Training Organizers

Denver The Organizers’ Forum Spring Dialogue opened in the crisp, clean spring air of the foothills between Denver and the mountains, but the first day’s private session for the board and their training directors indicated that all of us are searching deeply for better and more effective training systems, especially where we need to get to scale. Around the table were the top training people from the AFL-CIO, SEIU, Gameliel Foundation, PICO, DART, Jobs with Justice, WORC, and ACORN. These were thoughtful people who had all spent years creating training systems, workshops, materials, programs, apprenticeships, and training institutes and were proud of their work, but all were convinced that for all we were doing well, we were not moving to scale and we were rounding off the edges rather than fully solving the puzzle of developing competency, lead organizers, and increasing retention.

The conversations were deliberately off the record so that people could say anything without fear of either contradiction or attribution, so the conversation was as refreshing as the weather from a lot of us that normally are in our own silos until something like the Organizers’ Forum offers an opportunity to open the window to some new points. Nonetheless, it is possible to share some broad conclusions.

** Training is wildly expensive for all of the organizations, despite its clear value, so allocation of resources for almost everyone is an internal struggle over priorities.

** Everyone is concerned with efficiencies in retention and placement because the front end costs of training are so significant and the turnover rate is so high for organizers virtually everywhere.

** There is a tension in methodology in almost all large organizations between the need for competency level organizers versus the need for leadership level organizers and how to achieve the balance in the program that allows both kinds of organizers to survive and thrive.

** Training is starting to recognize generational and personal changes and challenges that strain the normal profile for organizers and the way that many of us have operated for years, and there is beginning to be an advocacy that we have to look at life stages differently.

** There is a consensus among a generation of organizers that one set of players is moving off the stage and others are moving on the stage and that we do not have the pieces in place on the platform to assure the continuity of our institutions as we examine the skills and vision of those walking up to the stage, so there is an increasing urgency about getting people ready and able.

This was all fascinating — and heavy — stuff with a lot of diamonds laid out in that rough. In the usual fashion of the Organizers’ Forum, this was a dialogue worth having!

“Colorado Purple Blue Mountains” by Alan Heuer