Spring 1987 // Volume 25 // Number 1 // Forum // 1FRM1

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Human Resource Development: Key to Extension's Survival


Richard W. Clark
State 4-H Specialist and Assistant Professor
Department of Agricultural Education
Ohio State University-Columbus

Tight budgets, hiring freezes, and even layoffs are the reality for today's Extension Service. The question to be answered is: "How do we survive-much less flourish-in times of limited resources? " The solution may be found in a careful study of our human resources.

One of the basic principles taught to managers is that an organization functions most efficiently when there's an appropriate use of its physical, financial, and human resources) More and more organizations are realizing that their most important resources are human. This is especially true in an organization such as Extension, whose major thrust is education.

The effectiveness of the educational programs of Extension depends on the abilities of its professional and volunteer staff. Continued professional development must become a priority, if Extension is to remain a viable source of information for a changing world.

Extension must begin to develop strategies to optimize its human potential. One idea is to implement a human resource development (H RD) program. HRD is more than staff development-it's a program that has as its goal the optimum match between the needs of the organization and the human resources available. This match isn't only based on current needs, but also on future needs of the organization.

The success of an HRD program depends on the commitment of both staff and administration. Extension staff and volunteers must carefully examine their own professional development needs. This involves a close review of past educational training, previous work experiences, and present skills and abilities. We must also determine the future educational experiences necessary to obtain present and future career goals. Administration must make a commitment to help staff achieve both personal and organizational goals.

Components of an HRD Program

An HRD program should include the following major components: 1. Career Planning and Counseling. The focus of this activity is to help staff with their personal career planning. This involves the establishment of long-and short-term goals and then designing the educational plan necessary to accomplish these goals. Ideally, this would involve a computer data base that would maintain records of the training, education, or development needs of the individual and match individual needs with educational opportunities. 2. Training. These activities focus on the improvement of the actual job performance of both staff and volunteers. Training should be offered so it will be immediately used on the job and primarily in the form of in-service training. 3. Education. The organization should provide an opportunity for employees to take advantage of formal educational offerings at institutions of higher education. These opportunities should be provided to individuals needing large amounts of new knowledge to be able to function in their present position or to become prepared to assume the responsibilities of another position within the organization. This allows the organization to plan for future promotions and for employees to plan for their career advancement. 4. Development. Developmental activities focus on the organization. All organizations must change and grow to remain viable. Extension must provide learning experiences that allow staff to move in new directions required by organizational change. Extension must remain visionary. Equipping staff to meet the needs of a changing world is essential for Extension to be a leader in education, not a follower. 5. Quality of Work Life. Studies have shown that employees are more satisfied, have less turnover, and are generally more productive when they feel that their employer is concerned about them as individuals. A recent study in Pennsylvania related to the balance of work and family supported this concept.2


The implementation of an HRD program has many benefits for both staff and the organization. Some of these include increased productivity, internal mobility of the work force, employee satisfaction, increased quality of work life, and a better match between the human resources and the needs of the organization.

Extension is operating in an ever-changing environment. Educational issues change constantly and new technologies appear every day. If Extension's to survive as an organization, it must be able to keep up with these changes. An HRD program would help.


1. L. Nadler, Corporate Human Resources Development (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1980).

2. Tena St. Pierre, The Relationship Between Work and Family Life of County Extension Agents in Pennsylvania (Ph.D. dissertation, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, 1984).