ID

ALCE-278NP

Authors as Published

Authored by Karen A. Vines, Assistant Professor and Extension Continuing Professional Education Specialist, Agricultural, Leadership, & Community Education, Virginia Tech; Lonnie Johnson, Associate Director for Field Operations and Administration, Virginia Cooperative Extension; Hannah Bishop, Dinwiddie Cooperative Extension Agent, Virginia Cooperative Extension; Morgan Paulette, Pulaski Cooperative Extension Agent, Virginia Cooperative Extension; Jocelyn Pearson, Chesapeake Cooperative Extension Agent, Virginia Cooperative Extension; Janet Spencer, Southeast District Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension; and John Thompson, Northern District Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension

Introduction and Background

Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) gathered input in 2020 to develop an Organizational Effectiveness Plan (VCE, 2021). Item 2.5.2 is to “develop on-boarding and training programs using appropriate pedagogy, to ensure new employees understand their job expectations and are supported through their transition to their new careers (VCE, 2021, p. 3).” As part of this process two committees were developed within VCE and one of the preliminary activities was to conduct a census survey of the organization. This report contains the findings from that survey and is intended to serve as a resource in the development of on-boarding and training programs in VCE.

Methods

Two committees were developed to assist with developing the onboarding process. The first was a short-term committee which was intended to make immediate revisions to the onboarding process for agents being hired post-COVID. The second committee was the long-term committee which was charged with the development of a new onboarding process for the organization. An academic and administrative co-chair were appointed to oversee the work of both committees. Committees were appointed by the VCE Extension Director at Virginia Tech and the Extension Administrator at Virginia State University. Membership of the short-term committee consisted of three Extension agents and two District Directors from VCE. In order to consider how to work towards 1.2 in the Organizational Effectiveness plan, which emphasizes strengthening agent/specialist relationships, and providing Extension orientation across the Virginia 1862 and 1890 Land Grant organizations, makeup of the long- term committee also included specialists and administrators from Virginia Tech and Virginia State University (VCE, 2021. p. 2).

One the immediate recommendations of the short-term onboarding committee was to conduct a survey of VCE to identify onboarding needs. The committee developed a draft survey, which was then reviewed and revised by the long-term committee. The committee co-chairs made final revisions and developed the survey in Qualtrics©. They issued the survey using the organizational listserv as an open link on September 20, 2021. Responses were requested by October 4. A reminder sent on September 27 also encouraged recipients to share the survey with other members of the organization who may not have received the initial invitation.

Survey results were downloaded into an Excel© spreadsheet on October 5. The academic co-chair summarized the quantitative data and demographics for the survey, as well as the final open-ended question. Members of the research team each selected a qualitative question to categorize and summarize. Findings reported here are a result of their work.

Findings

Survey demographics

A total of 130 usable survey responses were received. The number of people on the listserv when the initial email was sent on September 20 was 464. The listserv was updated and had 462 members when the reminder email was sent. The listserv was updated again on September 30 so there were 458 members at the end of data collection. This number is used relevant to the sample population since it probably reflects greater accuracy in the listserv. Over this timeframe, the response rate is approximately 28%.

Responses came primarily from Extension agents, although there were also responses from specialists and program associates (Figure 1). Other respondents included Extension Associates, a 4-H Center Director, Program Managers, CALS IT specialist, AREC Director, a 4-H Center Program Director, a Health Educator, VT College administration, and project coordinators.

Pie chart demonstrates that 76% of the respondents were agents, 10% were specialists, 2% were program assistants, 10% were other, and 2% did not indicated their role.
Figure 1. Percentage participants by each role (n=130)

Respondents were asked to identify all of the program areas in which they worked. When multiple responses were provided, each program area received equal credit for that individual. The primary program areas identified by respondents were Agriculture/Natural Resources followed by 4-H/Youth Development (Figure 2). Other program areas identified by the respondents were community viability, food safety, farm to school, food science, food systems, and youth safety.

