Career Coach: Why you should support the continuing education of your employees

Have you ever asked your firm to send you to a training program so that you could keep current with the latest developments in the field? Or maybe your company provides additional training to help keep its employees abreast of new developments?

Many firms provide their employees with financial support or actual developmental opportunities to bring more value to the enterprise. A study by EvoLLution found that 96 percent of employers agreed continuing education improves employees' job performance. Similarly, firms rated as top workplaces often provide training and continual learning opportunities for their employees. They believe that providing these opportunities not only strengthens the knowledge and skills of their employees, but also helps retain their top talent. I have heard from many talented employees that the major reason they stayed with their firms was because of the continual learning opportunities.

But there are some firms that seem to have quite the opposite view. A colleague from one company told me that when she asked about continuing professional development opportunities her senior manager said, "You should already have all of the knowledge you need to do your job, and if you want any more knowledge then get it on your own time." The colleague was taken aback and really felt that learning was not valued by the company, and - more damaging - that the company really did not want to invest in her as an employee.

Luckily many managers recognize the value of continuing education, be it formal coursework or just informally reading professional journals, books and articles or working with a mentor. It helps if any learning program is connected or aligned to the strategic goals of the firm. This could mean getting training in cultural competence, learning to deal with change, and working more effectively with global and/or virtual teams. Or maybe the firm is encouraging employees to strengthen their business analytics skills. If the firm does provide leadership training for its employees, this can build the leadership pipeline or succession plan needed for the future success of the company.

Firms that haven't yet gotten on the bandwagon may want to reconsider. There are compelling reasons for promoting continual learning:

• Attract and retain great talent because employees see learning opportunities as a benefit and it gives the firm a competitive advantage over firms who don't offer additional learning

• Keep employees engaged at work by enabling their jobs to be more challenging

• Create a stronger leadership pipeline of talent ready and available

• Enable employees to be more flexible and more likely to adapt to changing demands of the workplace

Research shows that individuals who have opportunities for professional development are more engaged and committed to their firms than those who do not have those opportunities. Remind your managers to hold career conversations with their employees to learn more about their learning aspirations and then follow up to ensure that some of their developmental plans are encouraged. Employees can also help themselves by periodically looking at the market to see how their job is being described to determine what additional skills or knowledge they may need to be competitive in today's market.

• Joyce E. A. Russell is the senior associate dean at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership, career management, and negotiations. She can be reached at

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