Helping employees understand how to pursue professional development is an essential aspect of employee retention and organizational success. As we all know, in today’s ever-changing society, there is no degree guaranteed to provide the requisite knowledge necessary to sustain an entire career, which means it's critical we help to ensure that employees can succeed, not only in their role and for their company, but also in their careers.
In a recent University of Phoenix School of Business survey on professional development, we found a notable disconnect between employer and employee perceptions of professional development in the workplace. Nearly all hiring managers (90 percent) agreed that keeping skills up to date is part of the job in their organization, but more than a third of employees say they are not confident that their employer’s professional development programs can strengthen their skills.
Training needs to be as agile as the workforce itself, where time, flexibility, and innovation are essential drivers.
A New Paradigm in Employee Development
Despite growing investment in employee learning and development in recent years, business leaders still wrestle with how to improve the quality and effectiveness of their programs. To understand why programs may not be as successful as they could be, start by considering your employee makeup. Companies today have found themselves managing a multigenerational workplace in which each group has its own values, attitudes, and work habits. Each generation works differently, and they also learn differently. We need to adapt to our employees’ preferences and expectations by creating an environment that enables self-taught, self-directed learning that is adaptive and accessible in both micro- and macro-course offerings.
Bridging the Gap
Asking employees to engage in time-consuming learning and development activities on top of their already heavy workload can be overwhelming. Remember to ground yourself in the basics before investing in a new learning and development program. Ask yourself, is this an efficient use of our employees’ time? Is there a connection to employees’ careers, and does the program fit in with their jobs and their lives?
Training needs to be as agile as the workforce itself, where time, flexibility, and innovation are essential drivers. Training also needs to be available on platforms that allow it to be delivered whenever and wherever the employee needs it.
Act Like a Startup
In the 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics Employee Tenure Report, workers had been with their current employer for 4.2 years, and for workers ages 25 to 34, that number drops to 2.8 years. It's critical that your company culture empowers and encourages employees’ own ideas for growth.
An entrepreneurial approach to professional development has advantages for employees and companies alike. Employees are empowered to leverage the program to help jumpstart their next idea or growth opportunity, and employers create an entrepreneurial environment that not only encourages innovation, but also helps to attract and retain engaged, high-quality talent.
Much like small businesses and startups, employees are navigating a complex environment in which innovation, initiative, resiliency. and risk-taking are the ultimate differentiators. It takes business leaders with grit and drive to spur innovation within their organizations to support employee-driven professional development.
Here are a few tips to help employees approach their development like entrepreneurs:
- Establish a “test and learn culture.” Employers need to create a culture where employees are empowered to innovate and test their ideas while learning from their business outcomes. In some cases, that means embracing failure as an opportunity to learn and develop future ideas.
- Encourage employees to engage in an honest skills assessment. It’s important for employees to understand the desired end-goal in their careers and always be considering the next move or the next skill development that will get them closer to that goal.
- Encourage cross-functional projects. Hands-on experience on cross-functional projects can help employees better understand how their role fits into the big picture of your organization, and uncovers areas they may need or want to grow skills.
- Assess the risk. In some instances, self-driven employee development may not be beneficial. Be strategic, and assess the resources involved and whether your organization is ready to take on that amount of risk.
Balancing work and career growth opportunities can be difficult. We are always exploring new ways to shorten the amount of time it takes to become career-ready. By meeting employees where they are, and effectively utilizing their time and resources, professional development can be mutually beneficial to both employers and employees, and not just another box checked on a list of annual performance goals.