‘Congratulations, you’ve got the job’ could easily be viewed as the beginning of the end. Years of study and training culminate in successful employment and the start of an exciting career path. But contrary to popular feeling, landing a job doesn’t mean closing up the books. Educational institutes help prepare employees, but continual training is paramount in an age of fast-paced technology where skills have a much shorter shelf-life.
Research reveals that a vast majority of employees are eager to continue their personal and professional training on the job. But what role should employers play in the personal and professional training of their employees? More importantly, is it worth the investment?
Let’s take a look at both personal and professional training, their value, how they can be measured, the role of employers and an overview of the challenges.
The personal/professional distinction
Before we begin, it will be helpful to understand the distinction between personal development and professional development. These terms are usually thrown together, but it is important to remember they mean two different things, particularly when it comes to the workplace.
Personal development is a broad term that refers to someone’s overall growth. Personal development training focuses on identity, potential, aspirations and achieving goals. Skills gleaned from personal development training can include communication skills, positive mindset, self-evaluation, conflict resolution and leadership skills. While personal development can positively influence one’s workplace and career, the benefits an individual gains through personal development can be carried outside of the workplace into the home, family and community, hence the name ‘personal’ development.
Professional development refers to the cultivation of skills that directly relate to one’s workplace and employment. Examples of professional development include learning how to use a new software program or machine, or perhaps training specifically to help an employee manage a team. While there is often crossover between personal and professional development, professional development training is directly related to an employee’s ability to effectively carry out their role.
Which is more important?
Historically, employers have focused on professional development training, but recent studies show the skills gained through personal development are increasingly valuable in the modern workplace.
Those skills associated with professional development often fall into the ‘hard skills’ category while skills associated with personal development are more akin with ‘soft skills’.
Hard skills refer to the skills generally learnt through formal training and specific to an industry or job role, such as operating a type of machinery or coding. Soft skills are personal attributes that contribute to how one interacts with others, including communication, leadership and time management.
According to data from professional networking platform LinkedIn, soft skills are in high demand. The workforce has changed significantly in recent times and hard skill-based industries like agriculture and manufacturing no longer dominate. In knowledge-based industries, the ability to communicate, adapt, persuade and influence have never been more important.
In their 2017 Emerging Jobs Report, LinkedIn surveyed over 1,200 hiring managers and found the most important soft skills to have were:
- Culture Fit
- Growth Potential
The World Economic Forum outlined the challenge of a short skill ‘shelf life’, contributing to the argument that soft skills are now just as important in the ever-changing work environment. Their list of top skills for 2020 was also heavy on soft skills like emotional intelligence, creativity, negotiation and cognitive flexibility.
We cannot deny that hard skills are essential, but the research shows soft skills are now just as important. Employers looking to invest in training for their employees should consider the positive outcomes of both personal and professional training as a means to benefit their employees, workplace and profits. Continued professional training that complements personal training and development of those soft skills is ideal.
What is the value of personal and professional training?
We know that both personal and professional training is important, but will investment in such training provide value to your business and is it in your best interest to provide both? Research seems to think so, but of course it needs to be the right sort of training.
Human resources consultancy Aon Hewitt found that initiatives such as employee training and development can make a workplace more appealing, while the 2018 Workplace Learning Report from LinkedIn found 94% of employees would stay with a company if it invested in their continued learning and development. Attracting and retaining staff undoubtedly holds value, saving recruiting costs, but also ensuring a high calibre of employees.
Providing training to employees contributes to their job satisfaction and overall sense of fulfillment. This is especially important for the millennial generation according to research by Heartland Monitor Poll. There are countless studies that show happy employees contribute to increased productivity. A team of economists from the University of Warwick found that happiness can increase productivity by 10%. What is more, by equipping them with the skills to perform their job effectively you can contribute to your bottom line.
Is it the role of an employer to provide personal and professional training?
If an employer wants to retain the best employees, attract the best employees, have happy and engaged employees, create a workplace culture of learning and increase productivity to improve their bottom line, then they need to provide personal and professional training.
It can be tempting to leave the responsibility of personal training on the employee and provide professional training on a mechanical basis which means employees may know how to use a specific software program but fail to understand the bigger picture of how and why. Experience also shows that if training is not facilitated, it probably won’t happen.
If employers want to create a thriving workplace then they have a responsibility to not only provide personal and professional training but ensure it is effective.
How can we ensure personal and professional training is effective?
We can look to research, studies and surveys, but the only way we can know the true value of personal and professional training is if we measure it.
Measuring the value of personal and professional training will depend upon the business and the industry. Evaluating personal and professional training initiatives can help employers decide on how much they should invest in training programs and assist businesses to create a training program that works.
Satisfaction and engagement
Measuring employee satisfaction and engagement can be difficult. You may like to conduct an anonymous survey in the weeks before a training initiative and follow up with a similar survey in the weeks after the training initiative.
Attrition rates are perhaps a more insightful measure of whether employees are satisfied and engaged, however it is important to note that there are many factors that contribute to attrition rates. How do training initiatives affect attrition rates?
If investing in personal and professional training makes employees feel valued this may decrease attrition rates. However, if attrition rates increase as a result of training initiatives perhaps you need to reconsider how you are offering personal and professional development.
For example, MBA programs have proven to be a notoriously bad investment for employers as staff often leave their job soon after graduation, while training initiatives that help develop a clear career path within your business and internal leadership programs can help to lower attrition rates.
Has productivity increased as a result of personal or professional training initiatives? Set measurable outcomes before engaging in training initiatives to gauge whether additional training can increase productivity. For example, will training your sales team in a new software program to help them track sales leads actually increase sales?
What are the challenges?
Employers face a number of challenges when it comes to investing in personal and professional training for their employees.
Challenge 1: What kind of training?
What kind of training do employees need and what training do they want? What skills will they learn? What is the best delivery method? Importantly, what kind of training is worth the investment? These are all questions that face an employee. Choosing and providing access to the right training will determine whether it is a good investment or not.
Asking employees is a good place to start. Employers should seek the opinions of staff as to what training they would like to undertake and the skills they would like to develop. To ensure training is worth the investment they should seek training that appeals to different types of learners and different paces. LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report revealed 58% of employees prefer to learn at their own pace. Training that is regimented or unsuitable to different learning needs may cause employees to become disengaged with the training.
Challenge 2: There’s no time
LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report also found that the top challenge holding employees back from training is that they’re too busy. Sound familiar? It’s become the norm for businesses who are already inundated with work, deadlines and the increasing demands of a modern workplace.
Employees can get innovative when it comes to offering personal and professional development. Rather than drag employees away from work tasks, set up breakfast meetings, lunch hour training or allow time off for professional development.
Challenge 3: Cost
It’s the challenge you’ve all been waiting for. Cost. We’re talking dollars and cents. It’s why you’re reading this blog right? Because the bottom line counts. Allocating a portion of the budget to personal and professional training can be a challenge for many businesses. When it comes to cost, it’s all about the return on investment.
If sending an employee on a $5,000 web design course has the potential to bring in $20,000 worth of new business, then it’s a cost worth budgeting for. However, some businesses may not have budgets that stretch to include training courses in that price range, but that doesn’t mean they can’t invest in personal and professional training for their employees. Online resources like webinars, podcasts, Ted talks, as well as collaborative learning sessions can be executed at little to no cost, but is it worth investing the time? Measure it!
To invest or not to invest?
Research suggests it will be beneficial to invest in a combination of personal and professional training but offering the right training will determine whether or not it is a worthy investment. How will you know if it’s a worthy investment? Measure it, then decide whether you will do it again or differently.