Social Security Widens Employee Sexual Harassment Education to Intranet

Social Security Widens Employee Sexual Harassment Education to Intranet

By Calli Schmidt, Contributing Writer

A new program that offers employees at the Social Security Administration sexual harassment training via the agency's intranet marks the first time the agency has offered its workers online professional development training in human resources.

The initiative also is the first sexual harassment training program to be developed specifically for the World Wide Web, according to Mike Venuti, vice president of government sales for Enterprise Training Solutions, Ardsley, N.Y. The company is a distributor of interactive technology-based instruction for information technology and business skills, and was awarded the contract from Social Security.

"There's no one else out there doing this," said Venuti. "This is the first course to be built from the ground up that's Web-based."

The training program is one of 125 professional development programs the company markets on topics including customer service, project management, communication and interpersonal skills, he said.

The program includes "simulations, role plays, clear examples to demonstrate what sexual harassment is" and what to do about it, he said. The training program will cost Social Security about $22,000 annually ? only 34 cents per person for the agency's 65,000 employees, he said.

The federal agency now is getting ready to unveil the program for its employees, said Felicita Sola-Carter, director of Social Security's office of training. "We have done some preliminary testing to make sure that it works with our systems infrastructure, and it does," she said.

The training program provides a number of advantages, said Sola-Carter, including saving money for Social Security. The agency has conducted educational seminars in the past to help employees recognize and combat sexual harassment, but it has been "face-to-face training, which is much more costly," she said.

Another advantage is that the program can be customized. "You can go through a self-assessment [using the program] and then it is tailored to your individual needs [and] existing knowledge," Sola-Carter said.

An employee unfamiliar with sexual harassment issues might need to take every lesson, which could take up to four hours. But because the agency has conducted previous training, the online course should take the average employee about 90 minutes, she said.

Social Security bought the program after President Clinton's executive order in January 1999 directing federal agencies to use more technological resources to provide training for employees.

The IRS, Defense Logistics Agency and Army National Guard also have purchased Enterprise Training Solutions packages that include the sexual harassment series, Venuti said.

The company has been in existence three years and has five employees. About 70 percent of its $3 million in annual revenue comes from government clients, according to company spokesman Steve Fried.

Employees can access the intranet-based program when they have time, bookmark the spot where they left off, and return later to resume the training, which should take about three hours to complete for those lacking previous instruction.

The program came bundled with learning management software, which tells the Social Security administrator who took what courses, how well they did on the accompanying test, how much of the course they completed and how much time they spent online for the training, Venuti said.

Social Security also can use the "job aids" feature to point users to either a copy of the agency's official sexual harassment policy or to a contact person for a harassment complaint.

The company also works with clients who have purchased the software licenses to encourage employees to use the program with marketing tools, such as mass e-mails, promotional posters and reminders inserted into pay envelopes.

If intranet-based training proves to be as successful as the Social Security's months of testing indicate, the agency will look at similarly presented courses to offer its employees, Sola-Carter said.

"This is an area we're exploring, courses that would meet the needs of our employees in general competencies, such as communications and writing," Sola-Carter said. "But we're trying to buy as much off the shelf as possible."

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