Learning and development (L&D) initiatives are complex. Effectively upskilling and reskilling employees, proving training effectiveness and securing a budget are not simple processes. In organizations with learners across the globe, that complexity can be multiplied a thousandfold. Still, there are L&D professionals who thrive in this environment of complexity and constant change.   

I talked to Stephanie Fugate, CPTM, the division chief of the Professional Development and Training (PDT) Office and acquisition career manager (ACM) at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to learn how she stays ahead of shifting compliance requirements while ensuring a global workforce has the skills it needs to drive organizational excellence on the world stage.   


USAID is a federal agency responsible for dispersing foreign aid and development assistance, with the goal of providing disaster relief, poverty relief and socioeconomic development globally. Active in over 80 countries, USAID has a staff of more than 10,000 across the globe. The PDT team is responsible for managing the Office of Federal Procurement Policy’s federally mandated acquisition certification and training programs within USAID, including publishing guidance, determining content and approving curriculum. They also manage assistance training programs, such as programs related to grants or cooperative agreements.  

Ms. Fugate, as the division chief for the PDT division and USAID’s ACM, is responsible for identifying opportunities to enhance the organization’s acquisition and assistance workforce. Her role also includes focusing on training requirements, conducting gap analysis, and developing learning and development (L&D) strategies tailored to both government and agency-specific needs. 

This role requires her to secure funding, support her staff so they can provide customer service for USAID staff worldwide and manage training programs and learning management system (LMS) accounts. “I also find myself on calls,” says Ms. Fugate, “at conferences or physically overseas to collaborate and partner with other agency bureaus, overseas missions, and organizations external to the government such as associations and the private sector.”  

Ms. Fugate’s PDT team consists of 14 members, including subject matter experts, procurement analysts and contracting specialists. They also work with several vendors who can bring an experienced pool of instructors, instructional designers, subject matter experts and content specialists to the table. 

A Culture of Continuous Learning 

Ms. Fugate says that USAID’s learning culture fosters continuous learning. “Acquisition and assistance is such an iterative field,” she says, “so the learning never stops.” There are many initiatives within the agency that focus on incorporating learning into how learners work every day. “USAID’s mission allows us to problem-solve, innovate, and engage worldwide,” says Fugate, “so it is only fitting that we focus on how we can consistently gain more insight into a problem or issue so we can learn from it.”

Key Challenges in a Global Workforce 

One significant challenge Ms. Fugate’s team has faced has been transitioning back to in-person training after the pandemic. “With a resurgence and high demand for face-to-face interactions, we found our pre-pandemic setup inadequate to meet the current needs.” To address this, they increased the frequency of in-person sessions and are exploring alternative venues to accommodate more participants. 

Additionally, current global events pose challenges to training delivery at USAID, particularly for teams in geopolitically sensitive areas. To navigate these complexities, Ms. Fugate’s team has employed adaptive management techniques involving flexible planning and the ability to pivot strategies as situations evolve quickly. “This approach has been instrumental in ensuring that our training programs are resilient,” says Fugate, “and responsive to changes, enabling us to deliver quality education no matter the circumstances.” 

Ms. Fugate’s team has also been embracing new advancements in learning tech to enhance their training. The integration of generative artificial intelligence (AI) into their programs is a prime example: “By incorporating AI tools,” she says, “we’ve enriched our entry-level project management course, equipping our learners with cutting-edge skills to utilize AI for efficient project management.” This ensures that their curriculum stays relevant and empowers staff with practical tools to enhance their productivity and decision-making capabilities, while presenting them with real-world scenarios.

Gaining Stakeholder Alignment 

When securing a training budget, alignment with organizational goals and effective communication with stakeholders is key. This has proven true for Ms. Fugate’s team at USAID: “First and foremost, it’s important that I understand the agency’s priorities and goals,” she says. “Once I have that understanding, I can then develop a strategic plan. With the support of my team, we work through these ideas and align them directly with the overall agency priorities and goals.” This has proven effective in attaining funding for her learning initiatives, enabling her to convey the importance of specific initiatives to senior leadership for approval and implementation. 

Ensuring Access to Training 

USAID employees use learning management systems (LMSs), knowledge libraries and an agency intranet to access their training materials.  

To further ensure the alignment of training to the needs of learners, Ms. Fugate’s team does a training assessment each Spring. “Sometimes these are off-the-shelf,” she says, “but many are internally developed and customized just for the group requesting it.” Their courses are also tweaked for specific overseas missions, ensuring that the learning falls within the contextual environment in which their learners are working. 

AI-Enabled Project Management

In response to increasing demand from staff, Ms. Fugate’s team is expanding their offerings in project management training, enhancing the content to address current and future needs with a particular focus on integrating AI.  

Recognizing AI’s transformative impact on project management, courses now include modules on AI-driven analytics for project tracking, machine learning for risk assessment and AI tools for stakeholder communication and engagement. “These enhancements are designed to equip our team with fundamental project management principles,” Ms. Fugate says, “as well as cutting-edge technological skills, ensuring they are well-prepared to leverage AI technologies to enhance project outcomes and overall productivity.” 

Ms. Fugate’s team is also in the early stages of piloting an Acquisition Workforce Certification Fellows program with Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The program, launched in January 2024, is designed to empower both undergraduate and graduate students with the skills they need to excel in the world of acquisition and assistance.  

Another model that Ms. Fugate’s team is piloting focuses on the needs of full-time students, combining traditional learning with opportunities to meet and collaborate with acquisition and assistance professionals at USAID and throughout the industry. According to Ms. Fugate, the goal of these initiatives is to “foster a sense of continuous learning in the acquisition and assistance field.”  

Proving Effectiveness 

“Training is a critical component of organizational performance at USAID,” says Ms. Fugate, “directly contributing to our ability to innovate, adapt and efficiently carry out our mission.” By continuously upgrading the skills and knowledge of their staff, they ensure that their workforce stays current with industry standards and best practices while equipping them with the necessary tools to tackle the unique challenges presented by USAID’s global initiatives. 

As part of USAID’s fiscal year 2025 strategic plan, Ms. Fugate’s team focuses on creating a data analytics strategy that enhances training effectiveness and organizational performance. “This strategy involves identifying key data points related to training and organizational outcomes,” says Ms. Fugate, establishing methods for consistently capturing this data and setting up simple processes for analyzing these data sets.  

She says the goal is “to ensure that the insights we gain are clear and actionable, enabling us to make informed decisions about improving our training content and delivery methods.” By doing so, she aims to meet the workforce’s needs better and enhance overall organizational effectiveness.

The Future of Learning at USAID 

“Learning for the acquisition and assistance workforce is trending towards experiential learning,” Ms. Fugate says, “as well as on-the-job and other non-traditional activities.” An increasingly learner-driven mindset enables organizations like USAID to find new ways to implement mandatory training, while supplementing those requirements with additional skills that cannot be learned in the traditional classroom.