The City of Lakeland, FL's City University

Covering over 74 square miles and serving a population of over 100,000 people, the City of Lakeland’s workforce of roughly 2,700 employees provides an exceptional quality of life for our residents and visitors. But like most progressive organizations of our size the City of Lakeland has undergone significant change over the past 15 years.

ARTICLE | Jan 7, 2015

As our workforce evolves to meet the needs of our community it continues to age causing larger numbers of seasoned, valuable employees to inch closer towards retirement, creating a wider knowledge gap within our workforce. Currently, 34% or 669 of the City’s employees are eligible for retirement, with another 17% eligible to retire within the next 5 years. Many of these employees are experienced managers and supervisors with vast amounts of institutional knowledge. As a way to combat the enormous loss of knowledge and experience the City began in 2004 to implement programs to focus on developing the next generation of leaders through formal succession planning programs, which became known as City University.

City University

City University was established in 2004 as a formal training program to provide a structure for the City’s Employee Engagement and Development Division within the Human Resources Department to focus on career development and succession planning and to address the looming retirement cliff. The original format of City University was targeted at providing city departments a means to develop future supervisors and managers on a voluntary, as-needed basis. City University consisted of various “levels” (Foundation, Front-line supervisor, Mid-level manager, Division Manager) that an employee could complete as they advanced through the supervisory ranks of the organization, each level being comprised of courses teaching the core knowledge and skills necessary to be successful at that supervisory level.  To date over 1,007 courses have been taught and 886 certificates have been earned for completing various levels of City University.

In 2013, nearing the 10 year anniversary of City University, the Employee Engagement and Development Division conducted a Training Needs Analysis of City University. The program had never been evaluated and feedback indicated that it no longer was meeting the needs of the organization. The Training Needs Analysis was focused on empirically identifying the critical competency gaps between what skills and abilities supervisors expected out of their employees and what they determined their employees were actually receiving through City University. The gaps that were identified showed that the needed competencies were not solely supervisory in nature but rather knowledge and skills specific to an employee’s job family (clerical, laborer, professional, technical, etc.), and each job family required different competencies for success. Thus the process to revamp City University had begun and the timing couldn’t have been better.

At the same time the Training Needs Analysis was being conducted, the City of Lakeland was faced with some very challenging times. In the spring of 2013 the City came under intense media and community scrutiny when a sexual scandal was uncovered involving a number of City employees. The resulting fall out not only involved the resignation or termination of more than a dozen employees but the degradation of trust the community had in our workforce.  As employees, our integrity as public servants and commitment to the community were being questioned and it became very clear that there were concerns that our workforce was not connected to our vision, mission, and values. As an organization, we had a tremendous opportunity, and an obligation, to focus our efforts on realigning the culture of our workforce with our organizational vision, mission, and values and to reestablish for the entire organization “Who we are”, “Why we exist”, and “What we are here to achieve”.

City University Reborn

Following the events of 2013, the Employee Engagement and Development Division, in partnership with the Office of the City Manager, began to evaluate training opportunities to strategically realign our workforce with our vision, mission, and values. It became apparent through our evaluation that we would be most successful in in these efforts if we focused on what we termed the “life cycle” of an employee. An employee’s life cycle encompasses all of the stages an employee experiences from hire to retire. So often organizations only formally engage their employees when they are hired and when they exit the organization, leaving them to independently develop their own organizational values and beliefs during their employment tenure, which leads to a splintered organizational culture and values structure. Instead, we determined that the successful establishment of an organizational culture rooted in our vision, mission, and values required frequent and consistent engagement throughout an employee’s career with the City.

By focusing on the life cycle of an employee, we have identified key career stages (new hire, first year, career progression, supervisory role) that can serve as opportunities to formally engage an employee to reinforce organizational expectations and values.  For each stage we developed training, interactive, and networking activities designed to reinforce the vision, mission, and values and to impart knowledge and skills that are appropriate for the employee’s role within the organization.  These training programs include onboarding, foundational public service training, specialized career track professional development, and supervisory training which all will now be successive components of the umbrella City University program. 


First impressions mean everything! We recognized early on that we didn’t just choose a new employee but they chose us too. It is critical that as an organization we set expectations early on and provide new employees with the resources they need to be successful. In order to educate new employees on what it means to be a City of Lakeland employee and to demonstrate to them that they are a valued member of our team we needed to develop an engagement program that would assimilate and immerse new employees into the organizational environment and culture quickly and effectively. Once an employee is hired they are mailed organizational materials with information on organizational values, ethics and standards, benefits and training and are contacted by a member of Employee Engagement and Development team welcoming them to the City. Their first day with the City begins with a group welcome breakfast with the City Management team and the employee’s respective department director to discuss goals, values, and expectations. From there, they progress through training on the City’s structure, ethics and public service, employee benefits, and the day ends with a bus tour to familiarize the employee with the City and the community. The goal of this program is to provide a welcoming, meaningful, and exciting experience for the employee to learn what they signed up for.

Foundational Public Service Training

Following the onboarding process, the employee must complete six mandatory classes within their first 90 days of employment. These classes consist of the three legally required topics regarding unlawful employee harassment, workplace violence, and diversity. In addition, the other three classes cover ethics in public service, customer service, and professionalism, aimed at developing employees into ambassadors for the City of Lakeland. Employees are required to retake these courses every five years.

Career Track Professional Development

As a result of the Training Needs Analysis, training was developed to focus on specific job families including clerical, laborer, technical, trades, and professional. Understanding that a “one size fits all” approach to professional development doesn’t work for all types of employees, we developed training that addresses the specific needs of various job classifications. An example being that a Solid Waste employee doesn’t necessarily need to be taught presentation skills but time management and conflict management are critical for front line workers in their daily activities. This approach ensures that each employee receives the specific knowledge and skills necessary for them to be successful in the job they have.

Leadership and Supervisory Training

An area of critical need is the development and training of our supervisors. With almost 400 employees in supervisory roles we have experienced inconsistency with how supervisors oversee their work groups, coached employees, and handled discipline. It became evident that we need to set the standard for what it means to be a City of Lakeland supervisor. By identifying the core competencies needed to be a successful supervisor, a program is being developed to provide employees with knowledge of leadership principles, ethics, employment and labor law and practices, budgeting, and process improvement. It is our intention that through this development program we can establish consistent, effective supervisory practices that cultivate an environment in which our workforce can thrive. Supervisors are required to retake these courses every five years.

It is our goal that the compilation of these four training programs through City University will foster employee enthusiasm for our organization and establish a deep personal commitment to the City’s vision, mission, and values. The alignment of our workforce to the organizational goals, values, and expectations can only be achieved through an investment in programs that cultivate an understanding and respect for ethical public service and a commitment to excellence. If as an organization we are able to achieve this goal we will no longer have just a workforce of employees, but rather an army of City ambassadors committed to providing the highest quality of service possible to our community, which at the end of the day is the reason for our existence. 

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