Figure 2 indicates that 36% of the respondents were in the program area agriculture/Natural Resources, 30$ 4-H/Youth Development, 14% Family & Consumer Sciences, 4% Health, 7% Horticulture, 5% SNAP-Ed, and 4% Other.
Figure 2. Percentage of respondents identified by Program Area

Time spent in an Extension career ranged from 2 months to 35 years. Average years reported in Extension was 10.99 while the median was 9. Four groupings were made by years in Extension at less than 3 years, 3 to 7 years, 7 to 15 years and greater than 15 years experiences. The 7-15 years group had the greatest responses at 38%, followed by greater than 15 years at 34%, 3 to 7 years at 29%, and finally the less than 3 years at 28%. Respondents were provided by the definitions of career stages in Cooperative Extension as developed by Rennekamp and Nall (1994). These include early or entry level, colleague, counselor, and advisor. Responses were 18% Early or Entry Level, 42% Colleague, 31% Counselor, and 9% Advisor. A comparison of years of service and career stages is provided in Figure 3.

Number of respondents grouped by career stage within years of service categories.
Figure 3. Number of respondents grouped by career stage within years of service categories.

Of the respondents, 85% had only worked in Virginia, while 13% had worked in one additional state and 2% had worked in 2 or more states.

What do you wish you had known during the first 1-2 years of your VCE career? 

There were 118 responses to this question. They are summarized below. 

Overall Understanding of the Organization and How it works (26) - Many responses stated that they did not have a good understanding of how Extension worked from the local level to the universities. Comments were made about the difference from locality to locality as well as state to state. Others understood that it is a complex system that is not easy to explain, but felt that it is necessary to go through some of the processes. 

Better Understanding/Explanation of the Programming Process (19) - Responses indicated that there is a need for more training on the overall programming process. This includes from the needs assessment to program evaluation and understanding the difference between little “p” and big “P” programs. 

Didn’t Need Extra Guidance than what was offered (14) - Respondents felt that they received adequate information when they began. A few equated their experience with working with extension in another capacity such as a volunteer or program assistant. One respondent mentioned being a part of the 3 month “Extension Professional Development Institute” and then shadowing another agent before getting to work in his/her locality.

Collaborating within Extension (14) - Respondents wished they had more opportunities to collaborate with other extension professionals. Many mentioned that their lack of understanding of the overall structure and knowing who played what role prevented them from opening up those opportunities. More opportunities to network within extension was mentioned as a way to combat this.

Guided Structure/Timeline or Checklist (10) - Respondents identified a need for more structure. Having a document with a timeline of important events and deadlines was named as a component needed in early extension careers. A checklist of items for agents was also mentioned as a helpful option.

Work/Life Balance (7) - In the early career stage of professionals, balancing work and life was a critical need. One mentioned how not having any children made them feel that he/she should be taking more of a workload. Others expressed the feeling of having so much thrown at them and being overwhelmed. Some mentioned feeling like he/she had to do it all without adequate help or support.

Reporting Process (7) - Respondents identified knowing how to navigate the reporting process as a need in the early stages of their career. One expressed that the reporting process and agent review was daunting.

Engaging with Community (7) - Respondents needed additional support in understanding how to engage within their own communities, including stakeholders, local government, and potential donors.

Needed Guidance on Everything/Received Zero Guidance (7) - Respondents felt they needed more guidance on all aspects of their job or received no guidance when they started. At least 2 of these respondents indicated beginning their career during the pandemic.

Financial Details/Administrative (6) - Respondents shared that a better understanding of the financial and administrative processes would be beneficial. Understanding what resources are available, how to properly identify and spend funding, and how to create a local budget were included in this category.

Specific Program Topic (5) - Respondents mentioned a very specific program that they needed extra training in. These included pesticide safety, risk management, and 4-H camping.

Additional responses were: What Program Teams are or do (4), Volunteer training and recruitment (3), The importance of Professional Organizations (2), the need for central location of information or intranet (2), grant writing (1), retirement package (1), and diversity and Inclusion (1).

