The importance and benefits of professional development

As you grow in your career, remember no one is born brilliant at their job. Every successful person has been learning and working at their skills for a long time — taking advantage of professional development opportunities over the entirety of their career.

The professional world is becoming increasingly competitive and is constantly changing, so professional development and continual learning is more important than ever in being successful and achieving career goals. Technologies and best practices are evolving and progressing in every industry, making it crucial for both new and experienced professionals to continue developing their skills and honing their knowledge.

What is professional development?

Professional development refers to continuing education and career training after a person has entered the workforce in order to help them develop new skills, stay up-to-date on current trends, and advance their career.

Many fields require professionals to participate in continuing education and ongoing learning, sometimes as a prerequisite for keeping their job or to maintain their license, designation, or certification. In these cases, the field likely has specific continuing education (CE) or continuing professional education (CPE) requirements which must be completed through an approved continuing education provider.

Beyond continuing education, professional development can refer to many different types of educational or training opportunities relevant to the professional’s work. Even when not required, many professionals who want to excel in their career will voluntarily seek out professional development and learning opportunities.

Why is professional development important?

The truth is, many people aren’t investing in their career development. One-third of employees say they do nothing to upgrade or improve their current skill set. These people aren’t too worried about their future career. Many may be good at their jobs, too, but they’re either content where they’re at or just aren’t worried about their professional future.

This means by taking advantage of professional development, continued education, and planning for your career, you’ve already got a leg up on a third of your peers. Because you’re going for it and taking ownership of your career, you’re much more likely to achieve success and meet your goals.

What is the purpose of professional development?

It is a way for people to assess their own skills and abilities, consider their aims in life, and set goals in order to realise and maximise their true potential.

The purpose of professional development is to give professionals the opportunity to learn and apply new knowledge and skills that can help them in their job and further their career. Professional development is all about building your skill set and knowledge base for your field.

And professional development isn’t just helpful for you — it’s helpful for your employer, too. By having opportunities to learn, increase your skill sets, and stay up-to-date on industry trends, professionals like yourself increase your own worth while also adding to your company’s overall value.

Professional development and professional training opportunities provide many other specific benefits for both young and experienced professionals. Some of these benefits are listed below.

Benefits of professional development for employers

Employers can benefit from professional development in several ways. First, it promotes higher employee retention rates. Statistics show that the cost of employee turnover is up to 16% of the employee’s annual income. This means an employee earning $ 100 000 per year will cost the employer $ 16 000 if he or she quits. But employers who offer professional development will encourage employees to stay with their business.

Professional development also signals competency on behalf of the employer. Some industries actually require workers to hold certifications. And if a worker doesn’t have the necessary certification, it looks bad for the employer – not to mention the legal challenges it poses. Professional development, however, can help workers obtain the necessary certification and learning for their industry.

Professional development and continual learning will provide multiple benefits to every professional who actively engages with these opportunities, but many of the benefits of professional development will depend on the professional’s specific career goals.

Benefits of professional development include:

1. Professional development expands your knowledge base. Professional development and continuing education opportunities can expose both young and experienced professionals to new ideas, solidify their knowledge, and increase their expertise in their field. Those who actively seek out these learning opportunities are those who will benefit most from them.

2. Professional development boosts confidence and credibility. By increasing professionals’ expertise through professional development, their confidence in their work will increase as well. No one likes to think they’re missing important skills in their industry. Professional development courses, continuing education, and training opportunities allow professionals to build confidence and credibility as they acquire new skill sets and professional designations.

3. Professional development increases earning potential and hireability. Professional development and continuing education offers both young and experienced professionals opportunities to boost their earning potential and future hireability by increasing their knowledge and updating their skill sets. Professional credentials, certifications, and designations — most of which can be accessed and obtained online — also provide easy ways to increase a professional’s value. Professionals with the right skill sets who seek out and take advantage of upskilling opportunities are certainly more bankable than those who don’t.

4. Professional development can provide networking opportunities. Many professional development opportunities such as workshops, conferences, and other networking events allow professionals to branch out and meet other people within their industry who may be able to help them with career opportunities in the future. When you decide you want a change or are ready to move up in your career, your professional network and the professional relationships you have forged will come in handy.

4. Professional development can provide networking opportunities. Many professional development opportunities such as workshops, conferences, and other networking events allow professionals to branch out and meet other people within their industry who may be able to help them with career opportunities in the future. When you decide you want a change or are ready to move up in your career, your professional network and the professional relationships you have forged will come in handy.

5. Professional development keeps professionals current on industry trends. Professional development, continuing education and learning opportunities are great ways to stay up-to-date on industry knowledge and trends. Every professional industry is constantly evolving, so employees should use professional development and training opportunities to expand their knowledge base, learn new practices and techniques, and embrace new technology.

6. Professional development can open the door to future career changes. For professionals who are looking to make a complete career change or to pivot within their industry, new skills acquired through professional development training could be critical to opening new doors within their field or to transition to a new industry.

