What is professional development?
Professional development refers to any combination of classes, trainings and ongoing education that helps employees learn and implement new career skills. Many businesses include professional development opportunities as a way to keep their employees up-to-date on industry practices and ensure that their staff has the skills to stay competitive within a changing market. Individuals who want to move up in their careers can seek out personal professional development by taking classes, shadowing other professionals and signing up for programs in their industry.
Why is it important to provide professional development opportunities for your employees?
Encouraging professional development is one of the best ways you can keep your employees engaged and focused on succeeding as a team. As an employer, you have to ensure that your entire staff can develop and grow alongside your company. People are also increasingly looking to use their time in the workplace as a way to become more competent and successful in their careers. Some of the key benefits of sourcing professional development opportunities for your employees include:
When employees feel that they can grow at a company, they are more motivated to stay with their current employer instead of looking for outside opportunities at another business. Hiring and training new employees is expensive and staff turnover can also reduce overall productivity. Providing employees with chances to develop their career can help them to feel supported and envision themselves as a long-term part of your business.
You can attract top talent by advertising professional development as one of your benefits. Ambitious applicants generally look for employers who can help them refine their training and become a top professional in their field. If a potential job candidate knows that your company funds trips to industry conferences, provides classes and invests in other professional development courses for its employees, they may be more interested in applying.
Positive company culture
Professional development opportunities can boost team morale and contribute to a positive company culture. When everyone on your staff is committed to lifelong learning and professional growth, the office environment can become more supportive. Encouraging your staff to take advantage of professional development opportunities can make people feel more confident and invested in their work.
By offering to train your employees through professional development opportunities, you develop a more skilled and knowledgeable staff. Encouraging your employees to pursue professional growth means that they return to work with more industry knowledge. You can apply the lessons they learned to future trainings, building their adult education coursework into your company’s practices.
Giving your team professional development opportunities helps them perform better in their individual positions. This allows your team to operate more effectively, implement new ideas and create a more powerful team. When each of your employees is being more productive on an individual level, you also grow your capabilities as a team.
Types of professional development opportunities
There are several ways you can present professional development opportunities to your team. Offering multiple types of professional development makes it easier for everyone to take advantage of these programs. Here are seven ways you can help encourage professional development:
1. On-site training
Bringing outside experts to your workplace to host trainings is a great way to get your staff involved in professional development. You can hold trainings during all-staff meetings to make it easy for all employees to attend. On-site trainings usually target a specific skill or process. For example, you can hold an on-site software training to teach employees how to use your company’s spreadsheet software more efficiently.
2. Mentorship programs
One-on-one or group mentorship is a great way to help your employees grow their professional skills. Junior employees can directly learn from the expertise of seasoned professionals in their field, while high-level employees can bolster their own skills by teaching others. Create a system for matching new employees with mentors so that all employees have the opportunity to learn from one another.
Industry conferences are amazing learning opportunities. Selecting employees to attend conferences is a popular way of driving professional development on your staff while also promoting your business within your industry. Use company funds to arrange for travel, lodging, accommodations and conference fees for a few employees each year, then set up a meeting where they can share the highlights of what they learned with the entire team.
4. Online courses
Try offering free online courses to your employees as a way to give them professional support that is flexible and relevant to their unique interests. You can give your employees the option to choose between different types of online courses that they can complete whenever it is convenient for them. Online courses are especially helpful for remote employees or people who have hectic schedules and don’t have time to meet in-person for professional development.
5. Tuition reimbursement
Empower your employees to pursue their education by offering tuition reimbursement for college or adult education classes. This shows employees that you care about their individual aspirations. Employees can benefit by achieving their educational goals, and you can benefit from having a highly-educated staff with specialized knowledge.
6. Leadership roles
Giving your employees additional leadership opportunities is also professional development, even if it isn’t as structured as outside professional development programs. Talk to your employees about whether they are interested in taking on more responsibilities, then give them opportunities to take the lead on projects or take over new duties.
7. Cross-departmental training
Invite your employees from different departments to share their expertise with their colleagues. This allows your employees to learn skills that they may not have otherwise developed in their day-to-day work. Having employees host “lunch and learns” where they teach a subject they are passionate about to others on their team. This professional development format is low-pressure and recognizes the value your employees currently bring to the workplace.
Tips for encouraging employees to pursue professional growth
Professional development opportunities are only impactful if your employees take advantage of the programs you have to offer. Use these tips to encourage your employees to get involved with their own professional development at your company:
Meet with them to identify goals
Start by talking to your employees about their professional goals. Understanding the values and needs of your employees will help you design a professional development program that is most relevant to their interests. Ask your employees what kinds of opportunities they would most like to participate in to ensure you are using your budget effectively. Getting employee buy-in before setting up professional development opportunities will help you generate excitement among your team.
Reward their participation
Offer incentives to your employees who participate in professional development. Employees can sometimes feel that their current workload is too overwhelming already, discouraging them from participating in professional development. You can offset this challenge by providing a reward to employees who take online classes or attend on-site events. Entering employees in a raffle, giving out small gifts or arranging for paid trainings are all great ways to get employees engaged.
Offer regular feedback
Employees will likely be more motivated to pursue professional development if they know what areas they need to focus on. Meet regularly with your employees to give them constructive feedback and advice on how they can improve their career skills. Praise successes and recognize employees who show a high aptitude for a certain area, then inform them of related professional development opportunities that your company offers.
Use a learning management system
A learning management system (LMS) is a type of software that tracks employee professional development. It is a simple interface that you can use to track employee progress and give your team access to new continued learning courses. Using an LMS simplifies the process of accessing professional development materials, making it easier for employees to do small professional development tasks in their free time.
Create a schedule
Look at your employees’ individual schedules to determine when most people will be available for group trainings. Creating a schedule for professional development activities will help your employees make professional development part of their workflow. For high-cost events like conferences, develop a rotating plan of who gets to attend each year and make employees aware of when their turn is coming up.
Share your experiences
Encourage your team to value their professional development by talking about your own experience as a manager and leader. Sharing personal insights can help people get more excited about the opportunities they have for achieving their career goals.