Who did you go to for help during your first 1-2 years of your career?

A majority of respondents felt comfortable going to other agents for help, in and out of their program area. Many also mentioned working with their mentoring agent in both formal and informal capacities. Equally represented by 6 respondents, District Directors and Specialists also served as support personnel when early career professionals needed more guidance. Unit Coordinators, Unit Administrative Assistants, and Associate Directors also were mentioned as supportive staff.

What do you feel you need to know now for your current position?

There was a total of 77 responses to this question. They are summarized here. Some responses contained comments that fit in multiple categories.

Program Knowledge (16) - I would like a complete SOP; innovative programming methods; More hands-on training on 4H Online; Disease identification, soil sample recommendations, organic controls for pests, economics for farm businesses; effective animal programming; To be considered a credible resource, an agent needs to know subject matter related to the clients they serve in their localities. You are never going to be an expert i(n everything?); basics on all aspects of crop production, marketing, appreciation for global food system; How to remain relevant in an ever-changing world and virtual world.

Personnel Management (both as a supervisor, and as an employee) (15) - Young agents need training in professional writing, conduct, dress, and speech. I need expectations clearly communicated, especially if leadership or performance standards have changed; How are performance expectations changing due to the pandemic. It seems as if we are being evaluated using the same standards when everything about our work has changed; No one stays long enough these days to get to the point where I am in my career, and I think that's because we don't have good support systems. We need to set new agents up for success right away; Any opportunities for advancement after promotion; How to continue to grow in Extension and best ways to push myself in the right direction; I wish there was 360 reviews in Extension. Anyone can review me and I can then review anyone else. I feel I need to know what I can do better!; Most of what I struggle with is dealing with county HR as our part time staff are county positions; Faculty reporting, what is administration looking for?; Human resources related issues.

Extension in General (14) - Organizational chart, organizational mission, vision, SWOT, how my role fits into the mission of the VCE system. How VCE is part of a national group of Extension programs. What 1890 and 1862 Land Grants are; Clear concise message from state VCE leadership on who we are and what we do that resonates with employees, the universities, public, and county/state elected officials. Identify 3-5 key/major state-wide needs that are stated as our programming priorities; Specific societal issues and what universities can do to help solve them at the local level; How to be a change agent that brings meaningful, innovated and equitable impact to my community (state) but work clearly rooted in the cooperative extension tradition; A lot of agency rules and policies. Who is who in terms of trying to get things done; Having only been here for 2.5 years, I'm still learning how VCE is organized and who the best contacts are for certain questions; At this point and in my current role as an AREC Director, I think one of the most useful bits of information is a continually updated database of VCE ANR agents with interest/specialty areas to help make connections among VCE agents;

Balancing Life (13) - That I do not need to know everything, that my program can look different, not to be bullied by others and protect myself; When and how to say no, not to get overwhelmed; I find a lot of agents lack the ability to be motivated enough to become overwhelmed so may not be an issue; I like to be involved and like to stay busy, but there comes a time where you need to say no and we need to validate that it's acceptable to say no within the career; How to do as much easier as I age; Remembering not to try to try to be all things to all people; How to keep the energy going; COVID put a damper on things, and its slow to regain footing in the community; a sense of less than desirable productivity can be a downer; time management and prevention of employee burnout; how to have a better work/life balance

Networking (5) - VCE specialist and agents position should align so that issues and issue support through research is available to meet public needs not university needs; I need to know how to better partner and collaborate with Extension professionals in the field (e.g., agents); Government relations--how to promote a local Extension program's value to funders and stakeholders, how to defend a program against a budget cut; I am an Extension Specialist directing a major Extension programming but still am learning what other programming is being done to determine how programs could collaboratively work together. Would like to see a complete catalog of offerings; The growers, the partner agency, the community, the neighboring agents, the basics of political environment, the VCE specialists that are worth the effort to contact; People skills are just as important if not more so than subject knowledge.

