Quality programs help achieve positive outcomes for young people. And having well-trained professionals working in—and leading—these programs is a crucial element of quality.
However, I must go a little bit further than talk about quality. I also feel an obligation to share some examples of great systems that support the development of professionals.
So when I recently came across this fantastic system, I knew I wanted to share it.
Right off the bat, this program states that it relies on smart, trained employees. It provides employees with 30 to 55 hours of entry-level training, both in-person and online. This training is backed up by one-on-one mentorship as part of on-the-job training. The minds behind the program even call this cumulative experience a "university."
Why is it important to them?
Because this employer wants all its customers to have the best cheese-buying experience possible.
Surprise! This professional development program is not an example from the afterschool field: It's the employee training and development system used by Wegmans, a regional grocery store chain with locations around the northeast.
Wegmans calls it "Cheese University." It also has similar training and development programs for its wine department, fish department, meat department and others.
What can we learn from a grocery store training and professional system?
First: "Investing in employees is more than a philosophy—it's a way to survive."
This is a direct quote from Wegmans' CEO. The grocery business is known for being highly competitive, with low profit margins. Wegmans is explicit in its rationale for making employee training and development a priority. The connection between employee preparation and employee training is directly related to customer experience goals—and customer experience goals are directly related to revenue goals.
Our experience in direct service programs is not entirely different in that regard. Yes, we are about service—but those of us in leadership know we need to keep the lights on and the cash flow flowing. When talking to funders and other investors, we need to be confident in explaining how professional development and training are critical to our sustainability and our growth.
Second: Wegmans knows what its employees need to know and has built a comprehensive system to support that knowledge building.
I have had people say to me—and I'll bet you have, too—that we don't really know what it takes to be a good afterschool or youth development staffer or leader. I think a lot of people in our field (and certainly outside our profession) believe that, when it comes to kids, "You either have it, or you don't."
I want to be clear: Positive relationships with youth are "magical," but they're not magic.
In 2011, NAA adopted a set of Core Knowledge and Competencies (CKCs) that clearly present the knowledge, skills and dispositions needed by afterschool professionals to provide high-quality youth development programming to support the learning and development of children and youth. The CKCs are organized into 10 content areas across five levels, from Entry Level to Mastery.
You can find the full set of CKCs and self-assessment tools at naaweb.org/resources/core-competencies. All these resources are free for you to download. We even have a link to a print-on-demand site if you want to order hard copies.
We also have some recommendations about how to use the CKCs to build the professionalism of our field. Among them are:
- Greater research on the importance of strengthening the workforce to impact program quality and youth outcomes
- Increasing political will and financing for enhancing and professionalizing the afterschool workforce. This means more public dollars for training and professional development, as well as incentives for programs that adopt and implement professional development improvement plans.
- Understanding the importance of equity and access to professional development. We are committed to addressing gaps in services for the kids—and we can't let those gaps extend to adults who need access to training and professional development.
- Creating systems to recruit, retain and advance the leadership of our field—which includes investing in leadership development and addressing persistent issues around compensation and staff turnover.
I'll conclude with my original statement: If we want to achieve positive outcomes for kids (our customers), we must invest in the adults who do this work. After all, don't we need the people who work with our most precious resource—our kids—to be as informed about their product as the people who sell our cheese?
Already using the NAA CKCs? Share your story by emailing email@example.com.
Written by Gina Warner, President and CEO of the National AfterSchool Association and frequent Wegmans shopper and cheese connoisseur.