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StrategyJan 24, 2019

Employee Engagement Part 6: Professional Development

Kevin Erickson, Grace Lee, Cameron Weinert, and Ben Grotta

This article is the sixth of a six-part series on employee engagement and retention, which we refer to as “stickiness.” Younger generations make up an increasingly large share of the modern workforce, and companies must respond in order to acquire and retain top talent. This article will explore how professional development plays a critical role in fielding a winning workforce.

Developing the world’s next great corporate leaders is crucial for companies looking to stay competitive and retain top millennial and gen Z talent. These younger generations view professional development as one of their top priorities when it comes to employee benefits and deciding whether to stay with a company long term.

Professional development can be broken up into two components: training and development and career progressionTraining and development includes all the activities and resources dedicated to an employee’s learning and skill acquisition. Career progression refers to the growth and advancement of an employee’s career, including how they make use of those newly acquired skills.

In this article, we will touch on a few key ways companies can provide professional opportunities that turn the new hires of today into the leaders of tomorrow.

training and development programs

Millennials are prioritizing learning and development to hone their skills and stay relevant in this dynamic and agile work environment. According to a study by PwC, millennials rank training and development programs as the most important benefit provided by employers. Young employees realize how important developing new skills is to their continued professional growth, so they seek out companies who will help them on this journey. In fact, 68% of millennials who feel they received sufficient development opportunities in the previous year plan to remain with their employer for at least another year.

So what does training need to look like? The truth is there is no one answer. Structured training and development courses are helpful for developing core skills required for a job, especially more technical skills like Excel modeling, accounting, or new development languages. As employees develop in their career and begin to gravitate toward specific capability areas, self-paced and personalized trainings become more valuable due to their flexibility. Furthermore, younger generations are used to figuring things out for themselves through online tutorials or guides, so they may gravitate toward these types of trainings. No two employees are the same, so the best approach is to cast a wide net and allow for flexibility.

Another key aspect of development is providing mentorship opportunities. Incorporating mentorship in all levels of a company promotes organizational loyalty and reduces turnover by providing investment in career growth and success. Establishing a company-wide mentorship program, where everyone has a formal mentor in the company, provides younger talent with the assurance that their career progression is being championed at upper levels of the organization. Employees throughout the organization can also be encouraged to form informal mentorship relationships to assist the transfer of key skills and experiences that younger employees crave.

career progression opportunities

71% of millennials who stated that they were likely to leave their companies within two years were unsatisfied with the company’s efforts to develop their leadership skills. Millennials and gen Z are looking for companies where their careers can quickly grow. 52% of millennials cite opportunities for career progression as an attractive attribute of an employer, even outweighing competitive wages at 44%. Meanwhile, 34% of gen Z say that opportunities for advancement is their strongest motivator.

Companies benefit from developing the leadership skills of employees earlier in their careers. As employees are given opportunities and coaching to exercise their leadership muscles, they will continue to grow stronger. This pays dividends for a company in areas other than retention as well, as employees will be able to enter leadership roles with greater ease as they advance through the organization. Employees with leadership training are also more likely to participate in peer-to-peer training throughout their careers, creating a positive feedback cycle of coaching and development.

Companies that are the best at supporting career progression know it doesn’t only include internal progression for their employees. The best managers know when their employees have hit an “internal ceiling” within the company, meaning the next best step for that employee’s career would be to find a new role externally. Of course no one wants to lose good employees, but some things are unavoidable and making this transition smooth pays dividends down the road.

Managers who support their employees on their way out of the company often inspire loyalty from those individuals, who will be sure to leave on a good note. Furthermore, because they felt supported throughout the transition they will likely serve as an advocate for your firm within their own professional network. The professional world is a small place, and former co-workers often turn into buyers or client partners. It pays to have these people on your side.

create the professional development opportunities your employees really want

Remember these key professional development principles the next time your company is considering restructuring its training and development programs. When evaluating the impact of your company’s professional development activities, consider the following questions:

  • How effective are your learning and development activities?

  • Does your on-the-job training resonate with your younger workforce?

  • How can you develop leadership opportunities at all levels in the firm?

  • How can you better customize your training resources to fit each individual employee?

Millennials and gen Z want to be involved in leadership activities even in the earliest stages of their careers. Supporting employees with personalized learning and development opportunities will create company loyalty and easier role transitions throughout the organization.

Interested in learning more about how to implement an impactful professional development program? Curious how Credera strives to provide valuable leadership opportunities at all levels? Reach out to us here to find out more! Or find the rest of the series here:

Part 1: Introduction and Trends

Part 2: People and Culture

Part 3: Vision and Mission

Part 4: Compensation and Benefits

Part 5: Purpose