Technology (3) - Use of technology and marketing have changed; I need to know how to keep up with technology and the new generation of Extension employees who work from their bedroom and out of the public eye hiding behind a computer screen. The days of hands on demonstration and relationships built have been reduced; how to keep up with learning new technology

Money Management (2) - I took on a new role a few years ago. We operate from multiple funds, understanding what those are and when/how to use them would be great. I'd also like to be able to bring more funds in for our program to help move forward with some bigger projects. What I most need now is training on fiscal management in the office. I recently became unit coordinator, and I need training on that. It would also be helpful to have training on how to interact with county governments.

Leadership and Personnel Management (1) - The skills I need now are quite different and more along the lines of managing up, organizational understanding and leadership;

Risk Management (1) - Refreshers on risk management.

Training needs for early career or professionals with less than 3 years of service

Respondents were asked to check all current training needs from a list of possible topics. The top responses for all, those with less than three years of experience and early or entry level professionals are depicted in Table 1.

Table 1. Rankings within the top ten of items across three groups of respondents.

Topic Less than 3 years of experience  Early or entry level All Responses 
Grant Writing 1-2 4
Program Evaluation  1-2 2
Fundraising 3-4 6-8 8-9
Marketing  3-4 12-14 2
Budget & Fiscal Management  5 3-5
Performance Evaluation Reporting 6-7 3-5 6-7
Policy Development  6-7 6-8 12-13
Communicating with Elected Officials 8-13 3-5 6-7
Subject Matter Content  8-13 6-8 14
Educational Design  8-13 9-11 8-9
Leadership 8-13 9-11 11 
Inclusion & Equity 8-13 12-14 12-13
Solving Issues Across Disciplines  8-13 12-14 15-16
Collaboration 14-15 9-11 17 
Work-Life Integration or Balance 14-15 15-17 10 
Current Technology 16-17 15-17
Time Management 16-17 15-17 15-16
Communication  Not Selected 18  18
Professionalism  Not Selected Not Selected  19

Other topics suggested by respondents were volunteer management, messaging about who we are and what we do, how to deal with employee issues, emergency preparedness, and serving on boards including the Soil and Water Conservation Board.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your current position?

There were 102 responses to this question. The responses were categorized and are summarized here.

Time/Work-Life Balance (20) - This was identified most frequently among survey respondents. Responses within this category focused on how much time it takes to conduct extension programs and lack of time to adequately address the needs within Virginia communities. Work-life balance was also mentioned several times in the comments, with one respondent indicating how overwhelmed they feel by extension and home demands. A common theme among responses was simply “not enough time”.

Keeping Extension/Programs Relevant (10) - Survey respondents included that they struggle to find topics/programs that spark interest among clientele and to remain innovative within the programs they offer. It was also commented that organizationally, we need to make extension relevant.

Program Development/Evaluation (10) - Respondents indicated that it is sometimes difficult to develop programs to address needs and feel the current model for program teams is not functioning properly to assist with these needs. Employees also commented that they sometimes struggle with program evaluation and writing impacting statements. Additional comments within this category focused on very specific programming challenges, such as animal science or natural resources.

Communication (7) - Comments here focused on communication challenges with administration and leadership within the organization. Comments indicate that information is not provided to employees in a timely manner. Respondents also stated that they sometimes struggle with knowing how to communicate with local governments. One respondent indicated challenges with knowing which state specialist to contact for various needs.

Leadership/Administration (7) - Results that are included in this category but cannot be fully defined, as most responses did not contain qualifying information as to why this is a challenge. It was simply stated as “administration is the biggest challenge” or “pleasing an administration that has shifted in their mission”.

Position vacancies (6) - Respondents commented that low staffing numbers affect their time and programs. Supporting unit and district vacancies take time away from their primary responsibilities.

Budgets (6) - Employees commented that “money” to support offices and programs is a big challenge. Concerns with local budgets were also mentioned.

