When Montpelier City Manager William Fraser started working for local governments 37 years ago, most of the courses available to him concerned the nuts and bolts of running a town. There were no college courses on leadership competencies for government officials geared toward managing a public organization.
That was true in Vermont until this year, when the University of Vermont (UVM) Master of Public Administration (MPA) program and the Vermont Department of Human Resources (DHR) recently announced that UVM will now run the Vermont Certified Public Managers program (VCPM) and open it to town officials and nonprofit organizations. Under the new partnership, instructors from UVM’s MPA program will lead the VCPM course work, and participants will earn college credit.
“Looking back, I wish I had this program 20 years ago,” Fraser said. He has been Montpelier’s manager for 24 years.
Fair Haven Town Manager Joe Gunter agrees. “There is a dearth of qualified individuals in government, and these courses would go a long way to help that,” he said.
“By partnering with the state of Vermont to administer the VCPM program, the UVM Master of Public Administration program has a chance to extend the reach of our network and faculty under the mission of inspiring, equipping and elevating action-oriented public-service leaders across our region,” said Chris Koliba, professor in the Community Development and Applied Economics Department and director of UVM’s MPA program.
According to Kari Miner, state director of workforce development for the Vermont Department of Human Resources, the state will maintain ownership and oversight of the program, and UVM will run the program and instruct the classes.
“With UVM as a partner, participants have access to the standards, practices and faculty of UVM’s Masters in Public Administration program. We also have the capacity to present some of the training in a virtual format and, with it, the ability to reduce travel time and expenses for the participants, and graduates can earn college credit,” Miner said.
“We decided to open the program to municipal and nonprofit employees because we’ve received inquiries from those organizations to attend some of our leadership classes, and we were at a point of expanding the benefits of the VCPM program,” she said.
“We made the decision to open the program to municipal and nonprofit organizations so they, too, could reap the benefits. Additionally, we believe that allowing participants from municipalities and nonprofits will expand intergovernmental networks and communication and help build stronger relationships between state and municipal governments and nonprofit organizations,” Miner said.
Another reason the state opened enrollment is the changing times, according to UVM Professor Chris Koliba.
“Our workplaces have evolved over time. New technologies have transformed workflow and task coordination. Workplace inclusion and diversity considerations have become ever more important. New approaches to leading and managing organizations have emerged, such as systems analysis, in which workers obtain a deeper understanding of the relationship between organizational structures and functions. New performance-management systems, approaches to improving workplace efficiencies all need consistent and updated attention,” Koliba said.
So far three town employees and one official from VLCT have registered for the June course. In future years, at least 10 of the 35 slots could go to town officials, according to Miner.
The program, which is accredited by the National Certified Public Manager Consortium, had been run by the state exclusively for state employees since 1980. Graduates are eligible to join the American Academy of Certified Public Managers. Topics of study include: Emotional Intelligence, Diversity and Cultural Competence, Guiding People and Systems through Change, Ethics, Consulting Skills to Solve Government Challenges, and Utilizing LEAN/Continuous Improvement Strategies.
“Graduates of VCPM will provide state and local governments and nonprofits with a pipeline of leaders that have undergone a rigorous program of study,” said Beth Fastiggi, commissioner of the Department of Human Resources, which will continue to maintain oversight and ownership of the program.
The main goal of the program, according to Amy Kelsey, research specialist at the Center for Rural Studies at UVM, is to improve the performance of public-sector managers.
“We expect that graduates of the program will make an important contribution to the overall effectiveness of state and municipal governments and nonprofit organizations. Ancillary benefits include positioning the State of Vermont as an employer of choice in a tight labor market, building stronger relationships between state and municipal governments and nonprofit organizations,” she said
Maura Carroll, executive director for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, supports the program. “There is always a need for continuing education, no matter what role an individual may hold. VLCT is interested in our members having access to a range of training opportunities that are conducted by institutions and organizations throughout the state as well as our own training programs,” she said.
The program takes place over two years, with 1-3 day seminars occurring every 1-2 months. Students have coursework and assignments to complete between seminars, and are eligible for up to six college credits (equivalent to two full semester courses at UVM). One-third of the course work will be done at UVM in Burlington, one-third at the state offices in Montpelier, and one-third online.