Learning for life

by Lauren Ingram
October 24, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Making time for professional development is often a big hurdle when it comes to workplace learning. For some, it's easily put on the back burner, given never ending to-do lists, work obligations and life's demands. For others, if they can find the time, it can be a challenge to determine which opportunities to pursue.

For information technology (IT) professionals in particular, what to focus on can sometimes feel like a moving target because of constant changes in technology trends and tools.  

But, making professional development part of daily routines might be easier than once thought, according to Brynn Rousselin, an education and strategy manager in Penn State's Office of Human Resources (OHR). She's asking University employees to think differently about what professional development is and how they approach it.

"Learning is such an integral part of what we do as adults to stay relevant as people and employees," Rousselin says. "Learning happens everywhere, it doesn't only have to be formal instruction or an expensive, weeklong conference."

Many times, workplace learning comes in the form of a low-cost or free activity — there's no one path that works for everyone.

There's value in having coffee with a peer coach or accountability partner once a month to talk about goals, spending an hour a week in an online lynda.psu.edu or Skillport module, reading an article or listening to a relevant TEDTalk or podcast, according to Deborah Johnson, a human resources generalist in Information Technology Services (ITS).

It's these kinds of daily rituals that Penn State human resources professionals like Rousselin and Johnson suggest people work into busy schedules. Both are also striving to offer training that strikes a balance between online and face-to-face instruction and various learning types, schedules and content.  

As part of this new era of professional development offerings and philosophy at the University, Rousselin, who recently revitalized OHR's four certificate programs, suggests individuals should strive to meet the 70/20/10 model. As part of this framework, 70 percent of an individual's professional development should come from on-the-job learning experiences, 20 percent from relationships and activities like mentoring and job shadowing, and 10 percent from formal classroom training.

Rousselin says people typically believe the opposite to be the desired goal with a breakdown that relies on formal training the most.

"Formal training is certainly part of the big picture, but how, when and where someone gets his or her development can be a mix," she adds.

Like lifelong learning, professional development is ongoing and personal with the imperative on the employee to make it happen — along with the support of a supervisor. It's not a coincidence that YOU@PSU, the University's revamped online performance management system, supports this employee-centric model.

"YOU@PSU is focused on goals and development," Johnson explains. "It’s an interactive tool for managing performance that puts the impetus on the employee to take the lead in his or her own holistic development and career."

Johnson's advice for employees is to identify broad goals they want to accomplish and then break them down into specific training that supports growth.

"Whether you want to grow within the position you have or change positions at the University, learning new technology skills is always beneficial and helps you stay relevant," Johnson says. "Technology is always changing and there are always new ways to leverage IT to be more efficient and learn skills."

That's why Keshia Kennelley, an administrative support assistant in the College of the Liberal Arts, joined the Administrative Professional Series (APS), an OHR and ITS Training Services certificate program for support staff across the University that pairs IT with business and communication topics in monthly seminars and workshops.  

So far, Kennelley has been able to streamline the way she and her supervisor use Excel spreadsheets to keep track of faculty research expenditures. Using formulas for mathematical equations is saving Kennelley time she can use to explore Access, another IT topic she's learning in APS that is relevant to her job.

For staff members who wish to boost their technology know-how, the University also offers in-person and online training through ittraining.psu.edu and lynda.psu.edu, which contains thousands of no-cost technology tutorials. Staff can also customize personal learning paths by coupling their tech training with more than 800 online business and communication skills tutorials offered through Skillport.

For IT staff, Penn State IT offers a range of webinars, brown bags, conferences and workshops throughout the year through IT Connects, MOR Associates and IT Pro Roundtables. IT professionals can also use Skillport to access technical opportunities such as ITIL service management education modules, which can help IT staff as the University transitions to a new service management program beginning this year, according to Johnson.  

Lisa Urban, an IT training specialist, deals with change on a daily basis — whether teaching people to use a new email and calendar system or the newest social media tool.

"As IT professionals, we're used to change, since technology transforms on what feels like a daily basis," Urban says. "I think we need to become more skilled at leading change and helping our customers use technologies and services for the University to be successful."

Buoyed by her directors and her own belief that anyone can be a leader, Urban joined Penn State Emerging Leaders, an OHR certificate program that provides intensive leadership development, to explore her personal leadership style and philosophy. The yearlong series, in which many IT staff participate, is comprised of seminars, networking events, job shadowing experiences and more.  

"I’ve learned that you don’t have to be a manager or a director to be successful and influence others," Urban says. “I love what I do — if I couldn’t be a trainer anymore I wouldn’t be happy. I want to lead others by motivating them to be the best they can be.”

Urban is already thinking about ways to maintain her leadership growth for when the program wraps up in December.

"Even though Penn State is a huge organization and steeped in tradition, there is a lot of change happening," Rousselin says. "If we're going to stay current and valuable as employees, our skill sets need to change as well, so we can help move the University forward."

So, get a learning partner, block time off on your calendar for a tutorial or find an accountability coach — the first step of a journey doesn't have to be the hardest.

For more IT stories at Penn State, visit news.it.psu.edu.

  • Lisa Urban

    Lisa Urban, an IT training specialist and participant in the Penn State Emerging Leaders program, facilitates a technology training.

    IMAGE: Tom Flach
  • Keshia Kennelley

    Kennelley credits the Administrative Professional Series for helping her enhance to her IT skills and knowledge.

    IMAGE: Lauren Ingram
  • Lisa Urban

    Urban is exploring her personal leadership style and philosophy through the yearlong Penn State Emerging Leaders program.

    IMAGE: Tom Flach
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Last Updated October 27, 2014