Educating Staff Pays Returns in Many Ways


Just about every day, I pass the training room. It’s hard to miss because it’s right on the way to my office and typically buzzing with activity. Recently, staff members at the Center for Human Development (CHD) were there taking a CPR course. Groups of staff members have also been learning to be more effective supervisors, prevent the transmission of blood-borne pathogens, apply dielectical behavior therapy, conduct motivational interviews, and more.

Since our founding in the 1970s, CHD has always placed an emphasis on training. Why? Because every day, our diverse, multi-site team of professionals, paraprofessionals, and support staff works with clients who are typically vulnerable and facing complex challenges in their lives. Our mission is to help these people, so we help our staff to successfully identify and address whatever issues their clients are facing.

The nature of our work in fields such as health and wellness, behavioral health, and developmental services means a large proportion of our staff is comprised of highly educated, credentialed professionals. That’s a benefit because we can leverage the advanced knowledge of our own people to develop and present training programs in-house.

For example, social worker Nina Slovik developed and has been presenting a training program called “Suicide Risk: From Despair to Hope.” Her program, which focuses on ways to recognize and respond to suicide risk factors, gives our employees knowledge to use in their daily work. She helps staff understand how to work with folks who have experienced trauma or some other life component that could heighten risk factors related to suicide. She also incorporates conversations about suicide with people who have lived experience with the issue. The tools she teaches staff to apply when working with their clients truly can save lives.

I spoke with my colleague, Carol Fitzgerald, CHD’s vice president of Human Resources, about the role of training at CHD. “Professional development and staff training are embedded in the culture of CHD,” she told me. “It can take the form of on-the-job training, formal training programs developed and presented in-house, and in certain cases off-site training with specialists. Some trainings are mandatory, like those covering compliance and diversity, and those for licensed professionals who need to earn continuing-education credits. Others are programs that staff members can take to respond to a particular client’s needs.

“Say a house manager has a new client who is presenting with a specific behavioral issue,” she elaborated. “Related trainings may be available, often online, that can be used to build capacity with individual staff. Our experience demonstrates that well-trained staff members can more fully understand their clients’ scope of needs and the context that their support is presented in. This helps them serve clients better. We also support employees with tuition reimbursement for formal education where that’s relevant.”

Fitzgerald said there’s an additional benefit of employee training that should not be discounted. “It’s an ongoing challenge for all agencies to find licensed, credentialed clinical staff. We want to attract top people who stay engaged and stay here, so one of our strategic objectives is to be the employer of choice in each field and in our industry. We know from experience that effective training programs and the opportunity to apply what is learned on the job can be great recruitment and retention tools.”

A commitment to effective, relevant training helps employees stay current and focused, leverages their ability to deliver quality services, and supports their organization’s human-resources strategy. Give your people something new to learn every day. The results can be positively life-changing.

Kimberley Lee is vice president of Development at the Center for Human Development, a nonprofit, CARF-accredited organization providing a broad range of community-oriented human services to 17,000 children, adolescents, adults, and families each year.