"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." So goes the inscription on the New York City Post Office (attributed to Herodotus) that has become the unofficial motto of the United States Postal Service (USPS). That same spirit is in evidence at the USPS' National Center for Employee Development (NCED), where it seems nothing can keep a corps of dedicated educators from their appointed rounds.
Situated in Norman, OK, on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, the NCED is a sprawling complex that combines the best attributes of a modern college campus and a well-equipped technical school, to provide training to USPS employees at every level.
"You can describe this place to people," says Training Manager Bonne Karim, "but until they actually see it, they just can't comprehend."
To say that the Postal Service has training figured out is an understatement. On the grounds of the NCED, any USPS employee, whether a mail clerk, a computer programmer, a manager or a vehicle maintenance technician can receive training that covers everything from basic job skills to management development. And the resources they have to work with would make any trainer, or student, green with envy.
It all started when the USPS leased the top few floors of an unused dormitory from the University of Oklahoma in 1969. In time the training center took over the entire dormitory, then spread to a dozen other leased buildings throughout the city, including a vacant church, an airplane hangar and a cafeteria. By 1987, the powers that be decided that enough was enough; the USPS consolidated the facilities, and the new NCED campus was built.
Today the main campus covers 72 acres, and houses over 45 classrooms and 23 labs, a distance learning center, satellite TV broadcasting system, and an on-site hotel with a cafeteria, gym and pool.
That's what you call a training center.
BRICK AND MORTAR
Once you get over the sheer scale of the place, you quickly realize that the real wonder of the NCED is not the building but the people who work and learn there.
Bonne Karim is a prime example. She has worked at the NCED since 1972, where she started out as an industrial engineer working on training programs to get USPS employees indoctrinated into the Service's first major automation program. "My first job was to figure out what kind of skills technical people needed and then to develop the training programs," she explains. "We're dedicated to promoting from within, so we'll take someone who's a custodian, a clerk or a laborer or a letter carrier, and we'll teach them the technical skills rather than hiring from outside. My job was to evaluate the technicians and find out what skills they needed, and come up with training programs to move people into those jobs."
The USPS develops its own training classes, but they depend on OEM support. All new vehicle purchase contracts include training requirements. The NCED instructors receive training on all the major components and systems in the new vehicles, right down to spare parts and diagnostic equipment.
"We have a requirement for consultation hours, so as my staff is developing the training they can go back to the engineers or the OEM's people and get necessary information,"Karim says. "That's what we're doing with International right now; they've come down here three different times and done training on different portions of the new vehicles."
Because Karim oversees both the gasoline and diesel vehicle maintenance training programs, she has seen a lot of people rise up through the ranks as a result of their NCED training, and she has seen a lot of changes in the vehicle maintenance field.
"In the late '80s we were largely a gasoline fleet, and diesels were confined to the big cities,"she recalls. "We did a big buy of what we call two-ton step vans, and that was the first time that we distributed diesels widely all over the country.
It's time for OEMs to start treating all customers with some consistency.
It's not just the technicians who have to prepare for a competition; imagine the pressure on the organizers!
I'm moving on from Fleet Maintenance