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What is Professional Development and Why Should You Care?

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

According to countless executives and articles over the past few years, professional development is a topic that every business should consider investing in. But what is professional development, exactly? Chances are, if you clicked on this article you’re looking for an answer, so we’re not going to waste your time. We’ll get straight to the point.

What is Professional Development?

Professional development is the term used to describe any supplemental adult learning, especially in or surrounding the workplace. Whether this involves credentialing, gaining soft skills such as better time management and networking, or additional training, professional development courses can be found in all shapes and sizes for just about every industry you can imagine.

Many otherwise capable future employees graduate from established universities with gaps of missing information. Internships, fellowships, and shadowing professionals are all good practices, but what about when you want to bring an entire office up to speed on a new valuable skill, trade, or program?

Websites like LinkedIn Learning offer classes and videos on everything from time management to business software and other tools, all under the umbrella of professional development. A similar site, Udemy, discovered that among the different benefits of choosing where to work, 42 percent of employees said that learning and development were the most important to them. Professional development classes can help us learn how to manage our stress, discover how to be more creative, and encourage us to become more curious, happy, and hard-working productive people.

Why is Professional Development important?

“The widening skills gap can greatly impact a company’s ability to grow,” says Edward Fleischman, founder and CEO of the Execu|Search Group. “This is why professional development is so critical. Instead of endlessly searching for professionals who check off a list of pre-set requirements and expectations, employers should invest in training not only to help their new staff and current employees develop the skills needed for success in their roles but also to ensure the company doesn’t fall behind competitors.”

Being aware of our own knowledge gaps is a sign of intelligence. Some of the best workers we can have are people who are conscious of what they don’t know and are willing to learn. So it’s no surprise that ambitious people want to continue learning even when they already have that 9-5 job, multiple degrees, and letters behind their names. Being passionately curious is a skill that the rest of us could gain from.

But what about the rest of us, with busy lives and work schedules, who don’t really have time to pursue some vague sense of self-actualization? How does professional development help us?

“Purpose-driven workers are wired to see work as a source of meaning and fulfillment, to engage more deeply in their tasks and to make everyone around them more successful,” says Ceil Tilney, associate director at Emerson Human Capital. “The more quickly new employees can see their work making a difference, the more fulfilled they’ll be and the better they’ll feel about their decision to join the organization.”

But how do we build more purpose-driven workers even among our more seasoned staff?

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “organizations that dedicate a portion of their budget to professional development send a message that they invest in their employees.” "By prioritizing professional and career development classes, and even general training, companies give all of their employees an equal playing field to begin to learn and grow, and, the employees can, in turn, reflect this

benefit back onto the company."

How can investing in Professional Development benefit an organization?

According to Forbes- and Fortune-accolade-winning recruiting company Robert Half, on top of attracting future candidates and preparing current employees for higher positions, “ongoing professional development is very appealing to many employees today who are looking to keep their skills relevant in a rapidly changing world.”

This is especially true of Millennials who make up more than half the workplace now. Ann Parker, manager of the Senior Leaders and Executives Community of Practice at ATD, states, “For many Millennials, professional development goes hand in hand with engagement.” It is not enough for Millennials to earn money; they want to find meaning, purpose, and to continue to learn and grow.

Meghan M. Biro, CEO of TalentCulture, suggests developing soft skills and micro-learning as some of the initial steps towards investing in professional development in your company. “Development is no longer an optional perk or reserved

for only certain positions, says Biro. “It’s expected by today’s talent.”

This isn’t just true for gaining new talents but for keeping them as well, Joseph Moschetto, learning solutions manager of The American Management Association observes. “Career development supports employees’ goals as they work to support the organization’s goals,” Moschetto states. “This allows for a motivated workforce, which results in greater productivity.”

By investing in your employees' professional development and growth while gaining feedback from them about the programs you provide, you will create a culture that attracts the employees you want and keeps them there.

Personal satisfaction can lead to professional satisfaction. Investing in professional development is a key way to fuel more productive, happier, and longer-lasting relationships with your staff, and ultimately, a stronger company for it.

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