Interview with John Dickson, Chief Operations Officer, Spokane County
Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI) is committed to growing regional education attainment. The GSI Board of Directors have adopted a goal of increasing the percentage of residents in Spokane County with high-quality degrees, certificates or other credentials from 40% in 2015 to 60% by 2025. Spokane County is among nine GSI member businesses teaming up to create an employer-led program that will provide employees with something greater in their educational aspirations. We interviewed John Dickson, Chief Operations Officer, about why Spokane County has signed on to this initiative for their employees.
Q: What does education attainment mean to you?
A: “Educational opportunities for our citizens will grow our economy. Providing opportunities for working adults to learn and achieve more helps to create a more educated and highly paid workforce. With more talent in our workforce, more innovative companies will locate here. It’s a nice cycle that encourages economic growth and will lead to more graduates staying in our region. As a company or government agency today, we need to continuously stay educated on the latest and most innovative systems in business. To lead big, positive change is needed to provide the opportunity for education and have our employees lead that change. I had that opportunity and I want it for our staff here at Spokane County.”
Q: Tell us about your educational path and why you were able to take advantage of this type of opportunity in your professional growth.
A: “I attended the University of Washington and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. Between my junior and senior year, I landed a summer internship opportunity with Boeing and was then hired after graduation. A few years into my tenure with Boeing, the company offered a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management through Washington State University. It was not something I was seriously considering at the time, but I enrolled in the program. Boeing made it easy. They had an excellent education attainment program and made it easy for me to attend classes and pay for the courses. After receiving this additional education, my job growth significantly accelerated at Boeing.”
Q: In your role as Chief Operations Officer you are leading the county’s annual strategic planning activities, which have identified four Key Objectives. What are these objectives?
A: “Our four key objectives are: Customer Service, Financial Stewardship, Public Engagement and Employee Development (which our education attainment initiative falls under)”
Q: Why has Spokane County identified education attainment and implementation of an education attainment policy as an important strategic objective?
A: “We have three strategies within our Employee Development objective: 1) to effectively attract, recruit and retain employees; 2) to expand employee skill development opportunities; and 3) to increase leadership effectiveness and employee engagement. Increasing the education attainment opportunities for Spokane County staff positively affects all three of our Employee Development objectives. A more highly trained employee who is informed on the latest trends in their fields of study will enable us to continually improve the services we provide to our citizens.”
Q: What is the return on investment for an initiative like this?
A: “We must be great stewards of the public’s money. Making Spokane County an even more attractive place to work should increase staff retention and lower our employee turnover rate, thus reducing hiring costs and increasing service quality. We want to retain our current employees and attract top talent. When we more effectively educate and provide leadership opportunities for our staff, we help to create bigger thinkers and solutions for our bigger challenges and issues.
By participating in this pilot program, Spokane County and the eight other partner businesses involved will create a new precedence for education in the region. Developing a skilled and highly educated workforce will ultimately make the Spokane region a more valuable place to live and do business in the future. Education grows economies.”