How Do Professional Development Programs Work? (Plus Types)

Updated June 24, 2022

Professional development programs can help you learn new skills and contribute more to your workplace. Ongoing professional development is also useful for advancing your career and earning a higher salary. Learning about different programs and how they work can help you find the best options for your career path. In this article, we explain how professional development programs work and outline some different types of programs for you to explore.

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What are professional development programs?

Professional development programs are trainings, courses and classes that help employees learn new skills or maintain a certification or license. These programs are available for professionals in nearly every field and include the following types:

  • On-the-job training

  • College courses

  • Workshops

  • Seminars

  • License or certification courses

  • Conferences

Some employers offer these programs through their organization to help employees gain relevant professional skills. Employees can also pursue opportunities independent from their organization. Taking part in professional development programs can be a great way to expand your skill set, earn credentials for career advancement and network with other professionals attending development events.

Related: What Is Professional Development? Definition and Examples

How professional development programs work

Professional development programs differ in how they work and what areas of development they target. Here are some ways professional development programs can facilitate career growth:

Promoting networking opportunities

The structure of many professional development programs allows attendees to meet others in their field. Workshops, conferences or seminars are great opportunities for professionals to meet others in their industry so they can grow their networks. When individuals take part in professional development opportunities, it can help them meet others who may contribute to their career advancement options. The structures of these programs facilitate networking so that participants gain the benefits of skills training and generate contacts with others in their field.

Related: What Is a Professional Organization?

Offering continuing education opportunities

Another way that professional development programs work is through continuing education. These opportunities include:

  • Enrolling in a degree, certification or accreditation course or program

  • Taking and passing required exams for the field

  • Maintaining certifications or licensure through continuing education

Continuing education programs help professionals gain credentials so they can advance their careers. The design of these programs typically requires candidates to attend classes to gain new knowledge or pass an exam to show their expertise on a topic. After completing the program, participants earn degrees, certifications and other types of credentials that they can include on their resumes. Having certain credentials may expand your career opportunities or allow you to advance into higher-level positions at your current organization. In some fields, it's required for professionals to continue their education so they can renew their certifications or licenses.

Related: 12 Types of Continuing Education

Developing organization-specific skills

Some types of professional development programs focus on helping employees gain specialized skills within an industry or organization. For example, executive coaching, mentoring and custom training are types of development programs that help employees gain specialized skills. Organizations design these programs to train employees in skills that relate directly to their roles within the company. While executive coaching and mentoring allow professionals to receive individualized training, custom training can also work for onboarding groups of new employees.

Professional development program benefits

Completing a professional development program can help you gain new skills and knowledge that increase your chances of earning a raise or promotion in your current job or getting your preferred job. Many programs also give certifications, diplomas or licenses once you complete them, which you can add to your resume. Many employers seek candidates with relevant certifications or training, so having additional credentials on your resume can make you a more competitive candidate and help you during the salary negotiation process.

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Types of professional development programs

Types of professional development programs can vary between industries. Here are a few types of development programs with considerations for how they promote employee growth:

Skill and performance development

This type of development focuses on growing professional skills, enhancing productivity, increasing knowledge and improving performance in the workplace. Some of these development opportunities focus on a specific workplace skill, like communication, while others may emphasize a set of related skills, such as leadership abilities. Skill and performance development trainings help employees learn specific strategies to improve workplace-related soft skills. These skills improve how effectively employees perform in the workplace by helping them better their interpersonal abilities, manage their time, maintain organization, enhance creativity and increase critical thinking skills.

Technology development

Technology development programs train employees to use technical equipment or software programs. Depending on the industry in which you work, you may need to learn new technology frequently. For example, if you work in the medical field, you may need to learn how to use new patient scheduling software or medical devices for patient treatment. Those working in IT and computer programming often need to learn new software systems and programming languages. These types of programs often grant certifications to those who complete them, and including these certifications on your resume can help your job application stand out from others.

Management development

Managers frequently attend leadership and development trainings to learn new management strategies, refine their existing leadership style and develop new skills that help them lead their teams. Good management helps businesses operate more efficiently and it can improve employee satisfaction in the workplace. Effective management provides structure and direction to departments so that employees can consistently reach their productivity goals. When managers invest in their professional development, it can help them serve their team so they can perform their best work on behalf of their organization.

Related: How To Write a Professional Development Plan (With Examples)

Executive coaching

Executive coaching is an individualized approach to professional development. Typically, executive coaching involves a senior manager working directly with mid-level managers to facilitate their growth and help them advance into a higher level of management. They support this growth by identifying development opportunities for their client, collaborating to set development goals, monitoring client progress and offering feedback throughout the coaching process. This development type helps mid-level managers gain the skills they need to advance into higher-level leadership positions.


Mentoring involves a senior member in an organization or industry coaching a less experienced individual. Some companies implement mentoring programs to help new employee onboarding or improve the performance of current employees. With this type of program, a senior employee acts as a mentor to a less experienced team member.

The mentor works with their mentee to set development goals, identify their strengths and weaknesses and problem-solve strategies to improve performance. Mentors can also help new employees by being a point of contact for questions. Having an experienced team member to offer advice, guidance and support can help new hires transition into their roles.

Custom training

Individual organizations develop customized training programs to meet their specific internal needs. This type of training is common in industries where employees need to use specialized equipment and software or follow certain policies to perform their roles. For example, a laboratory may have a custom training program that teaches new employees about the lab's specific safety protocols. Since safety protocols can vary depending on the type of lab, each facility may have a different training course for its employees. Some other types of custom trainings may include:

  • Product knowledge

  • Policy compliance

  • Internal systems

  • Organization-specific leadership and management

Professional education courses

Continuing education can be a great opportunity for individuals looking to improve their professional opportunities. Some careers require candidates to have an advanced degree, while others may prefer to hire professionals with certain credentials or certifications. Professionals looking to gain credentials in a specific subject may consider continuing their education as a method of professional development. Although many educational programs require time and money to pursue, some companies may compensate employees looking to enroll in one of these programs.

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