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Human Resources Management
With states, cities and counties facing budget shortages and losing employees to retirement, it is imperative to develop a flexible workforce. Cross training, teaching an employee who was hired to perform one job function the skills required to perform other job functions, can help.
In an article in Governing magazine, A Cross-Training Rundown, Heather Kerrigan notes:
Across the country, cross training is helping governments maintain a high level of service delivery with fewer staff and resources.”
With the demand to do more with less, organizations have found that employees involved in cross training not only become skilled at tasks outside the parameters of their job, they become greater assets for the organization while gaining knowledge and skills that benefit them personally. In addition to increased workforce flexibility, lower turnover and higher skill sets, cross training has helped employees see the big picture and become happier at work.
Cross-training: A Case Study outlines some of the significant indicators that suggest a need for cross training:
- Single Points of Failure
If only one person in an organization has the knowledge or ability to support a given technology and goes on vacation or retires the organization will be at risk.
- Inflexible Division of Labor
If the organization has new employees, and employees that are highly specialized, with an influx of new workloads the end result is an inability to share the workload amongst the team members.
- Lack of a Team Atmosphere
Without the ability to learn multiple job functions, or incentive for employees to take responsibility for other knowledge areas, there is the potential for a cross-discipline problem and a lack of ownership of the problem.
- Rotation of Duty as a Security Principal
The rotation of duty concept argues that setting up job role rotations on a scheduled basis makes inefficiencies and corruption easier to identify and resolve.
- Lack of Variety
Cross Training is meant to expand the knowledge area and introduce new challenges, leading to more variety in the day to day workload; carrying the advantage of providing a fresh perspective to old problems.
Lake County Clerk of Courts
The Lake County Clerk of Courts cross trains its employees; specifically, the Chief Finance Clerk and bookkeepers. Their duties are to balance the Legal Division cash drawer, deposit cash and checks, perform monthly bank reconciliations, send bills for outstanding balances, and disburse fees to the appropriate person/office. The Chief Finance Clerk and bookkeepers duties are segregated and rotated randomly on a monthly basis.
City of Barberton, Finance Department
The finance department cross-trained all clerks (accounts payable, utility billing, income tax, payroll, and department secretary) within the department eliminating the need for overtime or hiring temporary help during vacations, extended leaves, or retirements. The cross-training also enabled the department to implement succession planning.
A Cross-Training Rundown by Heather Kerrigan offers a number of cross-training examples from across the country; including police and fire employees and other emergency responders.
Because a majority of fire and rescue volunteers in Bristol, Wisconsin had full-time jobs during the day, the fire department was regularly understaffed. In the late 1980s the small town began to cross-train its employees to act as emergency responders and offered a 75-cent per hour pay raise to encourage public works employees to receive fire and EMS certification. Starting in 1995 all new employees were required to have both certifications.
Woodbury, Minnesota also embraced cross-training with a program that trained police officers as paramedics. The successful program, which was expanded in 2005 to include firefighting training, saved the city costs when it later moved to a full-time, fully staffed, 24-hour fire department.
Similar programs in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Monroe, Michigan, however, were not as well received. A two-year pilot program to train public works employees, parks department workers and police officers as firefighters in Cedar Falls, was opposed by the city’s full-time, unionized firefighters. They argued that the program was costly and would result in a decreased level of service. And an nearly identical plan in Monroe led to a failed injunction filed by the firefighter’s union.
New York City was forced to evaluate its emergency preparedness staffing after its post-blizzard response was heavily criticized. For example, tow truck drivers were often stranded by blizzard conditions and unable to clear the streets of abandoned cars. A group of traffic task force police officers have now been trained to open locked cars, and prepare and tow vehicles, allowing snow plows to begin their work much faster.
An 8-year-old Porter County, Indiana jail had never fully opened due to staffing shortages. Thanks to cross-trained court employees the jail is preparing to open. Funding was provided so that the county Sheriff’s Department could cross-train court security to perform jail duties. The six-week cross-training program, which includes a small salary raise for court security officers, seeks to alleviate the overtime burden on jail employees at times when the court is closed or overstaffed.