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Employee development

There is an old but true adage that says a business is only as strong as the people who make it up. In that context, it becomes all the more important for a business to provide those people with as many opportunities to grow and develop their skills as possible. Every good human resources manager knows that the “human” part of that equation is just as important as the “resources.”

Your employees are far more than interchangeable cogs that can be replaced as needed. They are among your company’s most valuable assets, and they need to be nurtured as such. By offering a strategic, consistent program of employee development and learning opportunities, your organization can grow a knowledgeable, broadly skilled workforce of well-trained, fully engaged employees who will stay with your company for the long term.

What is an employee development plan?

Employee development, also referred to as career development or professional development, is a coordinated plan to improve performance in a workplace by identifying skills gaps and providing workers with training, certification and learning management opportunities to fill in those gaps.

Remember that this is an employee development plan, not a workforce development plan. This should not be a one size fits all solution. Your professional development strategy should be flexible and adaptable enough to accommodate the needs of many different individual employees according to their particular sets of skills.

In many cases, that might mean encouraging a high-performing employee to take courses and training that will allow them to pursue a management track. In other cases it may simply be helping workers learn new skills that help them perform their current role more efficiently, or guiding them toward training and certifications that can facilitate a raise in pay. Whatever the case, your employee development plan needs to be intuitive enough to help you identify different employees’ needs and versatile enough to make sure those needs are being met.

Why invest in employee development programs?

An effective employee development strategy is about more than simply training your workforce in new skill sets. A strong career development plan is an investment in your workforce and your organization’s future. A few key areas where a development program can provide your company with long-term benefits include:

Improving employee retention

One of the biggest drivers of burnout and employee turnover is a feeling of stagnation in a current role. A strong employee development program gives high-performing employees a chance to advance their careers within your company, which in turn boosts retention rates across your organization. That can be a major asset in industries like manufacturing, healthcare, and construction that historically experience high rates of employee turnover.

Increasing hiring power

Research has found that employers who offer strong opportunities for development and advancement are much more appealing to job seekers than those who don’t. Having your human resources team put your organization’s career development path front and center can be a powerful tool for recruiting, hiring, and retaining high quality employees.

Keeping employees engaged

To put it simply, when you improve employee engagement, you improve productivity. Studies consistently show that workers who know they have an opportunity to develop their skills and advance within their organization are more engaged and less likely to feel undervalued in their roles.

Creating a diversified workforce

Another key benefit of employee development is creating a less siloed work environment. A robust program of training and certification options empowers multiple employees to perform tasks that might previously have been limited to a smaller group. That kind of diversified skill set makes it easier for your company to schedule qualified workers for every shift and to avoid disruptions when a trained worker leaves your company.

Developing a succession plan

Similar to the previous concept, succession planning, also known as replacement planning, is a strategy focused on keeping all key roles in your organization filled at all times by skilled and qualified employees. Every business deals with quality employees retiring or leaving their jobs. When that happens, your employee development plan is one of the best available tools to make sure that those roles are filled quickly and smoothly by comparably skilled workers. Developing more employees who can fill key roles when needed is less expensive than hiring new workers for those roles, helps to keep up employee morale, and makes your employees feel like members of a unified and productive workforce.

How to identify your employee development needs

Before you can figure out your approach to employee training and development, it is necessary to identify the areas where that learning is needed most. To determine the skills your business is most in need of, it can be hugely helpful to perform a skills gap analysis of your work environment.

Set specific goals for your business

Collecting workplace data becomes a lot easier when you understand what that data is going to be used for. Every organization has different needs and goals, with different levels of training and certification required to meet them. For example, a business with a long-term goal of increasing regulatory compliance will have very different training needs than one with a short-term goal of meeting a specific production quota by the end of the year.

Determine what skills and training are needed to meet those goals

This may seem like an overly basic step, but sometimes the specific skills needed to accomplish a goal do not become evident until you have the end points in front of you. For example, researching your goal of better regulatory compliance might reveal that your team needs to be trained and certified in a particular safety practice, or that not enough of your workforce has been trained in using time-saving equipment or software.

Determine what skills and knowledge your workforce already has

Once you have an understanding of what needs to happen to reach your goals, the next step is to determine how far your current team members and managers are from hitting those marks. Use employee surveys and performance reviews to gather data on your existing skill sets and knowledge, then use that information to determine how much employee development is needed to reach your goals. Have employees meet one on one with their supervisor to discuss not just performance, but also their individual goals and interests, their professional accomplishments, and any areas they feel need improvement in the workplace. This kind of personalized feedback can paint a clearer picture of your workforce and help you to gauge how close you are to your goals.

Assess your learning management system

Depending on your business, getting your employee development plan up to speed may require new technology. For many organizations, providing employees with the support they need for effective professional development involves a hybrid system including online learning programs, in-person training programs, and real-time on-the-job experience. If your current learning and development offerings are proving ineffective, investing in an automated learning management system may make sense for your future success.

To learn more about developing the skillsets of employees, check out our blog post "Reskilling, Upskilling, and Retaining Talent in the Workforce".

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