Professional development is not exclusively for CPAs, attorneys, physicians, engineers and others who must satisfy the requirements for renewing a professional license. It can help businesses be more competitive by fostering an environment in which employees are more productive, loyal and content.
Professional development, also called continuing education, was once the domain of those who were required to show proof when renewing a professional license that they had kept their skills current. Today, however, employers should actively support professional development for all of their employees.
Some employers claim that there is no time for such efforts, or that it could prove too expensive. Many worry that all they would be doing is enhancing employees' skills for a future employer. They ask themselves what would happen if they encourage professional development and some of their employees leave. A better question would be to ask what would happen if they ignore professional development and their employees stay.
Think of your business as an ancient ship to carry passengers and goods that is propelled by oarsmen. In your business, you probably have "rowers and riders." The rowers are the ones who innovate, who go the extra mile for the company and who care about doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. The riders probably perform their tasks adequately, but they seldom exceed you expectations.
Now imagine a scenario in which all of your "rowers" simply vanish. How many "riders" will be equipped to step up and become "rowers"? A proactive professional development program can help turn some of your "riders" into "rowers."
Besides the possibility that you might discover the next corporate superstar, there are sound business reasons that justify your support of professional development for your employees.
The Top 4 Reasons to Embrace Professional Development
1. Happy employees are more loyal, and loyal employees are more productive. Virtually all employees will be happier if employers express a genuine interest in helping them develop the skills that they will need to advance their careers. This is especially true for millennials, who value mentoring, opportunities to interact with their bosses and the potential to realize their ambitions.
2. Your organization's needs are going to change, and it will be easier to meet these changes if you have personnel with the skills needed. Your business must continuously adapt to economic conditions, competition and changes in regulations, laws and tax codes. Technological advances can offer new ways to do more in less time and with fewer resources. New methodologies might allow you to streamline cumbersome practices. Having people already in place who have the knowledge and training to meet the challenges involved with change can make the process less disruptive.
3. A succession plan is necessary if you want your business to thrive in the future. Part of your succession plan probably includes identifying talented employees and nurturing them. However, your efforts will be futile if you cannot retain the best employees. A 2012 study reported by Forbes revealed that retaining top talent can be a problem. The study identified 1,200 "top young managers." Of those surveyed, 95 percent were actively networking in pursuit of another job and 75 percent had engaged recruiters or sent out their resumes. One critical reason given for seeking employment elsewhere was that although the employees valued mentoring, training and coaching very highly, their employers were falling far below expectations in those areas.
4. People like to feel that they have a great deal of control over their careers, and they often feel dissatisfied or stressed when they perceive a lack of control. Supporting professional development for your employees helps them feel that they have more control over their own destinies. The reduced stress and negativism can often translate into increased creativity, less absenteeism, better productivity, improved communications and enhanced teamwork.
What Employers Can Do
Professional development is a collaborative effort that requires the cooperation of both the employee and the employer. As such, not all of the responsibility should rest with the employer. However, there are steps that an employer can take to encourage employees to be proactive about seeking opportunities for further development.
- Encourage employees to "own" their careers. Let them know that you are there to support them, but that the final responsibility for furthering their careers rests squarely on their shoulders.
- Identify the skills needed to succeed in each job, including those essential for the position to which the employee would most likely advance. Sit down with each employee and discuss the skills that are important currently and in the future. Help employees identify which skills they may be lacking.
- Be as transparent as possible. Naturally, there may be certain information that you cannot disclose unless an employee has a true "need to know." However, in many companies, essential information is not shared with the individuals who are expected to assume greater responsibility in the future until after promotions occur. The learning curve for the new position is extended, leading to a loss of productivity while the employee struggles to amass the information needed to perform.
- Show an interest in what employees have learned from courses, seminars or other activities. Discuss the activity in general, but also ask what the employee learned that he feels will be most useful to him in his current position. Ask whether the activity helped him identify other areas in which he feels he needs to improve.
- Foster an environment of constant learning. Not all professional development needs to be costly, formal or off-premises. Consider cross-training or rotating certain job duties. Sponsor employee discussion groups to allow employees to share their experiences and mentor others. Form a task force or committee to identify the needs of the employees, such as formal classes, support for advanced degrees or training in specific skills.
Each employee represents an investment of both time and money. When employees achieve more, companies benefit. In the modern world, it is often the people who give a company an advantage over the competition. Therefore, it only makes sense to take the steps to ensure that you have the best, most creative, happiest and most loyal employees you can find — or develop.