by Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.
Looking to create a thriving workplace where people feel valued? Offering professional development opportunities is a great way to show your employees that you’re invested in their growth and boost their engagement in the workplace.
From funding educational programs to encouraging cross-functional mentoring and meetups, there are many ways to foster a culture of learning and development in your company.
What is Professional Development?
Professional development describes the ongoing formal and informal activities that equip employees with the hard and soft skills they need to grow within their roles.
It’s not just about building an employee’s knowledge and improving their performance in their current position; it’s about encouraging ongoing growth with an eye to the future so that they can progress within the company and industry as a whole.
Training vs. Professional Development: What is the Difference?
Training employees is often a one-off exercise. Courses plug a gap in employee knowledge to improve their performance or take on new duties—for example, using a new technical platform. It’s all about meeting the needs of the company at the time.
Professional development programs refer to continuing education—an opportunity and an invitation to keep growing. Through various courses, programs, and internal initiatives, employees develop the skills and tools they’ll need to develop their careers now and in the future.
Types of Professional Development Opportunities
If you’re looking to create a professional development program, there are several opportunities you can offer:
- On-site training
- Certificate programs
- Internal programs such as shadowing, mentoring, and internal networking
- Conferences and memberships in professional organizations
- Live instructor-led courses
- Online courses
- Tuition reimbursement
- Assignments that challenge employees to develop new skills
The Importance of Professional Development Programs
Providing professional development opportunities is a win-win that benefits employers and employees. It’s a great morale booster: People who feel their organization cares about their growth and development will be happier and more productive in their roles. And from a business point of view, it’s an important element in attracting and retaining the best people.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the key benefits:
Build a Strong Culture
A thriving company culture is one where employees feel valued. By offering professional development programs, you’re sending a powerful signal that you’re here to support your employees’ career aspirations in the long term.
Ongoing education is also an important element in the process of driving cultural change. Tailored professional development courses equip employees at all levels with the tools they need to become culture champions and embed a culture of leadership, authenticity, and collaboration in their organization.
Professional development opportunities are a powerful way to attract top talent to your business. A report by Gallup found that 48 percent of American employees would move to a new company if they offered development opportunities, and 65 percent believe that employer-funded upskilling is an important factor when looking for a new position.
LinkedIn’s 2022 Global Talent Trends report found that the opportunity to learn skills ranked fourth (out of 15) in candidate priorities.
Professional development opportunities don’t just attract new employees to your business; they also help keep them there. New and existing employees want to progress within a company, whether through a promotion or a lateral move, and the statistics bear this out.
According to LinkedIn, 64 percent of employees who make an internal move are likely to stay with the company for at least three years (compared to 45 percent who don’t make an internal move). When you offer professional development programs, you’re signaling that your organization cares about employee progress in the long term.
One of the key benefits of developing employees is building institutional knowledge. It’s crucial to ensure that you have skills and expertise within the business to remain competitive. This doesn’t just apply to hard skills, such as programming languages or software development. It’s also about soft skills, such as building resilience, that will give employees the tools they need to embrace new ideas in a changing world and workplace.
Strategies to Encourage Employee Development
Here are some strategic ways to encourage professional development in your organization:
Align with Your Mission
The quickest way to suck the air out of a training session is to make employees feel that they’re part of a box-ticking exercise. When creating education programs, think about how each element dovetails with your shared goals and company mission so that participants feel valued and engaged.
Consult Your Employees
Asking employees what they’d like to see in an employer-funded program encourages buy-in and shows that the company cares about helping them meet their professional goals. You’ll find out what’s important to your employees, identify the gaps in their skills, pinpoint growth opportunities, and perhaps even find ways to share skill sets already within the organization.
Invest in Technology
Professional education isn’t necessarily about a bunch of people sitting around a whiteboard all day; technology is increasingly a part of the mix and has transformed how companies deliver education. For example, online courses enable micro-learning by breaking up training into bite-sized chunks that employees can complete at their own pace. It’s also worth exploring online learning platforms and learning management systems—software that helps HR professionals plan, create, track, and analyze development programs.
While professional development is certainly its own reward, it doesn’t hurt to give employees a nudge, and a rewards program is a great way to encourage participation. Many companies have a system where people accrue points for activities such as taking part in an online course, completing an in-person training session, or attending a networking event or conference. These points can then be ‘spent’ on perks such as vouchers or even additional vacation days.
Create a Culture of Learning
Professional development isn’t a finite process; it’s something that we all engage with on an ongoing basis throughout our careers. So if you’re looking to encourage employee development, it’s important to foster a culture of learning. This could involve introducing regular lunch-and-learn sessions, creating a library in a breakout space, sharing business news, or scheduling a series of guest speakers from your industry in addition to your more formal training programs.
Invest Time in Learning
If your company is truly committed to a culture of learning, it’s important to build this into your schedules; employees shouldn’t have to sacrifice their own time for a workplace development program. They also won’t fully engage in a session if they feel they’ve been pulled away from an urgent deadline. Managers have a big part to play here. If someone is embarking on an intensive professional course, for example, think about rescheduling meetings or setting more realistic project deadlines to support them in their development.
Create Customized Plans
Everyone is on a different path with their own career goals and aspirations. Modern career progression isn’t about moving smoothly up to the next stage on a traditional, clearly defined ladder every couple of years. These days, employees are likely to hop between different levels, specializations, and industries throughout their working lives. To encourage professional development, it’s key to treat everyone as an individual so they can forge their own path and progress at their own pace.
Look Beyond Current Roles
Given the importance employees place on professional development, they won’t want to be doing their current role forever. So it’s crucial to look beyond the skills they need to fulfill their immediate responsibilities and encourage them to spread their wings a little. Think about cross-functional opportunities such as shadowing programs, internal networking, and peer-to-peer mentoring to help expand their skill set and equip them for wherever their career path goes in the future.
Taking the First Step
Thinking about offering professional development opportunities to strengthen your organization? At Ideal Outcomes, we can help you build a thriving culture that encourages employee development and continuous learning. We’ll help you attract top talent to your business and improve employee retention.
Get in touch to find out how we can help you create learning and development opportunities tailored to your business.