The competition to attract and retain good talent is stiff in today’s job market. While salary and benefits are often the biggest investment a company makes in its employees, there are other ways organizations can set themselves apart. And as savvy companies know, a key tool used to make potential hires sit up and take notice is in providing professional development opportunities for their employees.
According to Forbes, 40 percent of dissatisfied employees leave their jobs, and disengaged employees are estimated to cost the US between $450 billion to $550 billion annually according to a Gallup poll. Retention creates a major expense and challenge for employers and developing an employment development program relieves this burden.
“Similar to the hiring process itself where candidates must differentiate themselves from their competition, so to do companies need to create a differentiator or competitive advantage for themselves,” said Craig W. Petrus, Executive Director of Career Services at the University of Florida Warrington College of Business. “By investing in their human capital with opportunities to help employees become better executives and skilled individuals through professional development programming, companies set themselves apart from other companies in an effort to attract talent.”
Investing in employees via professional development can vary from formal opportunities like conferences or investing in higher education or certification to informal – like on-the-job training, internal mentoring, peer-to-peer exchange and job shadowing options. While the average employee stays at a company about five years or less for younger professionals, investing in employees may not seem palatable to companies. However, building this investment into a company’s culture can pay dividends in the long run.
“When a company focuses on its greatest asset, its people, then a positive culture will follow. By establishing a culture of ‘continuous learning’ for its employees through professional development, success grows organically,” Petrus said. “High-performing employees want to be with high-performing organizations that offer opportunities for personal and professional growth.”
Most young professionals point to a lack of opportunity for personal and professional growth for their reasons to leave; and by the way, more mature professionals report the same.
“If company leadership establishes a culture of always wanting to develop its people through professional development programming, this will then result in a positive and high-performing culture,” Petrus said.
To invest in professional development, companies need to listen to their employees’ needs and goals for themselves and their careers. This includes leaders taking an honest and thoughtful self-assessment to identify knowledge and professional gaps, planning steps with goals, acting consistently with a plan that should include milestones like mentoring, webinars, conferences or others and then taking the time to evaluate these experiences and their contributions to growth.
Smaller companies may worry that they may not have the finances or infrastructure to invest in their employees to the capacity that may keep their employees engaged with professional development. However, human resources experts advise that employees’ needs may not be as large or costly as employers anticipate. Companies are advised to even offer partial compensation of an out-of-town conference cost or flexing an employee’s schedule to allow them to complete a certification or degree, even if not financed by the organization.
The benefits of investing in employees is mutually beneficial. We have all heard the term of “work smarter, not harder.” The benefits of providing professional development educates the employee on how to work smarter while producing positive results. This produces a smarter, more productive employee in which then the company benefits from the positive output of this employee.
“Professional development can yield a more satisfied employer base. If they are happy with where they work, how they are treated, and how they are being invested upon, the more likely they are to stick around. The benefit for the company results in less employee turnover, lower talent acquisition costs, and a positive culture were employees are happy to show up for work every day,” Petrus said.
On the horizon, companies are embedding professional development into their monthly work schedules for their employees so that the idea of “continuous learning” remains constant and top of mind, for both the employee and the company’s leadership team. Petrus says they are also seeing more technical skill-based professional development offerings for employees such as Microsoft Excel training, computer programming training, and “soft-skills” training as well.
By Tracy Wright