment, and this can involve cold-calling those who might have a temporary job opening, she explained.

Lots of Work

The programs' students must also be ready to do a lot of work, Ross said, pointing to the sheer amount of writing required: eight reports, two book reviews, two interviews, a job-shadow assignment, 30-day impact paper and the team project. "A lot of people might get turned off by that" amount of work, she said.

The level of work, Chung said, may explain why there are rarely too many Department applicants for either program. This means, she elaborated, that employees who apply are likely to be accepted--as long as their bureau will pay the tuition. The NLP tuition is $3,220, and the ALP tuition is $2,758.

To apply for one of the programs, employees need to complete and give to their bureau's training officer the Graduate School's application, a signed SF-182 Training Request Form, a copy of their resume or OF-612 and a signed DS-3070, the Foreign Service Institute Training Agreement. The materials are sent to the Civil Service Human Resource Management Office for evaluation.

The deadline to apply for the next ALP session is July 16, and the application deadline for the next NLP is June 24.

The author is deputy editor of State Magazine.
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Author:Warner, Ed
Publication:State Magazine
Date:May 1, 2010
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