USA Federal Significantly Expanding Training Efforts

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In late 2001, the managers at USA Federal Credit Union took a look at its 250 employees spread across 23 far-flung branches in the United States, Japan, Korea and Guam, and concluded they needed some assistance to be able to better serve its members.

"We were an underdeveloped staff," said Mary Cunningham, USAFCU's president and CEO since September 2001. "There was an old-time, militaristic, top-down approach to leadership. One of the first orders I gave was a renewed emphasis on training."

USAFCU, founded at the Naval Training Center here in 1953, is a $500-million credit union whose 55,000 members include military personnel and civilians, as well as select employee groups.

After logging 2,000 hourss in training during 2001, that figure jumped to 10,000 hours in 2002.

Those hours also reflect an increase in training dollars by the credit union. Cunningham said USA FCU spent approximately $3,900 on training in 2001. Last year that figure rose to $45,000.

Cunningham also serves as chairman of the Credit Union Executives Society (CUES) and is quite familiar with its Internet-based training program "CUES Online University."

Because USAFCU has international branches separated by the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, having its employees get the majority of their training at their individual computers made much more sense than gathering them at a conference, or having trainers make international flights.

With online training, Cunningham said, employees could arrange their own schedules in conjunction with their supervisors.

Not all instruction took place via the Internet -the credit union also offered in-house training by supervisors and sent employees to outside seminars.

Mary Ann Pearce, USAFCU's staff development trainer, developed a certification plan for every employee that was specific to his or her department. She also directed the staff to look beyond the perceived confines of a job title.

"We wanted to become a learning organization," Pearce said. "We wanted people to undergo continuous learning, not just in their department.

Instead of a person in accounting assuming he or she does not need to concern himself or herself with the workings of, for example, the IT department, that person should learn the workings of the entire organization.

"This makes us more holistic," said Pearce.

Improvement Seen

Both Cunningham and Pearce believe the increased training is having a positive effect on the CU's staff, reporting that employees are demonstrating better business writing skills, handling member complaints more efficiently, showing leadership skills and conducting interviews better.

Cunningham said the biggest difference she has seen is employees are asking more questions and are acting with more self-assurance.

"Confidence is critical to success," she declared. "Plus, the training makes them feel like we care about them, because we are investing for them to grow."

Said Pearce: "As more and more employees become certified, there will be a dramatic increase in the number of accounts existing members have with us, we will have more members and more community involvement."

There is no specific hourly goal for training in 2003, but Pearce said the credit union is working hard to "wow" its employees and members.

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