WASHINGTON – Last week I attended National New Employee Orientation, hosted by the Eastern Region in Milwaukee. What I saw and heard there validated our decision to offer a revitalized agency overview for incoming new employees.
For background, it has been many years since the agency offered any kind of nationally led orientation for new employees. Some regions and stations jumped into the breach and offered their own, but others did not. Also, many local units offer a mini-orientation aimed primarily at new and returning seasonal employees, but the point is, until this year most new employees were not getting a comprehensive overview of the agency mission, history, and culture, which I think as we have all experienced, is a very important part of the Forest Service experience. If you’re here long enough you pick up a lot of the rich tradition, the diversity, and the complexity of the agency mission. But it can take many years for those doors to open. Moreover, we felt a new employee orientation could be an important opportunity for networking and exposure to agency leadership, vision, and a sense of the larger picture of what the Forest Service is about.
Thus, in early 2016, a group of leaders in Business Operations approached National Leadership to ask for approval to develop a curriculum. Once we got the green light, we worked with folks across the agency to develop themes, topics, speakers, venues, etc. – all the considerations necessary to pull off a leading edge experience for our new employees. A national workgroup of representatives was formed, including deputy areas, field and Union representatives, that created a new employee curriculum building from existing orientations in the field. The national workgroup finalized a curriculum and recommended an implementation strategy to launch sessions hosted by different geographic regions.
In November 2016, we held our first “pilot” NNEO at the Albuquerque Service Center, jointly hosted by the leadership of the Southwest Region. Wow – we were nervous, anxious and excited to put our efforts to the test. It was super successful! Over 120 new employees from all over the Forest Service attended, connected, met agency leaders and really helped us refine the content and delivery of a lot of the event. Our second pilot was held at the Fire Apprentice Academy in Sacramento, California, and was co-hosted by the Pacific Southwest Region. For this event we had over 350 fire apprentices along with approximately 100 employees from all other parts of the Forest Service. And then, of course, there was our most recent event jointly hosted by the Eastern Region, which drew over 140 participants.
We’ve introduced nearly 700 new employees to the Forest Service in a way that shares all the agency has to offer and helps them better connect where they are and what they contribute to the larger Forest Service mission. We now plan to “regularize” NNEO with three to four sessions every year. The next event is scheduled for Albuquerque, N.M., in late October 2017. A call letter for nominees will be coming out later this summer, so look for it. If you are or have a new employee (new in the last three years), please consider taking advantage of this opportunity, and if you have already been to an orientation and would like to share feedback to help us improve the sessions, please feel free to email me directly.