By Alyssa Fox | STC Senior Member
Developing yourself professionally is an important endeavor to make you marketable in today’s work environment. Knowing your strengths and capabilities is essential to planning for a career that thrives.
A vast number of professionals think that developing their careers is the responsibility of the organizations for which they work. On the flip side, according to a joint research study conducted by EdAssist and the University of Phoenix on employees’ and managers’ perceptions of career development, “98 percent [of managers] say workers should continually update and improve their skills, 85 percent say they should identify job opportunities and career paths, and 80 percent say they should be responsible for building their job-hunting and career-planning skills.” So who’s right?
Ultimately, you’re the one who knows what you want to do, where you want your career to go, and how you’d like to get there. Your employer should absolutely play a part in that, but you should be driving your professional development. How much thought are you putting into your career strategy?
Owning your career path takes an investment of time, energy, and, yes, money. There are numerous free or inexpensive learning opportunities available, but some larger learning options might cost more. They ultimately pay for themselves, however, in increased earning power, up-to-date skills, and satisfaction that comes from personal growth. Frequently, professionals are unwilling to pay for their own career growth, which I find puzzling. If you’re unwilling to invest in yourself, why should someone else?
Though I firmly advocate that you drive your own career, there are a few ways your organization can support you in your professional development. For conferences, they can pay for all or part of your registration and travel costs, or they can give you time off so you don’t have to dip into your vacation time to attend. They can pay the registration fee for a webinar or online course for you or your team. They can support you in internal initiatives that let you try new ways of doing things, such as book clubs or pilot projects that improve the team’s communication or collaboration. It never hurts to ask your manager to see how the company can help you and your team continue to enhance your skills.
Advantages to Your Company
While career development benefits you directly, there are numerous advantages to organizations when their employees continually learn. Use these points in discussion with your employer to persuade them to assist you in your career development.
Company Recognition and Reputation
Employees are the outward face of a company. Depending on the type of professional development you engage in, your company can gain recognition and a good reputation throughout the industry. For example, public speaking at industry events and conferences puts your company’s name out there prominently as you participate in those events, increasing visibility and reputation for prospective employees.
Increased Collective Knowledge of Team
Participating in training and further education in relevant subjects and tools can have an immediate impact on productivity. When you learn a new process, approach, or application, you generally want to start using it as soon as possible. Also, once one or two employees on a team learn something new, they can spread the knowledge among their team members through learning sessions, and the whole team benefits.
“The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”
As employees start to employ updated practices and tools, the faster and more effective results increase their confidence. Their job satisfaction expands as they are able to produce more and be more efficient across the board. Additionally, investment in employees makes them feel valued, increasing their loyalty.
Employee Retention and Recruiting
Employees want to feel like they’re making a difference and not becoming stagnant in their skills. If they don’t feel challenged, they’ll start looking for opportunities elsewhere. Continuous learning keeps employees engaged in their work, and it helps to retain employees when they know they’ll be supported in increasing their skillsets.
When job searching, you should also look at professional development support as a benefit in the mix when considering an offer. If there’s no discussion during interviews of how an organization can help you expand your career while working there, it’s likely you’ll find better support and learning opportunities at another company.
Advantages to You
Not investing in your career can put you five, ten, or twenty years down the road, waking up, and asking yourself, “How’d I get here, and where am I going?” There are several reasons you should make a proactive plan for achieving your professional goals.
Growing in your current position offers a wealth of benefits that help you become more efficient and more effective. Learning new ways to do things or new tools to do them with prevents stagnation in your role and career, and stretches you beyond your comfort zone. If you continue to do the same thing over and over without expanding your knowledge, your skillset becomes rusty and your value is diminished when compared to someone keeping up with modern methods—both within your company and in your chosen line of work. Finally, continuing to improve yourself contributes to becoming a top performer, which can protect you if potential layoffs arise, when lower performers are often the first to be cut.
“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
When managers are considering who to promote on their teams, they’re often looking at people who are learning new things, helping the team advance in methods and ideas, and setting an example for improved personal productivity. Managers need to encourage their team members to develop themselves, so they should participate in professional development as an example to their team. Even if you’re not looking to be promoted into a managerial position, showing you’re invested in increasing your knowledge makes you a much more attractive candidate for promotion than someone who does little beyond the bare minimum.
According to a recent Gallup study (Mann & Harter), only 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs. Outdated approaches, repetitive work, and lack of learning all contribute to this disengagement. The better you are at your job, the more confident you feel in your abilities and willingness to try new things. If you don’t feel like you’re capable of performing your job duties and performing them well, some additional training or assistance can go a long way in building confidence in yourself. Once your faith in yourself is more evident, your employer will trust you more as well.
Interesting Internal Projects
Working in the same way for a long time can lead to lackluster and unimaginative results. Professional training can kickstart your creativity and give you a myriad of ideas for improving and trying out things at your job. If you show an interest in trying new things and working on different initiatives, it’s likely you’ll be selected for interesting projects or committees within your organization. Even better, start your own! These projects can put you in touch with people you wouldn’t normally work with on a day-to-day basis, expanding your professional network, as well.
As you continue to build your skillset and initiate improvements across your company, you’ll start to be recognized as someone who’s a team player and who’s interested in achieving more. People will involve you in their projects and seek your opinion on significant efforts. Increased visibility and a positive reputation lead to more opportunities across your company—from the promotion potential already discussed to more easily paving the way for trying new roles or a career change.
Professional Development Opportunities
There are numerous ways to continue to grow your career, both inside and outside of your company. Here are some examples.
Inside your company, look for little ways to expand your role and visibility.
- Make presentations to your manager, team, or a larger group to enhance your public speaking skills and demonstrate your knowledge about a topic.
- Initiate or participate in groups or projects to improve or change a process or evaluate a tool.
- Cultivate a mentor in your company to give you insight into how other groups work, gain a chance to learn leadership tips, and help you determine your career path.
- Write for a company blog or internal newsletter to gain visibility and sharpen your writing skills.
Externally, the range of learning opportunities is even broader.
- Conferences are multi-day immersive experiences that are packed full of keynote and informational sessions and abound for practically any industry. With travel and registration costs added in, conferences are a more significant investment, but your company could assist you with this, and these events often provide the most reward.
- Webinars and online courses are a less expensive and time-intensive method of learning new tools, brushing up on current skills, and exploring new ideas.
- External mentors give you perspective on how things happen in other organizations and in other industries.
- Joining and volunteering for a professional organization that aligns with your professional interests also provides multiple chances for expanding your skill set in a relatively risk-free way. You’ll also receive valuable networking connections through professional organizations, which you can also foster through meetups and online communities. The broader and larger your network is, the more links you have who can help when you run into an issue, need advice, or are looking for a new job.
- Reading is a simple, free or very low cost way to learn about relevant topics in your industry—books, blogs, industry magazines, and social media posts are all readily available and chock full of valuable information.
- More formal education options, such as certificate programs through a school or university, a certification program offered by a professional organization, or a degree from a school or university are also available. While likely the most expensive choice, they’re also the most comprehensive and in-depth. Many companies offer tuition reimbursement for programs like these, so check with your HR department if you’re interested.
In a hyper-competitive business world where companies are doing less with more, the importance of being up to date with your skills and technologies is increasingly important. Professionals who invest in themselves stand head and shoulders above less-motivated employees and snag the best positions at organizations who support their employees in multiple ways. Great careers don’t happen by accident, so make a plan, seek out opportunities to learn, and watch your career capital skyrocket.
Mann, Annamarie, and Jim Harter. “The Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis.” Gallup Workplace. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236495/worldwide-employee-engagement-crisis.aspx
ALYSSA FOX (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a content strategist and marketing leader who thrives on improving customer experience through brand consistency and relevant information. She’s a champion for cultures that position content to drive leads, revenue, and customer retention. Alyssa has vast management experience across global teams and has worked on numerous cross-functional initiatives to improve processes and communication across organizations.