City of San Mateo

Collaboration saves the day during the pandemic lockdown

The City of San Mateo partnered with Learnit to quickly launch a virtual live training program.


Professional Development


Industry vertical

Public Administration

The Challenge

Mid-March 2020. Covid 19 was hitting in a big way and state-wide sheltering in place mandates were looming. Then on March 17th, the City Of San Mateo’s non-essential facilities were ordered closed and employees were told to head home. 

Suddenly, there was the real possibility that a large number of merit employees wouldn’t have enough hours to earn their living.  

Human Resources developed a strategy supported by the City Manager to provide a maximum of 10 hours of paid professional development training per week for their merit employees.  

With more than 600 employees in 11 different departments including Police, operations and administrative staff, a limited budget and only two weeks to implement a live training program virtually, the challenge was overwhelming to say the least.  

In theory, it could work; putting it into action and having it work was another thing entirely. 

With a long standing successful partnership with LearnIt already established by the City’s Department of Information Technology, turning to Learnit to solve this new challenge was an obvious decision. 

The Solution

As she oversees the City of San Mateo’s Employee Development and Workplace Planning Division, Senior Human Resource Analyst, Salina Vavia-Johnson took lead for the City of San Mateo collaborating closely with Learnit’s Senior Learning Strategist, Evans Hood.

As Evans gathered input from Salina, the Learnit team got to work curating a custom live training program of open enrollment and private professional development workshops. Workshops that would be most embraced and useful to City of San Mateo employees. 

“Every other training provider that I have ever worked with sends you through a process and you’re mostly on your own. The way Learnit partners with their clients by providing a designated person - makes all the difference. It was Evans who made the difference. She rolled up her sleeves right there with me,” said Vavia-Johnson. “She listened to everything I had to say. We would talk things through. We would brainstorm together and she’d have answers. In 2 short weeks and on a limited budget, we were able to hit the ground running.” 

Key to the implementation of the program was a mobile friendly online portal.

“One thing we recognized early on was that for the program to be successful, we would have to make sure it would be an easy and turnkey experience for the employees,” said Hood. 

Learnit’s operations team created a custom portal that allowed for easy and direct registration by employees. It included brochures and flyers to create awareness and drive attendance as well as a complete schedule of all available training. 

“It was all so easy. Learnit made it all very easy,” said Vavia-Johnson.

The Training  

With so many departments and employees both in the field and at home, it was important that people be able to readily access the program where they were reporting for work. This meant focusing on accessibility and inclusivity.  

All training was done through Zoom at a time when many had limited previous experience with it and perhaps maybe were still skeptical of live virtual training. 

Learnit issued a report every week which tracked participation and evaluations. The virtual training format proved effective as it was quickly embraced for its ease of use and convenience.  

People were training in all kinds of situations from various locations - home, and at various worksites, especially their essential workers. 

Historically, many organizations have questioned the effectiveness of training in “soft skills” virtually. Learnit’s facilitators answered definitively by building trust and captivating attendees.  

“Learnit’s instructors really read the room. They could read the crowd and pivot when necessary to make sure everyone was along for the ride and getting the most out of it, when many had never experienced virtual training before,” said Vavia-johnson.

“Plus we are a very diverse group from all walks of life and backgrounds. It’s important to know your audience and be mindful of the ice breakers and the examples you share. Those details were so important in getting our employees comfortable and engaged. Learnit really got it. The instructors were so humble and honest and that made a difference. They were fantastic.”

The Results 

The program, which drew from Learnit’s extensive catalog and included more than 32 different workshops, began on April 13 and extended through June 30th. City of San Mateo employees logged over 400 training hours over these 12 weeks.

For many, the training Learnit provided delivered a transformative experience. Employees were able to level up their skills and strengthen their abilities to perform on-the-job and in different positions.

Additionally, to encourage training with a purpose, Salina created a pilot employee development badge program. With the Learnit workshops and based on their core competencies, she launched an optional program for the City. This program had 6 learning tracks, averaging 17 hours per a track, and assigned 3 Learnit workshops each.

As the program was coming to an end, more requests were coming in for additional training and to continue their badge program.  People were energized and asking, “Can we do it again?” 

With the initial program being a strong success and the tangible value of training being recognized in practice, the City of San Mateo decided on continuing to offer this opportunity to the 600 employees in their workforce. The program was extended for another year. 

“In the world of government, we follow the rules and that can be rigid and limiting due to the transparent nature of civil service but Learnit brought a fluidity to our challenge in real-time that really met our needs - that was huge. We could never have done this training program without them. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Learnit,” said Vavia-Johnson.