Program and Staff Development

County Extension Agent Development System

A Comprehensive and Systematic

Approach for Facilitating Professional Growth


Welcome to the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. As a new employee, you undoubtedly have many questions and perhaps even some anxiety about your new job. The Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service is committed to helping you be successful. Accordingly, our staff development system takes a holistic look at the development of employees, helping them meet both personal, as well, as professional needs.

You begin learning about your new job when you first make contact with our Personnel Office. During the first year of employment, you will be involved in a comprehensive training and development program designed to provide you with a firm foundation for your continued growth and development as a professional.

This multi-faceted program for new agents includes group training sessions, individual consultation, self-study, and a variety of experiential approaches. The focus of this training is the acquisition of basic skills and knowledge necessary to do the job while building camaraderie among your peers.

As you near completion of your initial training, the focus shifts to helping you become a self-directed learner where you select those professional development experiences that best meet your needs. Being a professional, in essence, implies a commitment to lifelong learning and professional growth enabling you to remain current in the field and able to respond to critical issues.

Overview of the System

The County Extension Agent Development System is divided into four major phases. These four phases are orientation, core training, program area training, and professional development. The nature of the learning experiences associated with these four phases changes in accordance with the tenure of the agents for which the experiences are planned.

During orientation and core training phases, all agents participate in the same standard curriculum. The purpose of this training is to help you acquire the base level knowledge and skills needed on the job. As your tenure with the organization increases, learning will become more self-directed. You select the learning experiences that help you remain current in subject matter, the profession, meet long term career goals, or respond to emerging local programming needs.

The sections which follow provide an overview of each of the four major phases of the system.

Phase I: Orientation

The orientation phase of an agent’s development involves:

participating in a three-day orientation session with other new agents, visits with  the District Director, the mentor program, visiting with more experienced agents and becoming more familiar with ongoing programs, office procedures and available technology.

Each of these components is described more fully below.

1. The Orientation Session

Approximately two to six weeks after the initial appointment agents will participate in a three-day orientation training held in Lexington. The purpose of this session is to help new agents better understand the nature of Cooperative Extension programming in Kentucky and provide some of the basic knowledge and skills necessary to be successful the first few months as a new Extension employee. It would be difficult to devote extended time to every topic during a three-day session. Therefore, this session, while providing a brief overview of the material to be covered, will focus more on helping agents know where to go for information as needed. This session also includes time orienting agents with resources in their specific program area.

Orientation training is conducted four times each year. Agents will be assigned to the session that best corresponds to their starting date and will attend only one of these sessions.

Topics at this session include:

  • History and tradition of Extension,
  • Extension program development,
  • Extension policy,
  • Fringe benefits available to employees,
  • Record keeping, reporting, in-service training log-in procedures
  • Kentucky’s commitment to diversity in programming,
  • An introduction to other new agents and resource persons.

2. The District Director’s Visits

Shortly after the orientation session, the agent’s District Director will schedule a visit. The District Director is committed to helping agents be successful in their new role.

The District Director will use this and subsequent visits to discuss plans of work, reporting expectations, local budgets and resources, interoffice relationships, policies and guidelines as well as to discuss any special county or area responsibilities agents may have. This is a time to talk informally about problems and concerns and a chance to ask questions about things that are on your mind.

During these visits agents will:

  • Discuss reporting expectations
  • Review the county plan of work
  • Examine the county situation and programming efforts
  • Get to know the District Director
  • Learn what it means to be a "professional"
  • Review county coordinator responsibilities
  • Discuss county operations

3. The Mentor Program

The Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service hopes that through positive mentoring experiences our employees will find the challenge of growing as a professional and becoming an integral part of the organization an experience made easier through the support and encouragement of a caring co-worker. Through professional partnerships, useful knowledge and skills are communicated to new agents.

A minimum of three face-to-face visits will occur between the mentor and new agent within the first year of employment, but we expect mentors and new agents to correspond at least bi-weekly either by phone, e-mail or in person.

Mentoring relationships are well documented in nurturing a sense of loyalty and commitment to the profession. This mentoring process is the “guiding of a less experienced person through the new experiences of Cooperative Extension work.”

