In today’s fast-moving, highly-scrutinized business environment, attracting and retaining top talent is essential for organizations to remain competitive. Employees, current and future, care deeply about how an organization is going to support them – both as employees and as people. One of the most effective ways to demonstrate that support is by providing career development opportunities that unlock the full potential of employees.
While career development can come in a variety of forms, it encompasses professional training, mentorship, and education coordinated by an employer to help employees advance their skills, and in turn, their careers. This might consist of offering employees on-the-job training, higher education reimbursement, a professional coach, or even opportunities to attend conferences. And don’t be mistaken – these opportunities don’t necessarily have to always signal upward mobility. In some cases, this might mean training to do an existing job more efficiently or exposure to a different area of a business.
Give the People What They Want!
You heard it here – employees in today’s workforce crave professional development. This isn’t the workforce of the mid-1900s. Work is no longer just a job – it’s a career. For many Americans (for better or worse!), it’s where we spend most of our time and where we seek ultimate fulfillment. For many of us, there’s no better place to continuously learn, grow and expand than at work.
The exposure to new opportunities that dedicated career development provides is unmatched. Consider a young professional within your organization. Creating her own opportunities can be challenging, especially if she’s at the bottom of the leadership ladder. However, having a company that has invested in her development opens doors. She can network with others in her organization through a mentorship program; she can learn more about her industry by attending a conference or event; she can expand her skillset by getting on-the-job training from a more seasoned colleague. These opportunities are meaningful for both her and the organization – but they require organized investment and dedication from the company to make them viable.
And when it comes down to it – for many employees, more skills means more money. Ideally, employees will grow their skillset and become more marketable in their own organization. With carefully crafted development plans, creating an environment that not only provides opportunity but that also provides support, empathy, and communication is a recipe for increased engagement and job satisfaction. In some cases, employees might gain enough skills that they find employment elsewhere. Rather than view this as a risk, consider it the benefit of growing a new industry leader – and you never know, the boomerang employee is a real concept!
Benefits for the Company
Research from Monster in the Fall of 2021 suggested that “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” (Builtin.com). When employees feel valued and see a clear path for their career growth, they become more engaged in their work. This translates to increased productivity, higher quality work, and a more positive work environment.
Career development can also greatly improve team performance. Providing regular opportunities for an entire team or subset of the workforce will not only keep them on top of industry trends and advancements but will equip them to more effectively and efficiently fulfill their responsibilities. It also encourages a culture of continuous learning, so that even without company-defined development opportunities, employees are seeking ways to improve their skills. This can lead to improved job performance and a more skilled workforce overall. A win-win!
While you’re at it, take the opportunity to promote career development – both internally and externally! Celebrating career development opportunities can greatly enhance your employer brand. Encourage colleagues who attend a conference or take a course to share about it on professional networks. Companies that invest in employee development are seen as more attractive employers. This can help attract top talent and increase the organization’s brand reputation.
Implementing a Meaningful Career Development Plan
It’s easy to discuss the benefits of coordinated career development, but actually implementing it can be overwhelming. It is ultimately the role of the employer to define what career development will look like, and how to structure the program to benefit the employee and the organization.
To start, organizations should evaluate the business benefits of a structured career program. As shared by HRSG, “While self-guided career development is about empowering employees to take greater responsibility for shaping their careers, the framework of development options needs to align with the needs and priorities of the organization. If the business goal is to retain employees, the development opportunities on offer may be very different than if the goal is to boost profitability, or to reinforce organizational culture.” Ensuring the career development plans align with business goals will not only help the business achieve those goals, but it will increase employee engagement by tying their career development to a broader organizational purpose. Contributing to the advancement of the business by developing one’s own skills is a powerful concept.
Organizations will also be well served to meet with employees and understand what types of career development they’re looking for. This could be accomplished through 1:1 conversations with employees, but perhaps more easily achieved by sending out an employee survey. This will give anonymous, honest feedback that allows a business to understand what employees are most interested in. You might learn that employees are looking for a dedicated mentor, or that they want to advance in their role. Perhaps, they want more exposure to other departments within the business. This is meaningful data that requires analysis and consideration prior to launching.
Finally, be sure to promote the career development program. Train your managers on the power of career development, and ensure they are encouraging their teams to participate. Recognize employees who are taking advantage of the career development program and celebrate when they have success! Promoting the program by celebrating successes will not only engage those already involved but pique the interest of those who are not.
Demonstrated investment in career development is a consummate win-win for the entire workforce – leadership and employees alike. By providing opportunities for learning and growth, companies can create a culture of engagement and continuous learning that fosters a skilled workforce equipped to meet the challenges of today’s evolving business environments.