U.S. feds adopt e-learning to recruit, retain employees

The U.S. federal government is turning to the Web to help train its 1.9 million employees, a move officials expect will save money and improve the attractiveness of government employment.

The Web site will use 3-D graphics to direct employees to a preliminary list of 30 online courses, covering topics such as computers, management, customer service and ethics. Many more courses will be added in the months ahead.

“This is modern training,” said Mark Forman, who heads IT planning at the White House Office of Management and Budget. “This is as good as any world-class company; perhaps better than most.”

The online educational effort is part of a broader e-government initiative to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of government, largely through economies of scale and consolidation.

Training is currently typically handled by individual agencies, which often can’t afford extensive offerings.

Cost savings can be achieved by offering core courses, such as Microsoft Office training, from a centralized Web site. Federal agencies may also adopt online training in lieu of classroom work “as more entities see what’s available online,” said Norm Enger, e-government project manager at the Office of Personnel Management.

Officials also hope that the availability of online training will encourage recruitment and retention. Around 40 per cent of all federal employees will be eligible for retirement in the next five years.

“Educational benefits are key not only to recruitment but to retention,” said Jonathan Levy, vice-president of Harvard Business School Publishing, a Harvard Business School subsidiary that offers e-learning programs. “Once you recruit a person, you have to keep [him or her].”

Federal officials were unable to provide figures on development costs or savings associated with the e-learning initiative. But they said similar Web sites typically cost several million dollars.