When trying to define professional development, it’s important to understand that training and staff development are different matters. In training staff, you’re educating them on how to do the role they’re assigned. Employee development, however, is all about investing in taking staff to new heights.
When someone is hired for a job and taught the tasks they’re expected to perform; this is training. Development is essentially about teaching them and preparing them for roles different than, or beyond, the role they’re currently in.
Consider a bank teller, for example. If hired for customer service at the front counter, she will be trained in all the basics of banking such as taking deposits, fielding questions, directing customers to other personnel, making change, giving withdrawals and so on.
But if the bank offers professional development in its employee benefits package, the teller can continue her education after hours; perhaps taking accounting courses, or economics or financial management. These would be tools potentially useful in other aspects of bank work, allowing her to pursue other careers within the organization.
Some organizations believe in doing on-the-job development. This blurs the lines between training and development because it’s conceivable the employee or managers could continue doing what they’re doing and still be a quality employee. But encouraging development comes from a basic belief that becoming better is, well, better.
Walgreens, for example, enjoys among the highest staff-retention rates in all of American retail, thanks to their corporate culture of developing employees. Their "Walgreens University" offers both in-person and online professional development for any employees interested. The university also partners with seven traditional universities in offering career development for employees. From cosmetic classes to continuing education programs for their pharmacists, it’s a surprisingly deep pool of developmental offerings. Some programs even have transferable college and university credits.
Continuing education is self-explanatory – the goal is to continue educating oneself. For employees continuing their education, the result is one who is better informed and empowered.
By encouraging employees to continue their job-related education, employers often find they get more loyalty and better performance from those employees. It’s also a great litmus test for who truly loves what they do and wants to take on more responsibility.
Academic development courses can often be taken after hours. Employers should work together with their staff to amend work schedules that allow employees to fully commit to these programs. For instance, if someone normally works 9 a.m-to-5 p.m. at the bank counter, but their course in personal finance begins Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. downtown, it's wise to allow them to leave at 4 p.m. on Tuesdays. That way, they have the time to get downtown, have a break with a good meal and do a half-hour of studying to get in a successful mindset for learning.
Whether staff are developed on the job or are encouraged to continue their education in service to their careers, companies benefit in the long run. When companies are scared to develop their employees because they fear staff will leave, it says a lot about the corporate culture and how they need to improve to retain these employees.
Companies providing an atmosphere where staff feels they’re valued for aiming higher and are rewarded for doing so, usually enjoy greater loyalty from their employees. More importantly, it creates a fertile environment from which it’s easy to hire from within. This pays off for years to come because it means hiring managers who have already bought into the corporate culture and who understand the company from entry level on up. There’s no better skill set for success than managers who genuinely understand the company they’re working for. And that's the biggest benefit of hiring from a pool of employees who are supported and encouraged to pursue professional development.