UC Berkeley News


Back to school for campus managers
Continuing-education opportunities for staff charged with HR duties

| 03 August 2005

Complex issues like family medical leave challenge even the most experienced human-resources professionals, and those who work with "people issues" are continually faced with new or changing laws and regulations. Combine that with the need to administer multiple policies and union contracts, the contradictions between state and federal requirements, and the heavy workloads that most managers juggle, and the potential for burnout is high.

"Managers and staff on the campus respond every day to issues that affect the lives and work environment of the campus community," said Beth Luke, director of the Customer Central group in the Office of Human Resources. "It's essential that we help them remain current both in their profession and in the changing policies and contracts they administer."

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Human Resources David Moers sees human-resources management as a growing priority, as the administration recognizes the role of staff in supporting academic endeavors.

"The campus is taking staff issues seriously," said Moers. "Deans and directors have higher expectations of their administrative managers, and it's our job to support those managers with information and training. We want them not just to know the policies, but to be ready to participate in the strategic decisions their department leaders are making."

Although OHR has managed a network of department personnel managers for more than a decade, in 2004 Luke and her colleagues realized that monthly programs and an annual retreat were not meeting the need for professional development.

The result is a program of classroom, online, and lunchtime learning sessions launched last fall, designed to provide continuing education on the latest policies, practices, and principles. Classes offered by University Health Services; Environment, Health and Safety; the Title IX office; and the Staff Ombuds Office were added to the traditional human-resources topics to deliver a complete curriculum.

Many of the topics have been offered before, but the development team worked with managers and staff from campus to build a structured curriculum and determine which classes to offer first.

"The units that provide training have the content expertise and curriculum design experience, but we wanted our campus partners to tell us which issues were their highest priorities and which teaching models would work best for them," said Luke.

Alan DeHerrera, a campus training specialist who has managed the Supervisory Development Lab for several years and has been coordinating the curriculum project, says that listening to those who do the work in campus departments made a difference.

"The work these managers and staff do is really specialized," said DeHerrera. "We've included every level of staff so that we're covering each topic from their point of view. The team has packaged some very complex information so the participants can see how it all fits together, and we've used techniques like case studies that give them a chance to practice what they're learning."

"For some of our personnel managers, this is a refresher," said Luke. "They may have experience outside the campus but not be as familiar with our procedures or the Berkeley culture. Others may be new to their personnel role but experienced with the campus. The goal is to help them learn from each other, and to make sure that every person who is responsible for human resources on this campus has the highest possible level of professional training in this field."

An all-day session on fostering an effective workplace highlighted one advantage of bringing participants from the highly decentralized campus together. By sharing their own experience with the topics presented, the managers learned that they not only face similar problems but often have developed solutions that can work for someone else.

"One manager described her department's successful staff-recognition programs," said OHR's Ellie Schindelman, who led the session, "and several of the others were inspired to try the same ideas in their own units. When you combine the experience and wisdom of colleagues with the expertise of professionals in the field, you end up with a fabulous learning environment."

OHR is continuing to expand the curriculum offerings, with new sessions scheduled for the coming months. For more information, check the OHR website at hrweb.berkeley.edu/learning/HRC/content.htm.