Tragedy compelled Jeffrey Vargas toward a learning career in the public sector, where he focuses on mentorship, collaboration, and social media.
As the first CLO at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Jeffrey Vargas established the agencys Office of Talent and Leadership Development and created its first-ever strategic learning plan. Vargas has held a variety of training and development positions in the federal government throughout his career.
Q| What initial steps did you take to rise in your career in learning and development? What important lessons did you learn along the way?
A| I spent the early years of my career in training design and delivery. I concentrated on knowing the business of my organization and what leaders needed from me to effectively design training programs. Later I worked to become a strategic business partner who could add value to training, from planning to evaluation.
In this business you have to be both focused and flexible. There are no absolutes in the learning world; at any time funding profiles can change or mission priorities may be enhanced, so your success is based, in part, on your ability to adapt to change.
No matter how busy things get, be a mentor, and find a mentor. Although you are in the knowledge business, don't make the mistake of thinking that you know everything about learning and development.
Seek a mentor who can help you grow, and find other professionals who can use your advice; you will need this community one day. Its important that you offer before you are asked, and give before you take.
Q |What sparked your interest in the public sector?
A| A tragedy: My grandparents, who were married for 65 years, died together in a house fire. On the night of the fire there was a lot of miscommunication between the agencies responsible for putting out the firethey just didnt have adequate training or communication. I thought if I got involved in the public sector, I could help ensure that federal employees had the training and skills they needed to protect life and meet mission priorities.
Q| What are you most excited about in the learning profession today?
A| That's easy--how social media is changing everything. We dont learn only in the classroom anymore, nor are we "glued" to a desktop.
Next time you are on a bus or train, look at all of the folks who are "learning and growing" during the ride. People are hungry to increase their education, and they are taking the initiative to do it when and where they want.
I also like the way folks are sharing best practices and collaborating on initiatives. Stovepipes are decreasing, and there is both a great need and desire to collaborate around the entire learning life cycle.
Q| What are your go-to sources for professional inspiration and development?
A| A My employees are usually much more knowledgeable about a subject than I am. I also started my own source, a LinkedIn group (Chief Learning Officer Network) that now has close to 1,700 members. I learn a lot from the members who share ideas and questions about the latest training topics. I also enjoy going to CLO conferences where I can meet leaders who are doing exciting things and are usually willing to share insights.
Q| What advice would you give to a young learning and development professional on how to move to the executive level within the government?
A| Be grounded in process, but focused on innovation. You have to know the rules to design, develop, and implement your program, but you will be only as successful as you are innovative. Pilot ideas, find a champion, and dont let what was done before be your only guide for what you can do in the future.
Take care of your team. Don't believe you got here on your own or that you can stay here on your own. Recognize people for their efforts; as you grow in your career its critical that you not only know how to develop yourself, but how to develop others.
Finally, be an active contributor to the federal learning community, which is very small. Be among the first to interact with your peers, share information, and provide support to others. It will help you become a better learning executive in the future.