Employee Development: What It Is and Why It Matters

Plus, how to create your own employee development plan
Kate Heinz
December 9, 2019
Updated: May 4, 2021
Kate Heinz
December 9, 2019
Updated: May 4, 2021

The tech industry is always evolving. In order to stay sharp and relevant, tech professionals must constantly grow their skill set. Making employee development a priority within your company culture ensures your team stays well-informed on industry trends and best practices. 

Not only that, but offering professional development opportunities boosts employee engagement and attracts the top talent you need to keep growing. So, what exactly is employee development and why should you care about it? Read on to learn the benefits and how to seamlessly integrate an employee development plan into your company.

Employee Development definition

Employee development is the process where employees, with the support of their employer, go through professional training to improve their skills and grow their knowledge.



Table of Contents


What Is Employee Development?

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Employee development — often referred to as professional development — is the process during which employees, with the support of their employer, go through professional training to improve their skills and grow their knowledge. 

Employee development does not refer solely to optimizing an individual’s skill set for a particular role. Rather, it refers to continued learning that nurtures professionals and helps them progress on their individual career path. While it’s ultimately the individual’s responsibility to own their professional development, it’s to the employer’s benefit to encourage continuing education by providing or facilitating both internal and external learning opportunities.

Prioritizing employee development ensures that team members' skills continue to evolve in accordance with industry trends and best practices. Think of medical professionals, who are required to retake board certification exams every few years to make sure their skills are still up to snuff.


Why Is Employee Development Important?

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Employers often underestimate the value of professional development for their staff. However, 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.

Perhaps more impactful, though, is the value employees and job seekers place on development opportunities when considering offers. Making learning and development a focus of your company culture helps improve employee engagement, increase retention and attract elite candidates. Take a look at these six facts that further prove the importance of employee development. 


A lack of career growth opportunities is the top reason employees leave their jobs.

No one wants a dead-end job at a company that doesn’t value its people. Develop your employees’ careers, and they’ll reward you with improved performance and higher retention.


Employee development is the single most important aspect of a benefits program in regards to retention rates.

Perks are great, but they only go so far. Employee development is a long-term investment that won’t go unnoticed and will keep your people around for the long haul.


74% of employees believe they are not reaching their full potential due to a lack of professional development opportunities.

Allowing employees to feel undervalued and underdeveloped will inevitably result in a disengaged workforce and high turnover rates.


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70% of American workers would leave their current job for one that has a reputation of investing in employee development. 

Employee development is an attractive employee benefit. If you don’t start investing in your team and developing your employees, they’ll find someone who will.


Employees in training courses are 37% more productive.

Learning and development opportunities improve productivity. It’s as simple as that.


Companies that invest in professional development and skills training boast 24% higher profit margins. 

If more productive employees aren’t enough, employee development also boosts profitability. 




How to Create a Strong Employee Development Plan

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Failing to provide employees with professional development opportunities conveys a lack of employer compassion and suggests the role will quickly plateau, meaning careers will reach their limits. If you don’t currently have one in place, it’s time to implement an employee development plan for your team. 

Tailoring the plan to reflect your unique workforce is critical. Your industry and staff size will be driving forces, but learning styles, preferences, subject matter and accessibility are all factors to consider, too. If the professional development opportunities you offer don’t appeal to or benefit your employees, they’ll lose interest and disengage with the program. 

Use the following guidelines to implement an employee development plan in your company.


Step 1: Evaluate your company and long-term goals 

Before you can put a plan into action, you must assess your current workforce and company with the future you envision for both in mind. Take stock of how your employees and teams operate today. Then, consider what may need to change in order to progress and what challenges could arise along the way. 

A successful plan should achieve three main objectives. First, you should aim to provide opportunities that meet your employees’ individual aspirations. This is a strategic employee engagement play that will make your people feel valued and keep them interested in their work.

Secondly, your plan should address your company’s long-term strategy and growth goals. What are the major benchmarks you hope to reach, and which of your employees’ skills need to be developed or acquired in order to meet these objectives? 

As you grow, leadership roles will undoubtedly open, providing you with more opportunities to promote from within. The third facet of your employee development plan should address leadership training by helping employees grow as future managers and leaders of your company.


Step 2: Create employee-specific development plans

Have managers sit down with their direct reports to discuss what employees enjoy about their work, what they find difficult, what disinterests them and how they hope to progress in their role. Employees should be held accountable for adhering to their development plan, but managers are responsible for guiding and supporting reports on their career paths. 

Encourage employees and managers to meet regularly to discuss the employee’s development plan and brainstorm opportunities for professional development. Again, tailoring opportunities to the individual is key; if they’re not receptive to the training format or subject matter, they likely won’t retain the information and the learning opportunity will have been wasted. 


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Step 3: Provide development offerings

Use employee-specific plans to create company-wide professional development opportunities. If several employees say they’d like to take various skills training courses but don’t have the time for an event outside of work hours, consider purchasing an online learning subscription. Employees can share access to the platform and complete courses from the comfort of their own home without taking time away from work.

