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The importance of employee development

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Companies need to stay on top of industry trends to keep ahead of the competition. That’s especially true now, as it feels like new technological advancements are being made every week.

But how can they do that?

Through continuous employee development.   Training employees ensures that the people who are there, working in — and on — the business every day know what’s happening and what’s to come for their department, the company, and the industry itself.

According to LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2023, 89% of L&D pros believe that building employees’ skills will make it easier to navigate the future of work.  

What is employee development?

Employee development, sometimes called professional development or staff development, is the process of upskilling employees and teaching them new ones. This development helps employees and businesses meet their goals.

Employee development starts with HR professionals evaluating employees’ skills to look for areas where they need training. They then create an employee development plan around those needs and track key metrics to show the program’s ROI.

There are many ways employees can learn about new technologies and techniques. It can come from formal training such as webinars, online courses, or in-person classes. It could also come from mentorship schemes (either as the mentor or mentee), or it could be more experience-led, through on-the-job training.

Different types of training will suit different roles, businesses, employees and skills.

For example, copywriting works well as an online course. But feedback from a mentor can accelerate someone’s copywriting skills because they get tailored feedback, clearly showing them what works and doesn’t in the copy that they write.  

Why employee development is important

Businesses need highly skilled employees to reach their goals. And highly skilled employees only stick around if they’re motivated.

But Gallup’s State of Global Workplace Trends 2023 found that 59% of employees are quiet quitting. These employees only put in the minimum effort required.

This lack of a connection to their role can reduce an employee’s productivity levels. It can also have a ripple effect on their colleagues and the company culture, put them at greater risk of burnout, and ultimately make them more likely to leave.

Gallup estimates that disengaged employees cost the global economy $8.8 trillion a year.

Employee development could be the key to re-engaging those employees and improving retention rates.

Career opportunities are the number one reason employees change jobs, according to Recruiting Daily. So if you can provide employees with the right upskilling opportunities, they have more reasons to stay.

LinkedIn found that opportunities to learn and grow within a company motivate 35% of 18-34-year-olds, and 31% of that same group want to learn and develop new skills.

Jane Oates, president of WorkingNation and former Assistant Secretary, Employment and Training Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor, told LinkedIn: “Learning is not just a nice-to-have. Building an effective workplace learning operation is about asking each employee what their career aspirations are within a company as a way to retain them.

“As the economy changes, HR has to help get people on pathways to different jobs. We must collectively build a career lattice rather than a career ladder.”

Offering employees career development opportunities is also good for employee satisfaction.

After two years, 75% of employees who’ve made an internal move are more likely to stay, compared to 56% of those who haven’t made an internal move.

If an employee moves to a new department or role, professional development is key to them getting up and running in that role as fast as possible.

Regular training also improves employee satisfaction rates by making roles feel less monotonous. And when work feels less repetitive, it increases creativity and innovation.

When businesses support career development, employees feel valued and invested in. These employees believe they can make a genuine difference in the business’s bottom line. They’re more motivated, engaged and productive.

The higher job satisfaction is, the happier employees are – which means their overall well-being is improved. In turn, there is better employee engagement, further boosting retention rates.  

Top benefits of employee development

Employee development doesn’t just help employees on their chosen career paths. It also supports the business in achieving its short- and long-term goals.

Here are some of the ways employee development benefits businesses.  

Aids in company culture

Employees believe professional development is the number one way to improve company culture, LinkedIn research found.

This makes sense because employee development fosters a sense of collaboration and teamwork. Employees who engage in development opportunities often share their knowledge and experiences with their team members, promoting a culture of learning and growth.

It also demonstrates the company’s commitment to investing in its employees. This can boost morale, increase loyalty, contribute to a positive workplace culture, and improve the employee experience.

Yet only 26% of employees told LinkedIn that they felt their organization challenged them to learn a new skill, and just 14% said their company encouraged them to build a new career development plan.  

Improved productivity

Data from Deloitte suggests that companies with a learning culture experience 52% higher productivity.

Professional development equips employees with new skills and knowledge, leading to more efficient and effective work processes and inevitably increasing productivity.

Encouraging employees to learn new skills also supports a culture of goal setting and continuous improvement, motivating employees to work to meet their professional development targets.

Andrew Saidy, vice president of Global Talent at Ubisoft, told LinkedIn: “If employees aren’t learning, they aren’t refining their skills or innovating. They and the organization are effectively moving backward.”

So it’s not just that upskilling employees helps them grow; it’s that if they’re not growing, they’re actively moving backward — and by association, so is the business — because industries are always evolving.

Upskilling employees improves employee performance by ensuring they always have the latest skills and knowledge required to excel in their role.  

Creates mentoring opportunities

Mentoring can be a rewarding experience for the mentor and mentee. Shadowing someone with more experience allows employees to get tailored one-on-one insights and can contribute to a culture of high performers.

When experienced employees mentor less-experienced colleagues, it enhances their leadership and coaching skills. It can even improve the mentor’s own knowledge, as the best way to learn can be to teach.

Mentorship also promotes knowledge-sharing within the organization. It fosters a culture of learning and growth as more seasoned employees pass their expertise on to others.

Over time, this builds a positive workplace culture with a more collaborative work environment.  

