June 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW2
New Extension Professionals - Suviving the Start
The Indiana Cooperative Extension Service central administration presents a staff orientation package for new professional employees. In addition to the basic information of benefits, reports, etc., five three-day staff development workshops are required over the first two years of employment. The non-sequential package is: 1) Working With Volunteers; 2) Program Planning, Financial Management, Accountability,and Evaluation; 3) Collaboration; 4) Communications; and 5) Human Development.
How many times have we heard these words, "When I started in Extension, I felt like I would never get everything sorted out" or "Where do I start?" This is not unique to the Cooperative Extension Service. However, how many other agencies and organizations have a 6-month, 1-year, or 2-year beginner training plan?
The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service 4- H/Youth Department felt we could no longer stand by and only help new employees in times of crises. We needed staff development opportunities that would speak to the basics of the 4-H program to be a foundation for all to come.
The Cooperative Extension Service Central administration presents a staff orientation package that discusses the mechanics of being a Cooperative Extension Service Employee in Indiana. These sessions cover such items as required reports, official picture taking, History of Purdue and the Cooperative Extension Service, and meeting departmental staffs. Also included are discussions on Stress Management, Personal Growth and Development, and How to Balance Your Life and Extension.
In addition to the general orientation offerings, each of the four program areas (4-H Youth, Consumer/Family Sciences, Agriculture/Natural Resources, Public Policy) offer several staff development opportunities based mainly on program issues. These seminars are available at national, regional, and state levels and many are visionary in scope, continually challenging the growth of present programs and personnel, including youth, volunteers, and professionals.
What was missing was basic program information and survival skills, i.e., organizational, program, political. What was it that new employees in the 4-H/Youth Development program needed to strengthen basic knowledge needed in beginning a career? What was it a new employee must give attention to and thoroughly understand immediately?
With these questions in mind, the Indiana 4-H/Youth Staff at Purdue University built a non-sequential Staff Development Program for new employees in their first two years of tenure. Non -sequential means that you may pick up anytime during the cycle as one session does not build upon the previous session.
The first plans for this package included four topics: 1) Working With Volunteers; 2) Program Planning, Financial Management, Accountability and Evaluation; 3) Sources/ Resources; and 4) Communications. More recently the Agriculture/Natural Resources, Public Policy, and Consumer/Family Science arms felt a need to join with 4-H/Youth in this cycle. After some discussion, Sources/Resources was altered and renamed Collaboration while a fifth session was added to cover concepts related to Human Development.
The Collaboration module emphasizes the importance of collaboration and helps in the initial steps of building agency files. Working with Volunteers works from the base of recruiting, screening, developing, and recognizing. The Program Planning, Financial Management, Accountability, and Evaluation module speaks in more detail about each segment, paying close attention to laws and insurance.
The remaining modules of Human Development and Communication cover information dealing with working with people from youth to adults and all the communication opportunities - TV, radio, E- mail, Internet, written, verbal, non-verbal, etc.
Planning the specifics to be presented for each of these 3- day Staff Development sessions (alternating between fall and spring) are representatives from each of the four arms of the Cooperative Extension Service. Planning flexibility is noted in that many things are common to all four; however, there are differences. Thus, the sessions are joint at times and parallel at others. What is learned, in a subtle way, is how our programs can work together many times for the good of all - presenters as well as receivers.
Even though this package is built mainly for new employees in their first 2-to-3 years of service, many tenured staff return for updating. This unique blend of tenured with new staff certainly adds to the growth of each participant.
We continue to upgrade each session as it returns to the forefront of the cycle. We still may not have the perfect package, but it is far down the road from what it was. We are now much more helpful to our new staff.
If the Cooperative Extension Service is to survive as well as the staff within, we, as staff developers, must perform a top- notch job in getting our employees off on the right foot. It is truly our belief we are making the right steps with this 5 session package. Hopefully, we are doing a better job of answering that big question "Where do I start?"