Additionally, if a majority of employees show interest in learning more about a specific topic, such as public speaking, host an in-office training seminar. To cut costs, tap into your leadership team’s networks to identify a talented orator and colleague who may be interested in sharing a few tips during a lunch-and-learn. If employees are split across subject matter and learning avenues, consider offering a professional development stipend to support employees in their individual pursuits. 


Step 4: Evaluate your efforts and solicit feedback

Depending on the material, the immediate benefits of employee development can be difficult to gauge. You probably won’t see new deals close overnight as a result of sales training, but you will see substantially higher close rates and employee retention in the long run.

The strongest indicator of success will be your employees’ responses. Because professional development opportunities are drivers of employee engagement, conducting regular employee engagement surveys is an effective way to measure your team members’ interest in and happiness with your professional development offerings. 

Ensure managers routinely check in on their direct reports’ progress. Is additional training required to master a particular skill? Did they discover a more efficient way to tackle their responsibilities? Which learning opportunities did they enjoy the most, and which did they dislike? Managers should adjust the individual employee’s development plan accordingly and communicate big picture ideas to leadership so they can modify the company-wide strategy. 


5 Easy Employee Development Ideas

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You don’t need to break the bank or go very far to make professional development opportunities a reality. Several of the following ideas can be easily implemented in your organization to promote learning and development organically. 

However, don’t turn your back on the more costly opportunities outside your office. While your team can grow their skill set simply by utilizing your internal resources, every industry is full of brilliant minds who have something to offer — give your employees the chance to learn from them when you can.


1. Implement Mentorship Opportunities

Access to industry experts and the chance to learn from them is a top priority among job seekers, especially tech candidates. The fast-paced evolution of the tech industry makes continual professional development a necessity, and working alongside experts in the field organically integrates regular learning opportunities into the role.

Most managers and leaders may feel like they are too bogged down by their responsibilities to find time to mentor employees, and 41% of mentees have a hard time getting time with their mentor. However, mentorship simply begins with a conversation. Encourage managers to ask their direct reports about which tasks or aspects of their role they struggle with most, and if they think any additional skills would improve their success. 

However, if managers and leaders are unable to mentor individual contributors, consider implementing a mentorship program that spans outside the department or even the office. In fact, 67% of employees say their mentor is not the same person as their manager. Seek out individuals who are naturally great mentors and want to foster meaningful relationships. Don’t forget to reward them for their time and help.


2. Create Shadowing Opportunities

Professional development shouldn’t be limited to an employee’s current field. Give your team members a chance to learn from one another by creating a shadowing program that empowers employees to observe the role of a colleague for a day, a week or even months at a time. This promotes cross-departmental collaboration, improves how teams work together and fosters employee relationships.

A shadowing program is exceptionally helpful for when an employee becomes disengaged with their work. Making it easy to explore other career paths within your organization shows you value your people as individuals, not just employees, and increases the likelihood of retaining a great employee who just needs a new passion. 


3. Host Lunch and Learns

You hire your people for a reason — they know their stuff and are eager to learn more. Promote knowledge transfer by planning lunch and learns where individuals can share information about their line of work, new developments in their field and how their work impacts other teams. 

This is also a great platform for employees to share information about their hobbies and interests outside of work, helping to foster personal relationships between coworkers. And if there’s one way to make your event more successful — it’s food. If you have room in the budget, provide lunch for the participants to encourage participation and make the event feel more like an exciting learning opportunity rather than a meeting.


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4. Provide Professional Training

If a new skill can’t be acquired in-house, it’s to your benefit as an employer to offer professional development opportunities outside of the office. Training seminars and certifications are widely offered and cover topics ranging from public speaking to coding languages. 

Allocate part of your annual budget to offer professional development stipends to employees. Not only is this an attractive benefit that will catch the eye of top talent, a continued learning stipend will also engage employees and help them gain knowledge that can propel your company further. Doing so will ensure your most skilled employees don’t burnout or feel like they’ve plateaued in their career.

If you don’t currently have room in the budget, don’t worry — there are plenty of affordable online training options. Lynda.com, Skillshare and Udemy are popular learning platforms that range in skill level and subject matter. Free platforms, like YouTube, also make it easy to access videos and tutorials covering just about anything. It’s simple to find an affordable online avenue for professional development.


5. Establish a Rotational Program

Rotational programs allow employees to work on various projects across departments for several weeks to a few months at a time. It is especially beneficial to new hires as they become acquainted with your company. The program helps new hires understand the different facets of your business and get to know their colleagues.

Still, a rotational program can benefit tenured employees. Temporarily working in a different department encourages knowledge transfer, which employees can use to improve processes between teams. Employees may also discover new interests or passions that they can nurture into valuable skills. Furthermore, a brief hiatus from their daily responsibilities can challenge and reinvigorate employees, encouraging them to flex different muscles and approach their role from a new perspective.


Making employee development a central part of your organization will benefit your business in more ways than one. Investing in your employees helps foster an engaged workforce, which is proven to be more productive, profitable and attractive than companies with disengaged employees. Want more ideas to enhance your company culture? Check out these 41 culture ideas from successful companies.



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