Balancing needs with priorities (state vs. local) (5) - Employees have challenges with balancing local programs/responsibilities with state-level requirements, such as programs teams and other committees. It was mentioned that it is a challenge to know how to prioritize a local need against a state-level request.

COVID Restrictions/policies/guidelines (6) - Responses in this category specifically mentioned concerns with COVID, which spanned across programming to meet guidelines, university policy, and challenges with conducting programs and recovering our audiences after COVID.

Policy concerns/campus department issues (5) - Responses in this category focused on challenges with conducting programs within VT/VCE policy, as well as learning the policies as a new employee or AREC director. Specific department challenges mentioned are Procurement/HR/IT.

Volunteers (3) - Challenges mentioned from the survey include general volunteer management, such as recruitment and retainment of volunteers. 

Learn Locality/Local Concerns (5) - Challenges in this category included learning the locality (especially after such a long vacancy before their hire) and prioritizing the identified local needs. Comments also included specific challenges within local government, such as inadequate/run-down space and county equipment/furniture that is broken or faulty.

Accountability (2) - Employees shared comments with regards to “dealing with employees who are not doing their jobs” and “seeing younger agents with no work ethic destroy good programs”

Marketing (2) - This was expressed as general marketing challenges for local programs, as well as development of marketing materials for Spanish-speaking audiences.

Other (4) - Challenges within this category didn’t necessarily fit with any of the previously mentioned categories and not all could be identified as “challenges”. Comments in this category include “finding peace with my programs while celebrating the success of my co-workers”, understanding expectations, and ‘I don’t have real challenges”. 

What training has been most beneficial to you in your career?

Subject specific - Pesticide workshops, Strengthening your facilitation skills, Specialist led Master Camp director training, Master Financial Education Volunteer training, Abiotic biotic training, Row crop training, True colors, Emotional Intelligence training, Negotiations training, Human Resources training, Faculty Leadership Development program, Inservice training and winter conference, 4-H New Extension Agent Training, Graduate school research, Education, Military Experience, Program Area Updates

Competency-related - Diversity and Inclusion training, Leadership training (i.e. VALOR, Virginia Natural Resources Leadership Institute, LEAD-21, Wyoming LEAD, District Program Leadership Training), Evaluation (i.e. Multi Day evaluation program in North Carolina), Logic model

Organizational-skills training - Impact assessment training, Promotion training, Risk management, Technology training, Elements training, Proposal Development Institute, Learning Management System Development, Working with stakeholders to secure funding, workload analysis 

Conferences - National Urban Extension Conference, National Volunteer Conference, Mid Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Conference, JCEP conference,

Outside VCE trainings - Suicide prevention, Substance abuse, Angela Huebner youth development program

Informal training – On the job training, Communication with fellow agents to hear their productive moments and how they overcame obstacles, Group meetings with center directors, One on one mentoring sessions, Networking time with SWCD staff, Meeting specialists, Touring campuses, serving on State Master Gardener college planning team, spending first 3 months on the job in neighboring unit

What were the characteristics of your most beneficial training that you feel made it most beneficial?

The following characteristics were identified in order of most mentioned to least mentioned:

Focused/topical -: Respondents liked trainings that were specific to their field or expertise, such as ANR, FCS, 4-H, or Community Viability. Specific topics mentioned that apply across disciplines were leadership, building relationships, customer service, evaluation, and facilitating meetings effectively. Respondents also placed emphasis on these focused trainings being run efficiently and being in-depth. 

Collaborative/networking - Agents appreciated opportunities to meet their peers and specialists and have time to build those relationships and broaden their networks. These opportunities enable agents to ask questions and seek feedback and advice from those working in the same field or on similar issues. Young agents learning from veteran agents was also a common theme here.

Applied/practical - Respondents valued information that could be taken back and applied to their programs and that was directly useful for their clientele. Tools that could be put into practice immediately was a common theme.

Relevant - Timely information that related to the respondent’s field or area of expertise. Real world examples and scenarios were helpful. Time to answer individual questions about real and current issues is important. Trainings that were relevant often seem to be hands-on as well.

