By Markey Read
Ever wish that only the most qualified, fully trained people apply for positions currently open within your organization? It would be amazing, right? After a quick hello and how-do-you-do, they could start being productive within days.
Can you imagine, no more training new employees in basic concepts like quality, teamwork, productivity, and customer service? No more weeding through the hoard of untrained, unqualified candidates? By the end of the week, you could return to whatever it is that you think is more important than on-boarding new employees.
But where would all those fabulous folks get trained? Are we in an age where individuals are expected to invest in their own professional development? Do you assume their previous employers will put them through days of training? Or do we hope that folks just pick it up along the way?
Whose responsibility is it to bring people up to your standards?
The short answer is all of the above.
Ongoing Professional Development Matters in the Long Run
If we want to maintain a healthy economy that can compete on the world stage, it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure professional development for everyone. This looks like individuals following their curiosities and learning or enhancing skills; companies providing regular in-house training and coaching; financial assistance for structured educational programs like advanced degrees and certifications; and staying engaged in our communities.
Every organization, no matter the size, has a vital role in this process. As employment becomes more fluid, companies that offer professional development will attract and keep higher-quality employees. Professional development can include formal opportunities like workshops, college classes, and certifications; and informal options like on-the-job learning, coaching, mentoring, peer-to-peer exchange, job shadowing, and attending conferences.
If you think this kind of training is expensive and that people will leave anyway, consider the costs that a bored or untrained employee can incur in low productivity and higher turnover rates. Most young professionals cite a lack of opportunity for personal and professional growth when leaving a job; and by the way, more mature professionals report the same.
The number one reason, however, that people leave their jobs is because there is a conflict with their manager. They will say it because they received an offer for better pay or they want to work from home, but people don’t quit jobs, they quit people. Providing coaching and mentoring for your managers and leaders is one of the best investments you can make. This includes training them in how to support their people to develop their skills, talents, and qualifications and giving them the resources to help that development.
Continuous professional development helps to ensure that you have a more resilient workforce to meet the ever-changing demands of our times. Additionally, research shows that individuals who access professional development are more engaged and committed to meeting the challenges of working at a dynamic organization. When that access is supported by the company, employees are more likely to be loyal and apply all their newly developed skills and knowledge to the success of their employer.
If you are hoping that larger employers in the state will pick up the slack, by the way, think again. With the vast majority of people working in Vermont being employed by companies with 50 or fewer employees and most of those folks working for companies with 10 or fewer employees, there are not enough large employers to provide all the professional development.
Introducing Professional Development Opportunities to Your Organization
Developing a professional development process can be as simple as training your managers to have “career conversations” separate from compensation and annual review conversations. When managers take time to listen to what their people want from life without the threat of being released for insufficient commitment, they may discover that an administrative assistant wants to be more involved with operations; a marketing assistant has some natural training and technical writing skills; a financial analyst wants to be more involved with human resource matters; and that a seeming mediocre sales representative would be a good sales manager.
The challenge for a manager is to balance the employees’ desires with their actual talents and the company’s needs. So maybe the administrative assistant is not given the title of operation manager, but they could take leadership in redesigning the office space or locating a new office, and the financial analyst could assume administration of payroll and benefits instead of becoming the human resource manager.
Some useful steps in assisting employees in their professional planning include:
- Taking an honest and thoughtful self-assessment to identify skill, knowledge and experience gaps.
- Planning practical steps with goals and timelines to fill gaps.
- Acting consistently with the plan by accessing peers, managers, mentors, webinars, conferences, certifications, and college courses, as necessary.
- Taking time to reflect and evaluate, making informed decisions along the way to allow for personal growth. If your managers are not amenable or lack the natural inclinations to having these conversations, then external professional career consultants can be useful.
Yes, Professional Development Matters… But what if I can’t accommodate employees’ professional goals?
The biggest concern I hear from business owners who want to do right by their employees is that they will not be able to accommodate their employees’ goals. They imagine a mass exodus, leaving the company in shambles.
First, you will be surprised to find that most people have fairly modest professional development ideas. Common requests include attending an out-of-town conference, joining a professional organization, or being able to lead a new project. Some people will want to pursue degrees or certifications and there are a variety of options, many of which are online, for continuing education.
Be careful to set modest expectations when initiating this process. Have a budget (even if it’s small), create guidelines for what kinds of professional development the company is willing to support and/or finance, and proceed slowly. Include your employees in developing the program – it could be a professional development opportunity for a few people to form an ad hoc committee and lead the company through the process.
It’s true that some people will decide to leave no matter what you do. While this can be disruptive and inconvenient for any employee to leave a small company, no one is irreplaceable.
I don’t say this to be heartless. I say it because, as a small business owner for more than 30 years, I have always been able to turn a welcomed or unwelcomed departure into an opportunity to redefine a position or reposition the company. We get attached to the predictable because it seems easier and more comfortable, but comfort is not necessarily what will help a company or team achieve its potential.
Making it safe for individuals to talk about their desire to separate allows for cleaner transitions for the individual and the company. When your employees live in fear of being escorted to the door at the hint of dissatisfaction, they conduct clandestine job searches (often using company time and resources) and will leave without notice, causing a lot more disruption.
Additionally, when a company chooses to release an employee — for whatever reason — the costs can include severance pay, outplacement services, higher unemployment taxes, and hiring a replacement. If all these resources were redirected toward professional development, you would at minimum break even.
Outplacement services are available to companies looking to transition employees, but professional development and continuing education is the better option. Trust me, in the long run, it is much less expensive and disruptive to the company, teams, and customer relations to provide professional development for your employees. In return, you will have a stronger, more effective, and resilient workforce that actively engages in the success of the company because they want to be a part of a dynamic company.
It really is up to all of us. Individuals can start by discovering their gaps and finding opportunities to enhance their skills and knowledge; companies can get creative about what they can provide, even if it’s just allowing their employees paid time off for learning; and learning institutions and government can provide grants and scholarships to broaden accessibility.
Markey Read, Chief Consultant at MRG Inc. in Williston, specializes in creating effective leadership teams for growing organizations.
Editor’s note: this article was originally published in 2015 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy.