No matter how big or small your business, and regardless what industry you’re in, there are plenty of ways to provide professional development opportunities to employees. And there are compelling reasons to do so.
Helping your staff develop their professional and interpersonal skills obviously makes them more valuable to your company. That holds true whether they’re building on existing talents, learning entirely new things, or shoring up some identified weaknesses.
But when you provide professional development opportunities to employees, you also create the sort of engaging, enriching company culture that’s in high demand these days. The best and brightest people want to work for organizations that value them and invest in their personal success. This is part of a smart recruitment and retention strategy.
Of course, most small business owners don’t have a massive budget to spend on employee education, paying their way through night school or sending them off to exciting seminars around the country. Fortunately, that’s not necessary.
Ideas for Offering Employees Professional Development
- Have one-on-one conversations with each employee to learn about their interests, short-term objectives, and career goals so you can provide relevant guidance and assistance and maybe even create individualized professional development plans
- Give constructive feedback, which is such a basic—but often overlooked—part of professional development; help your employees understand how they can improve their performance (it can be useful to have some performance metrics)
- Lend or buy your employees copies of books you believe are valuable
- Provide lists of free online classes your employees can take; for some examples and ideas, see these free online computer skills courses, these free online business courses, and these free online digital marketing courses
- When you suggest coursework or certifications that are free, or when your employees pay for them, incentivize it with small raises or with benefits like an additional paid day off
- If possible, offer to pay some or all of the cost of courses or certifications that tie directly in to your employees’ jobs; also, if there are nearby seminars or conventions you can afford to send some staff to, go for it
- Allot some time for professional development during the workday—even if it’s just an hour or two per week—so employees can read, take an online course, etc. without eating up all their personal time (remember, work-life balance is important)
- Bring in speakers or coaches give presentations to your staff; these can address all sorts of topics, like leadership, productivity, communication, workplace conflict resolution, or subjects relating to your industry
- Encourage your employees to learn from each other by fostering a highly collaborative environment; create in-person or chat-based groups for people to share information and ideas
- Try out job rotation if it’s practical so that employees who are interested can experience other aspects of your business and work with different people
- Implement a mentoring or training system in which more experienced people within your organization work directly with younger or newer employees toward better performance and a more expansive role
- Introduce employees to other professionals and influencers in the industry, or otherwise help them connect with a professionals network
- Be careful not to box your employees in; don’t create barriers that prevent them from exploring or achieving a larger role in the company
- Set a good example; employees are more likely to pursue professional development if they see their leaders doing so