By Angela Andrews
Nowadays, both employers and employees seek out professional development opportunities that improve skills, expand expertise and create effective work environments.
State legislatures, which employ more than 25,000 full-time people across the nation, are also seeking to invest in their employees, legislative staff, through robust professional development programs.
One example is the Ohio House of Representatives majority caucus staff development program. Through an initiative by Speaker Ryan Smith (R), staff in the majority caucus have been invited to attend a weekly professional development program that seeks to strengthen staff knowledge and skills.
For Smith, offering this program is a way for staff to “to improve themselves and work on their weak spots and hopefully accentuate their strengths.” And there’s the added bonus of gaining professional development from some of the best businesses, universities and nonprofits located in Ohio.
For example, Ohio State University provided programs on teambuilding, problem-solving and decision-making, Huntington Bank shared best practices for handling complaints and negative feedback and using those opportunities to improve customer service, and Nationwide Insurance will soon lead a program about community relations. NCSL also participated in the program.
Smith said having these large institutions and businesses come into the legislature meets other goals too, like preparing young staff for their careers and connecting them with Ohio’s business and nonprofit communities. “I want the business community to recognize that when they hire (legislative) staff, they are getting highly qualified people,” he said.
Beyond exposure to Ohio companies, legislative staff are also gaining increased exposure to the inner workings of the legislature, including trainings about the legislative process, constituent management, budgeting and other essential legislative functions and processes.
Attendance is optional, but if staff attend 80 percent or more of the trainings offered, they receive a certificate of completion. Beyond that, staff gain a further appreciation for the legislature and the Ohio House and, as Smith summarizes, the legislature gains “a more consistent environment for legislative policymaking.”
The 2018 program started in August and will conclude in December. Planning for the 2019 program has already begun, with a deeper dive into policy comprehension, process mastery, advanced office management, and leadership skills.
The 2019 program will also include more outside speakers from the business sector, to facilitate an exchange of ideas from top industry leaders in Ohio and learn from best practices across all industries. Alyssa Sarko, the speaker’s director of special projects and one of the main drivers behind the program, is particularly excited about a tech entrepreneur who will share his experience in bringing ideas to fruition and remaining optimistic through the highs and lows.
The feedback from staff has been mostly positive. “Building the program based on staff feedback was essential to its success,” Sarko said. Building trust in a relatively quick time to get honest feedback (suggestions and criticisms) was the most difficult part of creating the program, but hands down the best thing we have done.”
Angela Andrews directs NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services Program and coordinates in-state professional development programs for legislative staff. If you want to learn more about NCSL’s in-state professional development programs or would like to develop a customized professional development program for your staff, email Angela.