4. On-The-Job Learning

While much of the orientation to the job is arranged, the on-the-job learning that takes place is equally important. During the first couple of months in the county, agents will want to spend time getting to know their co-workers, become familiar with the ongoing programs being conducted through discussions and by reviewing the county’s plan of work. This is a time to learn as much as possible about the county, visit other agencies and organizations, and look for opportunities for collaboration. It is important to also find out about office procedures and practices, and establish relationships with support staff in the county.

As agents begin to plan and implement both new and ongoing programs, they will undoubtedly seek assistance from co-workers in their county. In addition, phone calls and visits to agents in other counties will be helpful. The District Director will assist in arranging these visits and suggest topics for discussion with other agents.

Because of the nature of Extension work, much of the learning will happen throughout the course of actually doing the job. Regardless of the formal training received, agents will learn much of the job by actually "doing." This on-the-job learning is characteristic of most professional positions.

Much of the on-the-job component is self-initiated and self-directed. The training agents have participated in to this point will help them become aware of the many resources available.

Through on-the-job learning agents will:

Learn about on-going programs and potential areas for new programming

Get to know co-workers

Learn about office procedures

Learn how Extension programs vary across county lines

"Learn by doing" as they provide leadership to programs

Phase II: Core Training

Over the first year of employment, agents will participate in three core curriculum training sessions, each focusing on a different theme. The sessions are held at various locations across the state and range from two to three days in length. The topics for the five sessions are individual and organizational development, management skills, and program development. The order in which new agents participate in these three sessions will vary according to the date of initial appointment.

Individual Development and Organizational Development

This training session includes components on individual development and focuses on the agent’s role as a leader and change agent. Agents will better understand how they can effectively interact with others and to help them gain practical leadership skills that can help them on the job. Agents will learn several definitions of leadership, explore how leadership skills are acquired, learn about leadership styles, and participate in a self assessment of leadership tendencies.

The Cooperative Extension Service is based upon the fundamental assumption that the programs it develops and conducts are based on needs identified by local people. This session will assist agents in building strong, effective advisory groups and ensuring volunteer participation in program determination, planning, implementation, and evaluation. This training will also help agents develop advisory councils that are representative of the population they represent. The development and management of volunteers will also be explored.

Topics at this session will include:

the concept of leadership

roles people play in groups


becoming a change agent

developing leaders in the community

completing a self-assessment and exploring implications for relating to others

building strong and effective councils and boards

empowering volunteers for expanded roles


Management Skills

Successful agents are effective managers of resources. Resources include time, money, and human capital. This session will help agents get the most out of resources used to provide leadership to the county Extension program.

The first part of this training session will focus on priority setting and time management. We can set programmatic priorities and we can set personal priorities. The ability to work within and manage both types is crucial to professional success and personal satisfaction. Agents will also learn how to structure their work environment to be of the greatest benefit.

A portion of the program will also be devoted to helping agents value differences as they work with a wide array of individuals.

Youth Protection and Community Development are also a part of this session which is always held at Kentucky State University in Frankfort.

Topics at this session will include:

  • managing time effectively
  • principles of priority setting for programmatic and personal contexts
  • conflict management and team building
  • managing Extension funds
  • civil rights and affirmative action legislation and its impact on Extension
  • program development for diverse audiences

Program Development

Program development is a deliberate process through which representatives of the public are involved in designing, conducting, and evaluating educational programs that address issues or needs they identify. The process of program development is the common thread that links together everything we do. This core training session will introduce agents to the 6 stage model for program development used by the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and will help agents operationalize that model through our planning and reporting system.

Rationale for the involvement of the public in program development will be discussed. Discovering your community, building linkages within the community and situation analysis to set program priorities will be a part of this session. This will also be a "hands on" program for modifying the plan of work.

The session will also help agents gain a greater understanding of the linkages between program development and accountability. How sound program development practices can be used to help us reach previously underserved audiences will be explored.

This training session also discusses effective learning experiences based on the subject matter to be taught, the target audience, and other situational variables. The differences in the ways adults and youth approach learning and the implications those differences have for how we design learning experiences will be emphasized.

