In 2014, the median age of the workforce was about 42 years old. This fact means that half of employees are headed toward retirement age sooner rather than later.
They’ll be taking a lot of valuable experience and knowledge with them. On the other hand, young employees bring important new skills, such as technological proficiencies. It’s clear that the workplace is changing.
Professional development opportunities help fill gaps within organizations. Newer employees explore areas that they haven’t experienced yet. Long-term workers are exposed to advanced and contemporary approaches.
Teams benefit from continuing education, but so do employers. Given the chance to grow professionally, individuals bring their learning back to their daily work responsibilities.
Create a Culture of Learning
Employees who want to rise in their field understand the importance of improving their skills and developing new competencies. Offering professional development opportunities nurtures this desire. When people experience growth through company training, they’re more likely to stay in order to continue learning.
Workers who want to excel are exactly the type that should be retained. However, if they feel stymied by a systemic lack of intellectual support, these individuals will likely move on to new positions in places that will provide challenges and educational experiences.
Managers stress the value of lifelong learning when they participate in professional development. This creates the mindset that no one is “too good” for continuing education. No matter the level of competency, everyone has something to learn.
Leaders who engage in training reinforce the learning culture. They also indicate belief in the importance of specific educational experiences. To clearly communicate this point, leaders must be full participants. Watching from the sidelines doesn’t send the same message.
Encourage Employees to Learn From Each Other
If you’ve hired exceptional people, they have information and experiences that would benefit others. Peer training allows exceptional employees to share their proficiencies.
This approach has multiple advantages. Because it’s based in-house, learning is targeted for your group’s needs. Presenting employees as experts shows them how much they’re valued by management. The process is also easy on the budget.
Sharing knowledge among employees has an added benefit. It guarantees that the expertise and information that were brought to the organization — or developed there — stay there.
Help Valued Employees Stay Current
In many fields, the required knowledge, skills and practices change over time. Employees who were once on the cutting edge may be in danger of falling behind.
Continuing education opportunities keep valued workers current. Some interpersonal and conceptual talents are hard to learn: collaboration, creativity, imagination, problem solving, initiative and adaptability. Technological proficiencies are comparatively easy. Retain talented long-term employees by keeping them up to speed on the latest innovations.
Get Employee Input
Mandated learning is usually not as effective as learning that’s internally motivated. Find out which competencies employees would like to develop.
Your top workers are aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Giving them a voice in their professional development will help identify deficient areas you might otherwise miss.
Training mandates from above are often not taken seriously, because employees don’t see the need. Managers who require continuing education must be sure their team understands the goals.
Offer a Variety of Formats
According to research, when management trains, mentors or reimburses employees for continuing education, more than 60 percent remain with their companies for at least five more years.
Learning opportunities clearly benefit both employer and staff. Now the question is: What’s the best type? Learners have different preferences, so their input is important. (Remember tip five?)
Fortunately, professional development is a diverse field. For instance, industry associations often present training courses, and prices are reduced for members.
Conferences that focus on specific issues (and not the amenities of their locations) are valuable. Webinars, eLearning and training software provide convenience and flexibility. If the money’s there, professional trainers target educational experiences for specific audiences.
Follow up on Learning
No matter how valuable an educational experience is, reinforcement always enhances learning. The benefits of even great professional development can get lost in the push to get work done.
Accountability is key. During the training period, participants need to check in with classmates or managers to assess homework activities and discuss questions and concerns. Once the program is complete, participants should still have the opportunity and responsibility to consult with others about progress and struggles.
Learn From Success and Failure
Once you discover professional development that works well, keep it in mind for future groups. If learning is spot-on, it’ll likely be appropriate for others who need the same reinforcement.
The opposite is true, as well. If a continuing education experience is a bust, don’t force it on others again, no matter how much it appeals to you. Do some learning yourself: Move on to another program.
Not all professional development is created equal. There’s no reason to pull employees away from their work and force them to participate if the learning won’t be valuable. Effective continuing education has specific characteristics, including:
- Leaders treat participants as adults.
- Employees feel challenged but not over-stressed.
- The learning involves active, rather than passive, participation.
- Learners’ prior knowledge and experiences are valued.
- Leaders offer regular feedback.
Private employees and the government combine to spend about $215 billion annually on employee training. Professional development that is well done is worth the expense. Individuals gain skills and knowledge, and they stick around to use them.
About the Author:
Sarah Landrum is the founder of , a career and happiness blog. As a freelance writer, Sarah enjoys writing about a variety of topics from career and business to healthy living. Catch her on Twitter for more great advice.