How can I improve my professional development?

One of the hardest things about learning a new skill is finding the time to do it. In fact, research has shown that many of us spend 72 hours a week working, leaving precious little spare time each day.

So, here are eight practical strategies that you can use to prioritise your professional development, even when you have a busy work schedule:

1. Focus on objectives

If you can’t see the benefit of something, you’ll likely give up on it. After all, why bother, if it’s not going to get you anywhere? So, you’ll need a strong sense of purpose when it comes to drawing up your learning objectives.

Start by listing the skills and knowledge that you most want to learn. Then, express these as SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based) goals.

Drawing up a clear plan of action will help you to organise your learning time more effectively, strengthen your self-discipline, and boost your motivation. It will also give you a way to measure your progress. And when you do this, you’ll more clearly see the value of continuing with your professional development.

2. Manage obstacles and distractions

Identify the obstacles that might make it difficult for you to stick to your learning schedule. Go through each obstacle and brainstorm strategies that will help you overcome them.

For example, you might plan to commit some time to learning during your daily commute. But you immediately get distracted by messages and emails – and, before you know it, you’ve forgotten all about learning.

So, commit yourself to reserving your commute time for learning only. And avoid opening your emails or looking at your daily to-do list until you arrive at work. You could even write down this promise as a ‘contract’ with yourself.

3. Make learning a habit

When you make learning a habit, you’ll more likely make a positive, long-lasting change, and achieve the goals that you set for yourself.

Do this by building learning into your daily routine. Schedule time – however little – each day for learning, and stick to it!

For example, you could start work early Mondays and Wednesdays to practice a new skill, or find a specific time in your day to study.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you do it routinely.

4. Set boundaries

Often, one of the biggest distractions is other people. You may have set aside some time in your lunch break to read up on a new industry development or complete an online assessment, but other people may not realise this, so the work requests keep on coming.

It can be hard to say ‘no’ when this happens. But doing so in an assertive way will help you to protect your valuable learning time. This doesn’t mean you should be rude or inflexible. Instead, be friendly but firm. Explain to your colleague what you are trying to achieve, and ask that they respect your ‘time out.’

5. Make every minute count

Many of us assume that learning something new requires large chunks of time. But short blocks can be just as effective… as long as you focus. 

The key is to maximise the impact of every moment that you have available. Start by taking a look at your to-do list. What could you realistically achieve in the time available?

Even if you have just 10 minutes to spare, grasp the opportunity. Use this time to fit in a bit of extra learning. Make sure that you focus your energy effectively. For instance, minimise distractions  by going somewhere quiet, turn off your phone, and log out of your messaging apps.

Strategies such as speed reading , mind mapping , and making use of bite-sized training resources can also help you to maximise every moment when you have limited time available.

6. Learn at your best

Many people opt to work on their professional development after they’ve completed everything else. But, however tempting this may be, think about how you feel when you’ve ticked off everything on your to-do list – you’re usually exhausted, right?

Instead, try to schedule your learning for times of the day when your energy levels are high and you’re more likely to be ‘in the zone.’ For example, you may feel a little slow straight after lunch, but you might be buzzing with energy in the morning.

7. Find your own learning style

We all have our own way of learning. Some people prefer to read and take notes. Others learn by doing.

When you identify your own personal learning style, you’ll be able to learn more efficiently. Time spent slogging through a textbook, for example, could be time wasted if you find videos more engaging. But remember that different forms of learning may suit different learning styles, so experiment and find what suits you best for each task.

8. Collaborate with others

Learning alongside others can often make the experience more fun and engaging. They can help you to stay motivated, and provide advice and support. If you have someone checking on your progress, it can also keep you focused on your main objectives.

Ask your colleagues whether they’d be interested in making more time for learning. If they are, why not form a study group, or simply spend some time reading and learning with them? You could even join a class or do an online course together.

Social media sites like LinkedIn  and Twitter  can also help you to find other professionals in your industry who are interested in learning, or who can offer training and advice.

9. Mentor someone or be mentored

‘Mentoring is priceless,’ says Kristine Tuazon, Principal Consultant at Good People HR. It allows you to learn directly from people who’ve experienced many of the same challenges you might be facing. ‘A good mentor will help you avoid the pitfalls and mistakes they may have made,’ says Tuazon.

Also, don’t underestimate how beneficial it can be to mentor someone else. You never know what you might learn from an up and comer if you approach the relationship with an open mind and a willingness to learn.

10. Take advantage of any and every training program and professional development opportunity your company offers and you think would be helpful to your career.

11. Consider a lateral move within your industry to broaden your experience. Having an understanding of and being able to perform multiple related jobs can be very helpful as you progress in your career.

Examples of professional development opportunities include:
  • Certification, License, or Professional Designation
  • Attend a professional conference
  • Participate in workshops
  • Take advantage of microlearning (usually between 1 and 10 minutes long)
  • Shadow a colleague
  • Read a book that can help you in your field
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