Local jurisdictions have been dealing with increased demands and shrinking budgets for years. Providing just essential services is considered substandard in jurisdictions that pride themselves on quality-of-life considerations. In their eyes, maintaining the status quo just won't do anymore.
The same could be said for public-sector employees. A secretary is no longer just a secretary, and a finance clerk is no longer just a finance clerk. Government workers could become more valued employees with proper training. After all, the secretary skilled in word processing can accomplish much more with a computer than with an electric typewriter. And the finance clerk skilled in Excel can work more efficiently than with a solar-powered calculator.
Some cities have picked up on this idea and have created technology education centers for their valued commodities.
Opportunities in Orlando
Orlando, Fla., has roughly 190,000 residents, a number that doubles and even triples during the height of the tourist season, thanks mostly to great weather and theme parks. Accommodating the influx of visitors while providing services to residents is no easy task for the 3,000 city employees. But it's getting easier with the help of technology.
The city's technology center is open to all city employees, including part-time workers and volunteers. Five people are on staff, and training is even held for public safety folks outside standard business hours.
"The training motto is, 'working smarter not harder.' We all believe it and practice it," said Nancy Rochette, technology center manager.
Most of the classes are held in four-hour blocks, Rochette said, because it is difficult for people to comprehend training crammed into eight straight hours, and inconvenient or impossible to take a full day off. The people who need training the most are the ones who don't have the time, she said.
But those who commit to a technology education can get the equivalent of a degree, with classes and sessions including Microsoft's Windows 95, Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint; the Internet; intranets; and FrontPage 97, Web-design software.
The center also has classes that employees take at their desks through the city's intranet. Targeted training, including "brown bag" sessions during lunch, is emphasized because it gives employees training when they need it, according to Frank Hagy, the city's director of technology management, whose department oversees the training.
"In the competitive world, we keep trying to reduce staff, so [because of the increasing workload] we don't have enough time for training," Hagy said. "Targeted training, the brown bag sessions, etc., is an answer to this."
And the students have responded. A recent quarter saw 245 employees attend 83 classes, not to mention those working from their desks. On a scale of one to six -- one being the best -- the approval rating from employees has been an impressive 1.33, Rochette said.
Matriculating in Mobile
The rating system for the technology learning center in Mobile, Ala., is equally impressive, consistently averaging about four of a possible five. For the 2,200 employees serving a city of 225,000 residents, successful use of technology brings feelings of responsibility and ownership.
"We tell them constantly that our technology will go as you drive it. We are going to deliver the tools that you need to deliver information anytime, anyplace, anywhere," said Chris Lee, the city's executive director of administrative services. "There has been an almost constant demand for training from the workforce."
The demands include classes on Microsoft Office Suite, management training courses for supervisors, specialized training for programmers, specialized training for GIS analysts and technicians on ArcInfo software from ESRI, and training for end users and managers of the Oracle financial management system.
The center fits into the city's strategic technology plan, which states that all applications will be for easy access for Web-based transactions, and that