Have you ever heard that cliché about how, even after graduating from school, we never stop learning? Employee professional development is only further proof of that statement’s truth.
The phrase “professional development” encompasses any sort of learning opportunity presented to an employee to further their knowledge or skillset in their career. Built In, an online community for startups and tech companies, defines professional development as, “the process during which employees, with the support of their employer, go through professional training to improve their skills and grow their knowledge.” 1 It’s common for employers to encourage professional development in their employees, and some even include an annual stipend to be used for professional development as a benefit.
Regardless of who foots the bill, professional development is short money for a large return, making it something that should absolutely be encouraged across the staff, and here’s why.
How does the company benefit?
You want the most qualified team possible.
Obviously, you want the best people on your team, and this means your team is the most qualified through continuous learning. As Built In explains, “…helping employees hone their strengths and grow their skills better equips them for their role. This adds more value to the work they do and directly benefits your business.”
Not only that, but making it clear that your company focuses on professional development, and perhaps even offering it as a benefit, increases employee retention and attracts candidates who value continuous learning and refining of their skills. Employees invested in their professional development are the types of “go-getters” that make up the best team possible. 1
Show your employees how much you value them by investing in them.
An investment in your employees’ professional development is an outward demonstration of how much you value not only their work, but also their potential in the long term. One could even view it as a sort of positive reinforcement of the company’s belief in their abilities and view of them as people worth going above and beyond to invest in. As Mike Crawford from The Business Journals explains, “When you have an organization full of valued individuals, morale—and in turn, productivity—will be at an all-time high.” 2
From another perspective, not only is the investment in professional development a nice morale booster, but it’s also a strong safeguard against losing valuable talent.
According to Chronus, “Employees consistently cite career development as critical to their satisfaction with an organization, and the lack of it is a key reason why they change jobs. In fact, Hay Group data on the predictors of employee retention indicate a company’s employee development is the most important aspect of a company’s reward program as far as talent retention is concerned.” 3
Types of Professional Development
Self-Serve Digital Learning Platforms
Gaining popularity in-step with the growing remote workforce, digital learning platforms are an excellent professional development option for those who wish to be in control of their own learning and schedule. One example is LinkedIn Learning, the professional social networking’s online professional development offering. Born from LinkedIn’s acquisition of Lynda in 2015, LinkedIn Learning has become a go-to platform for the digital-co u rse side of professional development .4 A company-wide subscription can offer all employees unfettered access to over 16,000 online courses, completed in one’s own time, on their own schedule. The available topics range from elementary instruction in Adobe programs to mastering data visualization and beyond. Not ready to make an investment that large? Subscriptions are also available on a smaller scale, for individuals.5
Continuing Education and Accreditation Classes
For those looking for more specific or advanced subject matter on a more structured schedule, a classic example of a professional development opportunity is a continuing education or accreditation class. Lasting anywhere from one day to a few months, these classes are often taught by professionals with proven experience and success in their respective fields, so you can rest assured that your employee is learning from the best in the biz. While any number of official groups and organizations offer such classes, they can often be found at renowned universities and colleges, further solidifying their reputation as a quality educational experience.
Another wonderful professional development opportunity (and usually for short money) is attending a professional conference. Professional development conference experts Curtis & Coulter break down the main reasons for attending conferences as follows:6
- To network
- To expand your knowledge and find solutions to problems
- To present your ideas and work to others
- For people to meet you
- Learn beyond your field of interest
Like most things in life, the value one gets from a conference is usually proportional to the effort and attention they put in while they’re there. If the goal is to stay current on a few relevant topics, planning a schedule and deciding the sessions to attend ahead of time is a way to stay on track and leave with the most useful information. For those looking to network, staying on their “A game” and coming equipped with a few business cards can facilitate networking conversations during break-out sessions and coffee breaks.
As a manager sending a direct report to a conference, it can be helpful to encourage your employees to fully disconnect from their normal work obligations while in attendance. Encouraging them to focus on the event ensures they get the most out of the investment, hopefully helping them to feel invigorated, informed, and valued, instead of extra tired and stressed from trying to do their job in the corner of an expo center while taking in fragments of distracting information from the presenters in front of them.
The Bottom Line
At the risk of throwing yet another cliché into the pot, it’s worth quoting Henry Ford, who said, “If you do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got,” and that concept applies here.6 You can hire the best team in the game, with the richest experience and most impressive education. But at the end of the day, business is innovating at a rate that requires continuous learning. “Do what you always did,” and you’ll inevitably end up left behind. As Crawford points out, “With the professional world moving at a faster pace than ever before, standing still will cause you to be left behind as peers expand their knowledge and skills.” Regardless of whether or not you encourage professional development for your team, know that your competitors are likely engaging in these opportunities to keep their teams agile, informed, motivated, and ready to innovate, which has a direct impact on their bottom line. Can you compete?
1. Heinz, Kate. "Employee Development: What It Is and Why It Matters." Built In. https://builtin.com/company-culture/employee-development. Accessed 29 Sept. 2021.
2. Crawford, Mike. "Why professional development matters to the success of a company." American City Business Journals. https://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/how-to/growth-strategies/2016/09/professional-development-matters-success-company.html. Accessed 29 Sept. 2021.
3. Chronus. "Why Employee Development is More Important Than Ever." Chronus LLC. https://chronus.com/employee-development. Accessed 29 Sept. 2021.
4. Lunden, Ingrid. "LinkedIn doubles down on development with new learning hub, free courses and new search fields for hybrid working." Tech Crunch, Verizon Media. https://techcrunch.com/. Accessed 29 Sept. 2021.
5. LinkedIn Learning. https://www.linkedin.com/learning/. LinkedIn. Accessed 29 Sept. 2021.
6. Curtis & Coulter. https://curtiscoulter.com/. Accessed 29 Sept. 2021.
7. Goodreads. "Henry Ford Quotes." Goodreads, Inc. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/904186-if-you-always-do-what-you-ve-always-done-you-ll-always. Accessed 29 Sept. 2021.