To succeed in any industry, companies must constantly innovate and evolve to stay on the cutting edge — and that entails helping their employees continuously develop professionally.
Making employee development a key part of company culture ensures workers stay up to date on industry best practices and learn new skills. This, in turn, boosts employee engagement and attracts top talent.
So, what exactly is employee development and why should you care about it? Read on to learn the benefits and how to seamlessly integrate a people development plan into your company.
What Is Employee Development?
Employee development — often referred to as professional development or staff development — encompasses any professional training or continuing education that an employer facilitates in order to support workers in furthering their career. It covers a variety of learning opportunities, including seminars, professional certifications, higher education courses and mentorship programs.
Prioritizing staff development ensures that team members’ skills evolve in accordance with industry trends and best practices. And employers who invest in additional education that complements an employee’s career trajectory can see higher retention rates, more engaged staff and greater revenue.
Professional development is meant to improve employees’ skills and knowledge so they can progress in their overall career path, not just build a skill set for a particular role. 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 ensuring staff have access to both internal and external learning opportunities.
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Why Is Employee Development Important?
Employers who invest in staff development help their employees hone strengths and grow skills, which better equips them for their current roles. This adds more value to the work they do and directly benefits the business.
Benefits of Professional Development
- Improves employee engagement.
- Increases retention.
- Attracts top job candidates.
- Enhances productivity.
- Helps employees reach their full potential.
- Boosts profits.
Perhaps more impactful, though, is the value employees and job seekers place on people-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 reasons that further prove why employee development is important.
1. EMPLOYEES WANT CAREER GROWTH
No one wants a dead-end job at a company that doesn’t value its people. Record numbers of employees have left their jobs in search of better work-life balance, pay and benefits, which has been coined the Great Resignation. Another reason why employees are quitting jobs is lack of professional development opportunities. In a fall 2021 report by Monster, 45 percent of surveyed employees said they would be more likely to stay at their current jobs if they were offered more training. Develop your employees’ careers, and they’ll reward you with improved performance and higher retention.
2. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT BENEFITS RETENTION
Employee development is a long-term investment that can help retain and grow your talent. More than 4 million U.S. workers quit their jobs in June 2022, and 40 percent of people surveyed in six countries in 2022 indicated they plan to leave their jobs. So dedicating resources to employee retention is more important than ever.
3. EMPLOYEES NEED PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT TO REACH THEIR FULL POTENTIAL
According to ClearCompany, 74 percent of employees say that a lack of professional development is preventing them from reaching their full potential. That leaves many employees set up to feel undervalued and underdeveloped, inevitably resulting in a disengaged workforce and high turnover rates. Investing in people development allows your talent to feel good about growing their skills, and learning opportunities can translate into integral promotions that allow you to retain top talent.
4. EMPLOYEES STAY AT COMPANIES THAT INVEST IN STAFF DEVELOPMENT
If companies invested in staff development, 94 percent of employees would stay longer, according to ClearCompany. People 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.
5. EMPLOYEES IN TRAINING COURSES ARE MORE PRODUCTIVE
Learning and development opportunities improve productivity. It’s as simple as that. Allowing employees to build their skills and knowledge increases their confidence, allowing them to complete work more efficiently and effectively, according to Indeed.
6. COMPANIES THAT INVEST IN EMPLOYEE DEVELOPMENT ARE MORE PROFITABLE
Not only are employees who participate in professional development more productive, employee development also boosts profitability. Research from the MIT Sloan School of Management showed that an employer’s year-long soft skills training program led to a roughly 250 percent return on investment within eight months. Upskilling could boost global GDP as much as $6.5 trillion by 2030, according to a 2021 report from the World Economic Forum in collaboration with international professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
How to Create a Strong Employee Development Plan
As employers struggle to retain talent, investing in employee development is a way to show your people that you care about their growth. If you don’t currently have a professional development plan in place, it’s time to implement an employee development plan for your team.
Creating a Successful Employee Development Plan
- Evaluate your company and long-term goals.
- Create employee-specific development plans.
- Provide development offerings.
- Evaluate your efforts and solicit feedback.
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. 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.
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 a 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.
Employee Development Examples
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.
Mentorship can take place within the office where managers and leaders mentor individual contributors, or companies can consider implementing a mentorship program that spans outside the department or even the office. 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
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. You could also use the time as an opportunity to encourage dialogue on important workplace topics like creating inclusive team environments, moderated by an employee with expertise in this area.
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.
Consider allocating 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. Encourage employees to use these stipends for learning opportunities like courses, certifications, professional memberships and conferences.
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.
4 ready-to-use templates to effectively plan, execute and measure your employer brand.