Interactive/participatory - The importance of face-to-face interaction was discussed as well as training formats that encouraged engagement and participation from the audience, not merely sitting still and listening. Some mentioned that these trainings allow time for informal conversation and peer-to-peer learning. Some felt that information shared in this format is more easily retained as compared with virtual formats. 

Hands-on/experiential - Learn by doing. Being able to practice what’s being learned. Some similarities here with applied/practical theme but differed in that the focus here is the actual method of instruction.

Foundational or applicable to all agents - Concepts that are not area specific and apply to all faculty. Providing young agents with a starting point or foundation out of which they can grow. Learning how VCE is organized and operates. Understanding the big picture of VCE’s mission and how each of our jobs fits into that. Common topics were evaluation, group facilitation, communication, and educational methods.

Mentoring - Young agents being trained and coached by their peers. This has looked like spending three months with another agent in their home office. It has also looked more informally like meeting and building relationships with veteran agents and learning from their experiences and wisdom. The personal experience aspect is important.

Knowledgeable presenters - Specialists or others with knowledge and expertise on the topic, not agents who have “read up” on the topic. Speakers that are easy to follow and engaging are beneficial too. 

Handouts/training materials - Help reinforce the material, enable quick turnaround on program implementation, and allow for further study.

What are characteristics of training that you have found less beneficial?

Methods of delivering the training material - The method and style of delivery was the most frequent less beneficial characteristic identified. Employees do not enjoy long boring PowerPoint presentations. Other characteristics of the training that were least beneficial were: lecture style presentations, recorded presentations, speakers who are not engaged with the material, no personal interactions, static presentations.

Content Relevance - This was the second most frequently less beneficial characteristic of training programs. This was indicated from topics that were too general all the way to topics where there was too much detail to absorb. Additional comments were: too administrative, not relatable to my job duties, lack of depth, cramming in too much, overwhelming, outside of my job duties and no direct application.

Timing of Training - Multiple respondents indicated that training occurred years after their initial hire and that by the time that they received the training it was no longer helpful to them at that stage of their career.

Who presents the training - A few respondents indicated that the training was not delivered by someone with field experience (ie. Agents) who could be more relatable to the new employees.

General Comments- These comments mentioned the ever-changing nature of our organization. In addition, a respondent mentioned the do not like fear based content or safe content defined by a few and designed to only benefit a few. Another respondent indicated that training is not beneficial if they cannot identify an immediate takeaway. Another person spoke about having office mates criticize a training they participated in which they found useful and was supported by their supervisor. Training that was scolding, not meeting you where you are, or not recognizing that there is no one universal solution to everything was also identified. Some lack of follow through from some specialists and “check the box” to say you did it-online trainings were also mentioned.

Other thoughts and recommendations.

At the end of the survey, respondents were asked to share additional thoughts and recommendations with the long-term VCE onboarding committee. The responses are grouped here.

Who should be involved in training? - Peers (agents), mentors (similar programs, demographics, but also outside program areas and demographic locations, Dr. Vines, experienced agents, DPLT, District Director, unit offices, local agents

What is the recommended modality for the training? - Fewer online trainings, use virtual training to its full capacity

What topics should be addressed in onboarding? - 4-H Camp and starting a new 4-H club, Reporting (elements, contacts, federal requirements, civil rights compliance, faculty reports, evaluation), VCE Resources (intranet, who to contact with specific questions, ordering nametags and shirts, VCE systems), Acronyms, Benefits (Retirement & Employee benefits), necessary certifications, promotion (timelines and processes), programming (needs assessment, program planning, program delivery, program evaluation, logic models, developing action plans), Differences/similarities across localities, program areas, VT & VSU, introduction to Cooperative Extension, mentor training, networking (other agents, in communities), professional associations, subject matter on top five statewide issues, identifying employee niche in communities, work-personal life integration/balance, university work culture (how decisions are made and why it takes so long to change)

Recommendations related to the onboarding committee - More than three agents need to be involved, and only employees with < 10 years’ experience should be considered to serve on the committee.