Topics at this session will include:

  • a rationale for involvement of people in program development
  • conducting a situational analysis and needs assessment
  • participating in a community inventory
  • setting programmatic priorities
  • designing educational experiences
  • putting your plan of work on paper
  • evaluation and accountability as linked to program support
  • principles of program development to help us reach new audiences
  • designing educational programs to address desired outcomes, subject matter, and audience characteristics that affects the design of educational programs

Phase III: Program Area Training

Even though there are a number of common skills that all agents need, there are also some that are very distinct to each program area. While the training sessions agents have participated in initially focused on the common elements, program area training focuses on the unique aspects of program area assignment.

Program area training is conducted under the direction of the respective Assistant Director or his or her designee. For agents with multiple or special assignments, the training expectations will reflect their particular assignment. The content of program area training will vary from one program area to another and will vary from year to year.

Initial contact will be made during new agent orientation and then will continue throughout the agent’s career. Some training will be required of all agents while others will be geographically or contact agent specific. Some will take place independently while others will be a part of annual state or regional extension conferences.

Since all agents have a responsibility to community and economic development, they will be asked to participate in a training session on basic principles of community development during the first years of employment.

During program area training agents will:

  • Participate in learning experiences specific to job responsibilities
  • Receive updates of information and training materials
  • Become familiar with resources that assist in programming
  • Learn how to assess program effectiveness
  • Learn about reporting obligations specific to program area assignments

Phase IV: Professional Development

Professional development is a term we use in Cooperative Extension to refer to the broad array of learning experiences that builds an agent’s capacity as a professional, enhances their ability to respond to local needs, or assists in meeting long-term career goals. Participation in professional development activities is self-directed in that agents identify, select, and participate in those experiences that meet their needs. Agents generally work to establish a proficiency in at least one area as well as use the in-service training opportunities to sharpen their knowledge and skills related to the program in their specific county. In addition, while there is currently no requirement for a Master’s Degree for employment in the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, agents are required to take a defined amount of formal graduate level classwork in an approved program beyond a bachelor’s degree.

There are two types of professional development experiences. The first is in-service education. In-service education includes those learning experiences sponsored by the Cooperative Extension Service designed to enhance the performance of its employees. The second major type of professional development is categorized as professional improvement. Professional improvement includes a broad array of experiences not sponsored by Extension.

These two types of experiences are described more fully on the following page.

Through participation in professional development experiences agents will:
  • identify professional development goals
  • select experiences that meet current needs and long term career goals
  • display a commitment to lifelong learning
  • become a self-directed learner

In-Service Education

In-service education includes those learning experiences sponsored by the Cooperative Extension Service designed to enhance the performance of its employees. Agents enroll in those in-service sessions that best meet their needs. Sessions are generally taught by specialists and other resource persons. Individuals wishing to conduct an in-service education session submit proposals for the sessions they plan to conduct to the Program and Staff Development Office. Contact the Program and Staff Development office for dates and deadlines.

A web-based catalog of in-service offerings is created each spring which lists many of the sessions to be offered from July 1 of the current year to June 30 of the following year. However, that catalog is open-ended with additional sessions being added throughout the year. Therefore it is wise to review the opportunities on a monthly basis. You will enroll on-line and once a commitment is made to attend, it is expected that agents will show up. Enrollment also assures that agents will be notified of changes or cancellations related to those scheduled trainings. Cancellations can be made by going on-line to the enrollment site at least 30 days prior to the event. No shows will be listed as such on the in-service roster and agent’s transcript.

The Program and Staff Development Office maintains a computer database of each agent’s participation in in-service education. A transcript of the training an agent has received can be generated upon request.

Professional Improvement

The second major type professional development is categorized as professional improvement. Professional improvement includes those experiences beyond those sponsored by the Cooperative Extension Service and include such things as becoming involved in professional associations, working toward a graduate degree, engaging in independent study, reading professional journals, or working on special projects. Agents are encouraged to become involved with professional associations and develop leadership skills by assuming leadership roles at the state level and beyond in these organizations.