For years, the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department has been struggling to keep and promote its best people.
Despite substantial investment in training opportunities, only 39.7 percent of its 320,000 employees were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their opportunity for promotion, according to a 2011 survey. And exit interviews showed that lack of support for development was the main reason for attrition.
"VA employees were unaware of the diversity of jobs and career opportunities within the department, and they were unaware of how to progress in their careers once they were in a job," says Carrie Tuning, learning consultant at the VA Learning University, or VALU.
To reduce high turnover and meet soaring demand for VA services, in October 2011 VALU launched MyCareer@VA, a project including a website, which provides employees with customizable career-mapping tools, internal job boards and recommended training programs for different career paths. It also gives supervisors tools to help employees structure their development so they can improve work performance and career growth. "Before MyCareer, employees had to rely on other people to help them map a career path and identify opportunities," Tuning says.
Within a year, 10 occupational groups had access to the technology, with new employee populations added every month. The VA expects all 50 occupational groups to have access to the tools by April 2013. The team focused on mission-critical roles first, which included benefits administrators.
Since its launch, use has been steadily growing. The site gets about 10,000 visitors weekly, and the VALU team will be tracking attrition rates and internal promotions as a measure of its long-term success.
While it's too soon for numbers, the team has already heard many anecdotes, including a young VA employee who used MyCareer@VA to find a management analyst position and get assigned a mentor to guide her down that career path.
For empowering employees to shape their own careers and identify opportunities for development, Veterans Affairs Learning University is the 2012 winner of the Optimas Award for Service.
Sarah Fister Gale is a writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Workforce Management, November 2012, p. 30 -- Subscribe Now!