Your Employer Isn’t Your Best Source of Professional Development

A new study finds that 60% to 90% of corporate training dollars are wasted.

Published: Feb 2, 2020

Professional development has long been considered the responsibility of employers. And certainly that’s how the majority of the workforce wants it to be: according to a Gallup poll, nearly 60% of millennials say opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them when applying for a job.

But at a time when so many companies are focused on short-term results, long-term investments like professional development have fallen to the wayside. And even companies that do offer some form of professional development aren’t doing it well. A recent study by organizational psychologist Katy Caselli shows that 60% to 90% of the dollars organizations spend on improving employee skills go to waste. The reasons are threefold: 40% of the waste is due to companies failing to meaningfully assess their own business and employee needs, another 40% percent is due to employees not being able to apply what they’re taught, and 20% is due to poor-quality training.

The more vocal you are about the type of development opportunities that speak to you, the less of a guessing game your employer will have to play when it comes to the types of training you need.

The result is that employees who want to advance must often carve out their own development of technical and soft skills. Here’s how.

Work backward to pinpoint where you need a boost.

Employees are often thrown into training opportunities that either aren’t challenging enough or are irrelevant for their needs. Get ahead of it by assessing your own needs first. If you know someday you want to be a head buyer for a fashion brand, read job descriptions for that role and pay attention to the experience needed, as well as the technical and soft skills mentioned. The key to getting the kind of training and development you need is to know exactly where you need the support, then make sure you and your manager are on the same page about it. The more vocal you are about the type of development opportunities that speak to you, the less of a guessing game your employer will have to play when it comes to the types of training you need. “You want to identify behaviors you can use and identify skills you need,” Caselli says.

Challenge your soft skills in the wild.

Empathy, communication, diplomacy—soft skills are some of the hardest things to teach and yet some of the most important ingredients to career success. Develop those skills by putting yourself in situations where they count: networking events, Toastmasters public-speaking clubs, panels, and conferences. Pay attention to professionals you admire and the way they carry themselves; what can you learn from their actions? Take personality assessments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, CliftonStrengths assessment, or Enneagram personality test to get a sense of your own motivations and how you might come across to others. Finding a mentor can also help with this process, as they can provide you with an immense source of feedback and advice on how to build these skills, says Valerie Hayes, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach.

Challenge your technical skills with videos and coursework.

“Go narrow with your choice for secondary learning if you know there’s a specific skill set you’re lacking that you need for success in your current role,” Hayes says. Some things can be learned from a book or YouTube video; others require more intense instruction. In the tech world, General Assembly is one such program that offers highly rated courses on tangible skills; find the equivalent in your own industry and ask your employer if they might supplement that coursework. If your field requires specific credentials in order to reach the C-suite, you may need an MBA to make sure you’re considered. Estimates say that about 20% of people in master’s programs have an employer offering some kind of tuition reimbursement.

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