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Individual Learning Accounts: Making the Most of What You Have

Approximately 60 percent of the Federal workforce performs knowledge-based work, usually in occupations where learning new information and adapting to change is part of the environment.  It is therefore critical for employees to maintain, build, and keep up with changes in those fields.  Yet, due to fiscal austerity measures, resources for training and development are likely to continue to be limited.  However, there is a tool that could help organizations meet their training challenge. 

Over 10 years ago, a task force was assembled as a result of Executive Order No. 13111, “Using Technology to Improve Training Opportunities for Federal Government Employees”.  The task force recommended that individual learning accounts (ILAs) be pilot tested to determine their value as a workforce development tool.  According to the Office of Personnel Management, an Individual learning Account is a specified amount of resources such as dollars, hours, or learning technology tools (i.e., access to the internet, use of government computers away from the office, etc.), or a combination of the three that are set aside for an individual employee to use for his or her learning and development.”  Supervisors would determine the level of resources to commit based on the needs of the agency and employee.

This tool allows employees and organizations to share responsibility and costs of job-related training and development.  Pilot programs for ILAs were conducted from March 2000 until September 2000 and were used by different organizations to accomplish a wide range of missions.  For instance, the Department of Treasury Internal Revenue Service used ILAs to move toward its goal of increasing the number of certified public accountants in the Western Region. Through the use of ILAs employees were provided with the necessary coursework that would ultimately prepare them for certification.  In another example, the General Services Administration provided employees with individual accounts to take training online through Online University (OLU).  This arrangement provided employees with more control and input over their training and allowed the organization to save travel costs associated with training. 

As a final example, the Department of Defense Air Combat Command used ILAs to improve performance and promote mission readiness.  According to survey results, 88 per cent of commanders and supervisors indicated that participating employees showed improved job performance and 100 percent indicated that morale and quality of life for participating employees was improved.  At the end of the test period, some agencies continued the pilot program, others incorporated parts of their program into another program and yet others made some changes but kept most of the original program intact. While the goals of agencies that participated in the pilot programs varied and the level and type of employee contribution (e.g., money, personal time) and organization contribution (e.g., money, official work time, technology, equipment) varied, overall results seemed to be positive. 

ILAs appear to provide benefits to employees, managers, and organizations.  Employees gained increased control to tailor training and development to fit their individual needs allowing them to stay current with changes occurring in their field and possibly obtain new skills or experiences necessary for advancement.  Managers were able to demonstrate their support for employee development and help them with identifying courses or types of assignments that would assist in building skills or expand advancement opportunities.  Organizations were able to promote a culture of continuous learning and improve morale.    Most importantly they were able to gain these benefits without increasing their training budget.  Instead, organizations instituted programs that maximized the use of existing resources. 

In the current resource scarce environment, now may be the time to re-examine the usefulness of ILAs and determine if or how they could benefit your organization.   More information about ILAs and how they are being used now may be found at