Skill Acquisition For Staff

For most parks and recreation agencies, the cost of human resources makes up a significant portion of the annual operating budget. How do you ensure effective performance management of existing staff and ongoing development of future human resources? Oakland County Parks and Recreation, in Michigan, has developed a comprehensive performance management process that is tied to ongoing employee development plans as well as organizational goals and initiatives.

Filling Positions

The process begins with filling vacant positions. By identifying staffing needs based on organizational priorities, we are able to determine appropriate job classifications to support a comprehensive staffing plan. Each classification is supported by a job description that aligns with the needs of the staffing plan based on skills, knowledge, and abilities required. The job description details are also compared with desired organizational goals when developing interview questions used to evaluate candidates for open positions.

While selecting the appropriate candidate is a key element in the overall plan, a comprehensive onboarding process provides position-specific training to new hires based on the job description details and the new hire’s skills. Examples of training offered include cash-handling for point-of-sale employees, or instructions on using job-specific tools and equipment for maintenance tasks.

Performance Reviews

Whether employees are seasonal, year-round part-time, or full-time, a certain element of ongoing performance management is necessary to ensure their success. All employees are subject to performance reviews, formal or on-the-spot, that assess past performance and support goal-setting for the future.

Career-Development Planning

In an effort to support ongoing career development for our 70 full-time employees, we have developed a detailed approach that includes annual meetings between full-time employees, their direct supervisors, and the Business Development Representative for Organizational Development. During these discussions, individual performance goals and training plans for the coming year are reviewed. By working with direct supervisors and management team members, we are able to assess investments in professional development that make sense for the individual and the organization.

Full- time employees may submit training request forms for ongoing development. These documented requests are compared with the career-development plan for each individual and are reviewed with supervisors and members of the management team to determine if the training investment is appropriate. If these requests cannot be approved, they are added to the employee’s career-development plan for future discussion.

Upon completion of training, employees are asked to document a formal Performance Development Debrief that identifies benefits of the training and opportunities for transferring new knowledge to their job or the organization. Employees document the objectives of the training course, new ideas that the organization should consider (technologies and innovations), evaluation, or continuing topics from the information presented. Employees are also asked to discuss six additional areas that allow us to assess the value of the training:

  • Ideas and information presented that employees can use in their current role
  • Information that applies to other areas of the organization
  • Recommending the training to other employees
  • Recommending the hosting of a training session or speaker
  • Other employees or departments that would benefit from attending a seminar
  • A forum for not recommending this training opportunity for other employees.

Examples of recent training courses include an ongoing leadership-development curriculum, monthly safety-training packets presented by supervisors at each worksite, a customized approach to technical skill-building for maintenance employees, and a course in canine-behavior education for dog-park operations staff.

Top-Down Support

When we started the career-development planning process, employees initially felt they were being audited. But we were able to gain support from top leadership through middle-management to frontline supervisors and staff members. Supervisors shared their experiences and the benefits of the process with direct reports that mitigated staff concerns and reinforced the idea that this effort was seeking overall organizational development by developing skills on the front line and benchmarking strengths. This approach has also allowed us to promote institutional knowledge-sharing between aging boomers and employees new to the workforce.

Getting Started

If you are considering career-development planning with the staff, be sure to communicate across the organization, and, where appropriate, use peer mentoring and encouragement to promote skill acquisition. Teams that participate in training together are often able to share ideas and translate new information and knowledge to one another based on appropriate communication styles. When individuals attempt to apply what they learned in training with fellow attendees, there is a sharing of on-the-job transfer of knowledge.

Don’t be afraid to try this with your organization! Holding annual career-development planning conversations costs nothing and allows for investment in the overall development plan that will have buy-in from employees. With encouragement, staff will indicate the training necessary to perform their job better or add value to your organization. You don’t need a huge training budget to invest in organizational development. We make every effort possible to work with partners and have had success with sharing training investments with other departments, for example, hosting an in-house session on a specific technical topic, which can be a lower cost per person because travel is not involved. We have also discussed work-site visits with other departments in order to share expertise in operations, maintenance, and customer-service functions.

Stephanie Mackey is the Business Development Representative for Organizational Development for the Oakland County, Michigan Parks and Recreation Department. Reach her at