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JSU program swap raises for skill training

Otha Burton

Middle management public and non-profit organization employees who want to improve their skills and opportunities for advancement might normally find it difficult to find continuing education that will zero in on the issues and challenges they face on a daily basis. That is why Jackson State University’s Institute of Government’s (IOG) Public Management and Leadership (PML) Certificate Program has been so well received by participants in the 16-week course.

“It helped me personally and professionally as I develop myself to move up the ladder,” said Zenotha Robinson, administrator, Mississippi Department of Transportation Office of Intermodal Planning. “The individuals that they had as instructors were outstanding, and the subject matters were perfect for the workplace and your personal life as well.”

For example, one of five subject matters discussed was conflict resolution. She said what she learned is helpful not just for work, but also in her personal life.

“It was a well-rounded series of topics that help you to develop in any position you are in or aspire to be in,” Robinson said. “Listening and sharing with the other participants in the class was also beneficial. You find out that challenges and successes are not that different across various agencies. Sometimes we think we are very different, but the process is pretty much the same.”

The course takes three hours a week, a significant time investment for someone working full time. But Robinson said it was well worth it.

“I would recommend this course for others across the state to take part in because it is wonderful experience,” she said.

David Knight, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Hinds County Human Resource Agency, said the greatest benefit he got out of participating in the program was the opportunity to look at management from a holistic perspective.

As a public non-profit organization, considerations are different than in private business where profit is a motive.

“Most business administration or leadership classes look at it from a private industry perspective,” Knight said. “But organizations like ours operate under guidelines and rules based on laws created on the state or federal level. So policies are created to meet the requirements of the law.”

Knight said he benefitted from the discussion of providing effective and outcome-driven supervision. While a private business can pay whatever it chooses to get an employee with a specific set of skills, public agencies have less money.

“A lot of times salaries and fringes are more competitive in other industries,” Knight said. “To attract someone with talent on a bare bones budget is difficult. There have to be other motivations and tactics you use to attract and retain good employees.”

Knight said he also appreciated discussions about the importance of looking at the big picture.

Dr. Otha Burton, Jr., JSU’s executive director of the IOG, said the IOG developed the program several years ago after researching other leadership programs in the U.S. There are a lot of similar programs designed for top-level management. While those are beneficial, Burton said JSU decided to focus on providing skills training for middle management employees in public and non-profit organizations whose performance is critical to the success of an organization.

“There is a great need to enable those middle managers to better understand the organization they are in and the direction they are going,” Burton said. “We created a 16-week program which provides 45 contact hours of instruction. Within the 16 weeks, every three weeks a new subject is introduced. The participants attend a three-hour session once a week. Our faculty are all people who have been in government and academia who can provide a perspective of the subject matter in an interactive dialogue with participants.”

The topics covered can vary from session to session depending on the needs of participants. Some examples are state and local government finance and budgeting, human resource management, conflict resolution, effective supervision and leadership, ethics and legal framework of public service organizations, policy development, implementation, accountability, and evaluation, government structure, function, and operation, and general public management issues.

The last week is a wrap up session. Participants are required to produce an impact paper that describes what they have learned and how it affects the work they do.

The ideal class size is 10 to 15 participants, which allows close interactions with the faculty. So far 27 individuals have completed the program, and another eight are currently enrolled.

Mississippi state agency employees who complete the PLM also have the incentive of qualifying for a three percent pay raise. The Mississippi State Personnel Board recently approved completion of the program course as an “educational benchmark” for state agency employees.

Instructors for PML include Hinds County Chancery Clerk Eddie Jean Carr; Policy Adviser to Gov. Phil Bryant Will Simpson, an attorney; Assistant District Attorney for the 22nd Circuit Court Terry Wallace; former Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson; Marilyn Hetrick, human resource consultant; JSU Dean Emeritus of the College of Public Service Dr. Gwendolyn Prater; Jackson Public School Chief Financial Officer Sharolyn Miller; and Tougaloo College Chief Financial Officer Dr. Cynthia Melvin.

“These elite instructors from various sectors of government and higher education aim to assist employees in doing their jobs more effectively,” Burton said.

Dr. Marty Wiseman, former director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, serves as PML director and adviser to the program.

State agencies and other units of government and public non-profit organizations that have had employees participate in PML include MDOT, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, Hinds County Emergency Management Operations, Hinds County Chancery Clerk’s office, the Hinds County Human Resource Agency, Jackson State University, and the cities of Vicksburg, Jackson and Brandon.

For an online application to the program, go to the website:  www.jsums.edu/instituteofgovernment and select the tab for community service, training and research. For more information, call 601.979-2339 or email institute_of_government@jsums.edu.

About Becky Gillette

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