Higher employee retention

LinkedIn data found that if an employee is engaged at work, they’d need a 31% pay increase to leave their current role.

Businesses that support employees’ professional development experience a 34% higher retention rate than those that don’t, according to a survey from Better Buys.

Demonstrating a commitment to employees’ personal and professional growth can increase job satisfaction and loyalty. This increase in loyalty means those employees will stay longer, improving employee retention.

When employees stay longer, succession planning is easier, too. HR professionals can look at what skills employees need for their new roles and consider what their individual development plans should include to help them achieve their goals.  

Reduced hiring costs

The best way to bring in new talent is through employees’ networks. Employee referrals are hired 55% faster, experience greater job satisfaction, and stay longer. This is probably because they have a better idea of what they’re signing up for because they already know someone who works for the company.

When employees are loyal, they’ll often speak highly of their employer to their network. This can give the company’s employer brand a boost, attracting more high-quality talent to the business.

Since the business will hire less, that means less onboarding. Employees typically take a few months to reach full profitability.

Businesses can use the money saved to offer more training opportunities to their existing employees or continue to expand in other ways.  

Career development

Career development opportunities offer employees a clear path to advance in their roles within the company. This can motivate them to stay and invest their future in that organization.

Supporting employee growth helps employees acquire the skills and knowledge they need to progress in their careers, resulting in a more skilled and experienced workforce. As a result, the business can increase innovation and profitability.  

Enhanced job security

Learners who continually develop their skills and knowledge are better equipped to adapt to changing job requirements, making them more resilient in the face of industry shifts and economic challenges.

When an organization invests in employee development, it’s a clear signal that the business is willing to invest in employees’ futures. This increases employees’ sense of job security.

Businesses also don’t have to worry as much about hiring because they have fewer openings to fill, and when they do hire, they attract top talent and may well be able to hire faster, too.   It’s a win-win for everyone.  

Examples of employee development goals

So, what sort of professional development goals should HR professionals consider for effective employee development?

Whether employees are looking to fill leadership roles or want to become subject-matter experts, here are some of the skills they can benefit from.  

Hard skill enhancement

Skills development in areas such as technical skills or industry-specific knowledge helps employees stay competitive and relevant in their fields.

Employee training can also bridge any skills gaps they may have, or that exist within the organization, further helping the business stay competitive.

Enhancing employees’ skills allows them to take on more complex tasks and responsibilities, contributing to their professional growth and potentially leading to further career advancement.  

Leadership development

Leadership development equips employees with the necessary skills and qualities to guide and manage teams effectively, supporting their growth into future leaders.

Leadership skills center on soft skills like decision-making, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills, which are vital not just for leading teams but also for becoming valuable contributors within an organization.

Providing training programs where employees can learn these skills will benefit not just future leaders but the entire organization. Leaders will become better at engaging with those around them and can share their learnings with their colleagues. Those colleagues will then emulate their behavior and create a ripple effect.  

Communication skills

Communication skills can be an important part of an employee’s career development. They’re essential for employees to build competencies and relationships with their colleagues, clients and customers.

Implementing some form of communication skills training can also improve teamwork and collaboration throughout the organization.

Enhancing communication skills can lead to better presentation abilities, negotiation capabilities, and conflict-resolution skills, all of which are critical for professional success.  

Get started with an employee development program

An employee development program is a structured initiative that aims to enhance the skills, knowledge, and capabilities of employees. This improves their performance and job satisfaction, and it also contributes to the company’s success.

To get started with any training initiative, human resources should set clear, measurable business goals for the program. All goals should align with the company’s strategic objectives.

What skills or competencies need developing in the workforce? Where are the skills gaps within the organization?

Assess each employee’s current skills and needs, and use this assessment to create personalized development plans.

Consider their career aspirations and what skills will help them get there.

Employees need to be on board with any training they do, because if they’re not interested in it, they’ll put less effort in and may become disengaged.

If you notice any gaps in skill sets, consider including these in job descriptions when you look for top talent. Make sure any candidates are aware of the learning opportunities the business provides, as this can be a huge attraction to new employees.

It’s also important for human resources to consider how new skills are taught. There’s no right or wrong way to teach new skills. Each employee development program will have different needs, but considering different training methods opens training initiatives up to more employees and makes it more likely to succeed.

Some options for training methods include workshops, courses, mentorship, seminars, or e-learning modules. Some employees will benefit more from hands-on training, while others might prefer being able to go at their own pace with an e-learning module. It’s important to ask employees how they like to learn to keep them engaged.

Resources also need to be allocated to the program, along with a budget. Legal and ethical compliance needs to be factored in when launching the program, too.

And, of course, make sure to track metrics to ensure the employee development program works.   Some metrics to consider:

  • Has profitability increased?
  • Has the company culture changed?
  • How’s employee performance?
  • Is the business achieving its goals faster?
  • Is the company innovating more?

Building a resilient workforce

Growing employees’ skills will help make them, and the business, more resilient. Both employees and the business will be able to adapt faster to change, keeping it future-proof.

Employee development also improves job satisfaction in the workforce. Employee morale is higher, so employees are more likely to stay long-term.

Engaged employees may also streamline the hiring process by recommending their employer to their network. After all, more than half of employees want their employer to support them in their career growth. Doing so is a huge USP for any business.


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