Recommendations related to continued interaction post initial training period - Continuing upkeep related to promotion or other stuff, “continual onboarding”, regular check-ins with new faculty to see what they need, long-term contact 

Recommended training methods - Shadowing programs, mentoring programs, helping agents accept responsibility for their own success, access to program materials (ideas, flyers, evaluations) conducted by other professionals, redo Canvas site with multiple teachers, improved flow and simplicity

Desired characteristics of onboarding - Shorter training sessions on current Program Development Institute (PDI) topics to increase retention, more discussion and conversation, interactive, case studies to help identify questions, checklist of tasks for various topics, within the first year of employment, experiential, relevant, answer the “so what” question for each of the trainings, provide a support system, encourage networking at all levels (with communities and other professionals in the organization), consider prior knowledge and experience (Extension, lived, etc.) and adjust training accordingly, use virtual training to full capacity and limit extended over nights, Avoid assignment and quizzing approaches that replicate high school education, provide mentors from multiple scenarios (similar and different demographics, program areas, populations, etc.), introduce to disciplinary teams sooner, provide specific training for grant-funded positions, space onboarding out over several months, more interconnected across the system, on campus and at the district level – also statewide.

Who should participate in VCE onboarding training? - Multiple program areas including SNAP-Ed, across the state interacting with colleagues, 4-H Centers, VT-VSU

Other training-related comments: 

  • Delay program theory and program team training until 3-5 years on the job

  • Develop succession planning (template) for agents and program coordinators to provide when they leave or retire

  • Grant writing – If agents are encouraged to apply for grants, they need support for writing and management of grants.

  • Training Status - Training that should be occurring across the state by District Program Leadership Teams (DPLT’s) and DDs is not consistent and happening across the state. 

  • The key to good onboarding is the support from the rest of us. As a seasoned Agent, I do my best to provide that support, encouragement, and coaching.

Organizational challenges -

  • Exit interviews – What is being learned from exit interviews? Turnover must be slowed. It kills our organization. Often agents stay only a few years in a role that takes 5+ years to learn the community, become known and valued, and to create impact.

  •  Leadership – VCE needs more effective leadership at multiple levels. VCE needs to look at and emulate effective systems.

Hiring – Most critical is being sure to hire the right person for the position. We have gone awayfrom seeking any local input of candidates. I hope this group/committee interacts with districtdirectors (DD’s) and department heads, or at least provides them feedback and vice versa onthese new hires in their first few years.

  • Agents need to be supported, encouraged, and treated equitably. The favoritism needs to stop.The agents that don’t accomplish anything need to be sternly encouraged to do more instead ofcoddled.

  • Challenges for early career agents – The first year is so overwhelming, these trainings are ofteneven more overwhelming, Keep the energy, find a balance. Encourage people to stick it out.This is a good place to work, with good people. Stop scaring folks away with harder thannecessary reporting,

  • The new intranet and new VCE resource websites dramatically hinder learning because half thelinks don’t work and you can’t easily find the content we need as agents.

  • SNAP-Ed -Consider how SNAP-Ed agent roles vary from FCS, ANR and 4H agent's roles andresponsibilities in relation to annual reporting, and how Professional association fees are notcovered for SNAP-Ed agents with 100% SNAP-Ed funding (we are not able to raise funds.)

  • Communication is lacking. In the field we have no idea about what state office does orspecialist. It feels like thing get rolled out to us without warning.

References

VCE Leadership Team. (2021). VCE Organizational Effectiveness Plan. [Report] https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CWZAOW2yTVnNNutT83HTCVZVBXykoXeA/view

Rennekamp, R., & Nall, M. (1994). Growing Through the Stages: A New Look at Professional Growth [Feature Article]. Journal of Extension, 32(1). https://archives.joe.org/joe/1994june/a2.php.


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Publication Date

December 21, 2021