Mar 14 2019

York College of Pennsylvania Builds Up IT Staff at All Levels

The college's leadership program offers cost-effective professional development that boosts morale while building a talent pipeline.

As campus technologies evolve, so do the skill sets required to effectively lead, manage and implement strategic goals. 

That’s why ongoing leadership development is a vital component to the success of IT departments in higher education. Even as lean staffing and limited budgets stretch institutions thin, a flourishing leadership program can — and should — happen.

Organizations may overlook the importance of investing in employee leadership skills, but it’s an effective way to motivate staff to take initiative regardless of their position. 

Because of this and other benefits, York College of Pennsylvania CIO Ilya Yakovlev saw an opportunity in early 2017 to establish a leadership program for the newly formed Library and Technology Services department. The committee that he convened succeeded in building a program that is cost-effective, inclusive and consistent.

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College Gets Creative to Deliver Low-Cost Leadership Training

At the outset, our leadership development committee balanced needs versus costs to maximize professional development while staying within budget. For starters, the committee partnered with a third-party consulting firm to devise streamlined and customized training. 

The resulting high-intensity course was presented to nearly half of the LTS staff, with the goal of developing targeted skill sets.

We achieved cost savings by reducing the duration of the course and the number of participants, yet we ensured that this formalized leadership training was provided to those who would benefit most. This initial coursework built the pillars on which upcoming sessions rested.

Subsequent sessions were open to everyone in LTS, and demand skyrocketed. We continued to keep costs low by tapping internal resources and outreach to other campus departments

In one session, for example, attendees participated in individual skills assessments in partnership with the YCP Leadership Development Center. In another instance, we invited model leaders from across campus to present their leadership journeys. These budget-taming steps not only helped get the program off the ground, but also provided quality training.

Peer Coaching Builds Accountability for IT Staff

As YCP invested its time, money and effort to develop staff members into leaders, the challenge became how to maintain momentum by keeping everyone focused on refining their leadership skills. 

The leadership program had blossomed in the LTS department, in part, because of Yakolev, the program’s champion. Members of the senior administrative staff further validated those efforts, with some serving as panel members and trainers for a leadership journey series

We offered sessions on a regular basis each semester, and the consistent engagement proved that staff members valued the program and took it seriously.

Robert J. Yoka Headshot
When a leadership development program is viewed solely as a resource for existing or aspiring managers, institutions may miss out on a host of significant benefits."

Robert J. Yoka director of infrastructure and security services at York College in Pennsylvania.

Another key initiative was to create peer coaching relationships among program participants. We paired each participant with another colleague in the program and asked them to meet at least monthly to discuss progress and future ambitions. 

These might include leadership growth in professional or personal life, such as taking on lead roles in new projects or initiatives, continuing education in the technology field or mentoring a junior team member. 

Peer mentoring sessions led to a different dynamic from day-to-day technical discussions and helped the pairs become accountable for their goals and aspirations.

MORE FROM EDTECH: See how universities can use professional development to improve active-learning initiatives.

Effective Leadership Development Is Inclusive and Accessible

When a leadership development program is viewed solely as a resource for existing or aspiring managers, institutions may miss out on a host of significant benefits. 

Because our program involved staff members at all levels, the focus shifted toward increasing overall organizational productivity and emotional intelligence. This inspired people to embrace the concept that they could be a leader in any role.

Of note, we designed our leadership development program to be relevant to all LTS employees. We surveyed department staff about topics of interest, asked them to give presentations and invited them to nominate session speakers

To ensure the program was widely accessible, we conducted leadership activities during afternoon business hours, typically on Fridays, when most people were available.

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Boost Morale and Build a Campus Leadership Pipeline

YCP’s leadership development program has proved its value in many ways: It provided regularly scheduled professional development to educate all participants in effective leadership skills. 

It created a pool of qualified internal candidates to fill management vacancies. Participants gained confidence in their interactions with peers and community leaders. And the program boosted morale by demonstrating our commitment to — and willingness to invest in — our employees.

The LTS department continues to tailor leadership advancement sessions that inspire both managers and nonmanagers to make positive changes in how they work and interact with colleagues. This model is something that other colleges can adopt and personalize to their environment. YCP’s experiences show that not only can institutions afford to do leadership development, they can’t afford not to!

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