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Networking with Other Training Officers for Ideas and Best Practices

After being involved with training organizations across the federal government and the military for six years as a sales consultant and business owner, one thing that has always struck me as odd is the general lack of networking among training officers. On a day-to-day basis, I deal with many extremely talented people who have experiences, ideas and best practices worth sharing with others in their profession, but I rarely find two people in the government training world who know each other.

A common battle cry from training officers is, "But we're so different from other agencies! No one is like us!". It's true, no two agencies are exactly alike, but there is much to be learned from the differences. In addition to the differences, training officers in government agencies face similar challenges and confront similar issues as one another. How can you, as a training officer or buyer, leverage the brainpower and wisdom of the thousands of other people just like you around the country?

One way is to join the Training Officers Conference (TOC, found on the web at www.trainingofficers.org), an organization that meets on the second Tuesday of each month at Ft. McNair in Washington, DC. They also have an annual conference each April. It's a good place to start if you want to learn how others have succeeded as training officers. But attending TOC's luncheons should be one of several ways to start the practice of powerful networking. Since the attendance is often lopsided in favor of vendors (which can be a turn-off for those seeking the counsel of other training officers), you should seek out additional networking opportunities.

One such networking community that we highly recommend is The Eden Group. Eden meets on the third Wednesday of each month at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, VA. Membership is exclusively for government training personnel, and the primary focus is on leadership development. Most meetings have a speaker, and every meeting is chock full of networking opportunities and ideas on how to run a better training organization. To learn more about The Eden Group, contact Steve Yank at stephen_j._yank@hud.gov.

Building a strong, wide network in your profession will save you time, energy and money - three things that we can all use more of. It can also result in meeting people who can help you with your career, a job change or a promotion. Here are three simple ways you can build a better network and make your job easier:

1) Ask your current vendors about their other clients. By inquiring about the other clients that your vendors serve, you can learn a ton. If you are embarking on a new initiative or program in which you lack experience, you can be sure your vendors know other government training officers who have successfully dealt with the challenges you're having. Your vendors will be happy to give you names, phone numbers and email addresses of other training officers that you should contact. When I do this, I always call the referred client and tell him or her that "so and so" will be calling to discuss how to handle the training challenge they're having. 99% of the time, the training officer with the knowledge and experience is more than happy to speak with a fellow comrade-in-arms. Benchmark Training is in contact with nearly 1,000 training officers on a regular basis, so if you ever need to talk to someone, we'll be happy to pass along some names and numbers of training officers who have "been there and done that".

2) Cold call training offices at other agencies. If you don't want to work through your pesky vendors, make some inquiries at some of the agencies known for the prowess of their training organizations. Some that come to mind are the Army, NASA, the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, the IRS, NIH, the Census Bureau and the Department of Transportation. Again, people are flattered to be asked for advice or to be probed for good ideas. They'll be more than willing to help if they have the answers to your questions. Nine times out of ten, if they don't have a good answer, they can put you on the trail to someone who does.

3) Attend industry events and bring stacks of business cards. The most informed training officers I've met attend as many industry events, seminars and conventions as possible. They seek out the good ideas and new products that these events highlight, but the really effective ones use some of their time networking with counterparts from other organizations who might have some good information for them. Popular and valuable events are those sponsored by the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD), the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), the International Association for Continuing Education and Training, and others. If you get the chance to attend any of these events, bring business cards!

As you can see, networking can be a great way to make your job easier, get more done in less time, meet new people and have fun in the process. It's a practice truly worth doing on a consistent basis.

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