Tips to Promote Continuous Learning Among Your Staff
There is probably nothing more essential to a tax credit site than having trained, competent staff. Over the past few years, the regulations have changed so quickly, it can be difficult to stay completely up to date. Add to that the burden caused by high turnover—when a staff member quits, knowledge and expertise go walking out the door, and getting his or her replacement up to speed can strain tight site budgets.
Although it would benefit owners to ensure that site staff have access to valuable training resources like conferences, seminars, and refresher courses, the reality is that you will probably need to find a way to provide supplemental learning opportunities at low or no additional cost.
It's important to keep in mind, and to relate to your staff, the difference between training and learning. Training is the acquisition of knowledge and competencies that comes as a result of teaching. Learning is something that individuals do themselves, and it requires a desire to enhance skills and knowledge.
Compliance specialist Mark Chrzanowski says that while he spends about 10 hours a year on structured training, learning takes place on a daily basis through industry information feeds and alerts, as well as research and investigation. With Chrzanowski's help, we've compiled the following tips and ideas that you can use to provide your staff with valuable opportunities to expand their knowledge without breaking the budget.
Sign Up for Email Updates, Alerts, and E-Newsletters
Email alerts, updates, and newsletters “don't cost anything, and they keep you updated on what's happening right now with deadlines, reminders, upcoming legislation, and advice,” says Chrzanowski. For tax credit alerts, he recommends the Industry Update from the Housing Credit College (http://www.housingcreditcollege.com), and for Section 8 information, Ross Business Development's HUD Blast (http://www.rbdnow.com) and the Rental Housing Integrity Improvement Project's listserv (RHIIP Listserv), which you can sign up for on the HUD Web site.
PRACTICAL POINTER: Assign various alerts to specific staff members and give them the responsibility of sharing what they learn with other staff members during weekly staff meetings.
Create Your Own Tip-of-the-Week Email or Blog
Sending regular updates through an internal tip-of-the-week email or blog is an effective way to share updates. Collect information and “chunks” of learning from industry Web sites (always check out the “What's New” section for the latest information, says Chrzanow-ski), email alerts, and publications. Assign the email to one staff member, or rotate the responsibility among the team.
Host Mini-Learning Sessions During Staff Meetings
Set aside 10 minutes during each weekly staff meeting to review and discuss learning topics. Assign specific topics to employees for which they should develop a brief presentation for their peers. There should be no set format for presenting the material, which can range from PowerPoint presentations to simply discussing the topic in an open forum.
PRACTICAL POINTER: Take requests for employee-identified training needs. Ask for volunteers to research the topic and report back with their findings.
Assign In-House Mentors
An in-house mentoring program will allow you to take advantage of your veteran employees' expertise while providing less-experienced staff members with one-on-one attention to their skills development. Team a seasoned staff member with another staff member who wants to learn a particular skill. The mentor should be available to devote an hour a week to meet with the staff member for a few months, or until the staff member develops expertise in that area.
Get in Touch with Local Apartment Association
Local apartment associations hold training courses that are low cost or, in some cases, free, says Chrzanowski. Many times, these associations tap their members who have expertise in an area to volunteer their time, which keeps the cost to a minimum—often just enough to cover snacks and a meeting room. In addition to education opportunities, some associations offer “Ask the Expert”-type benefits in which you can get timely advice on important issues.
Mark Chrzanowski: Compliance Specialist, Gene B. Glick Co.; (317) 469-5885; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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