What I Learned from Teaching Classification Training

“If you become a teacher, by your pupils, you’ll be taught” – Oscar Hammerstein II

I was recently privileged to teach “Introduction to Position Classification” – a 32 hour workshop focused on General Schedule (GS) classification to a client organization.  While the workshop was customized to address specific classification challenges for the organization, there were valuable lessons that I learned from teaching the class that seemed appropriate to share with other classifiers, supervisors and HR specialists.

The first item to be discussed is the level of classification knowledge.  Prior to the workshop, the class completed a knowledge assessment, reflecting a score of 1.0 (scale of 1-5, 5 being highest) of classification principles and practices, and an overall knowledge of GS classification.  The attendees completed a similar post-course assessment, and I’m proud to say that the post-course assessment indicated an increase in classification knowledge averaging 3.5!  Additionally, the scores indicated an increased comfort level and ability to apply certain classification program elements.

While it’s clear that the knowledge level was raised, the comments both during class, and in the course evaluations, reflected the larger challenges facing new classifiers in operational settings today.  These comments provided good information to me as an instructor in ensuring that classification training can assist attendees in applying their learning post-training.  Additionally, these comments can provide HR managers with ideas with regard to creating a learning environment in which training is just the beginning of HR learning and development.

1)  The class was concerned about post-course application with regard to expectations and opportunities to apply what they had learned.

 While the attendees were anxious to return to work and apply their new knowledge, they recognized they had much to learn!  However, individual and group discussions indicated that attendees were concerned that management would now consider them “experts” in classification without that level of knowledge, and they weren’t sure where to turn for expert advice and guidance as they applied their new skills and abilities.

These discussions clearly reflect the changes in classification across the government with regard to HR training and development, as well as the loss of corporate expertise and knowledge in classification and position management.  In teaching this workshop, I found the attendees were hungry for knowledge and wanted to access outstanding levels of expertise – not to do the work for them, but to continue their learning process.  And it was evident that the students were troubled by the lack of available expertise.  Even with a promise of availability, the class participants wanted to be sure they had access to classification and position management expertise – and that they wanted, over time, to become expert as well.  In this time of severely constrained training resources, meeting this need will continue to challenge HR supervisors and managers.

As a classification instructor, this issue has confirmed my commitment to providing students with real-time training experiences in the classroom that allow them to return to the world-of-work better prepared to address the challenges of classification and position management.

Alternatively, as managers send students to training, whether it is classification or another area, managers should “cue” their staffs for learning in the classroom to clarify expectations about performance and knowledge application upon the student’s return to work.

 2)  During the class, a similar issue rose regarding classification decision-making.

This is another interpretation of #1 (above); class attendees were anxious to acquire feedback and support from classification decision-makers about their classification decisions or recommendations.  Attendees were feeling the lack of classification expertise to assist them in day-to-day classification work.  These new classifiers wanted to be sure they were making the “right” classification call, and to understand the history and practice of classification within their organizations.  This was especially true in classification technical areas, such as Fair Labor Standards Act determinations, financial disclosure requirements, and the application of certain standards and guides in their respective agency.

As part of the training, attendees were provided with a comprehensive list of classification resources and tools.  While acknowledging the value of these resources, they were far more interested in finding others with classification expertise to assist them in continued learning and development in this area.

For those who believe “classification is dead”, they should have attended this class!  There was a high level of enthusiasm and engagement from all students.  While not all the attendees were cut out to be classification specialists, there were several who would make great classifiers – given the training and development required.  And, more importantly, all attendees understood the value-add of understanding and applying the elements of the classification system across HR.

3)  I believe there is value in establishing a “community of practice” in which the classes (and others) continue to work through the exercises and case studies provided.

There was interest in class discussions about continuing to apply learning, and for this particular organization, we have established a “community of practice” to further learning opportunities.  Additionally, the Classifiers’ Consortium and other shared knowledge opportunities support this concept.

As an instructor and resource for classification training, I believe increase use of “community of practice” should be further implemented across HR organizations to enhance learning and development of staff.  A Google search will provide significant examples of community of practice implementation ideas.

In summary, as a classification instructor, I’ve learned that new classifiers are hungry for validation in their work, they are looking for expertise and support as they learn, and resources to train new classifiers appear to be extremely limited.  I’ll be incorporating these lessons into my lesson plans moving forward – and I thank the students who shared their experience to teach me!