Developing employee skills has never been more of a win/win proposition for organizations and their workers.

With shortages of skilled people in many fields, employers who invest in effective training and development programs will become less dependent on outside hiring and will be well-positioned to build and maintain a best-in-class workforce.

At the same time, with technology constantly creating new jobs and changing work processes, employees who upgrade their skills will be far more valuable to their employers than colleagues who rely on existing (and sometimes outmoded) skills.

While employee development seems like a no-brainer, in today’s fast-changing economy and tight labor market, its application in the workplace is very mixed.

Most organizations sponsor some sort of development programs, but the availability may vary according to job types. For example, some organizations may have leadership programs for high-level executives, but may not offer training for first-time managers. Or, an IT department might have internal technology seminars for departmental employees, but the programs are not promoted to employees in other departments who might benefit.

A significant obstacle to employee development is a disagreement about who is responsible – the employer or the employee.

A research study conducted by the University and Phoenix and EdAssist revealed the depth of the divide. Seventy-four percent of employees believe their employers should provide development training and 71% say employers should identify career paths. On the other hand, 85% of managers say employees should identify job opportunities and career paths.

While the responsibility debate is ongoing, it’s clear that both sides can benefit from upskilling in the workplace.

For organizations, employee development:

  • Helps to recruit and retain great employees: An effective employee development program enhances an organization’s employee brand and helps to recruit ambitious job candidates.

Most employees today understand (and sometimes fear) that advances in technology and other changes may alter the way they perform their jobs or perhaps even eliminate their jobs in the not too distant future. Even millennials, who tend to be far more comfortable with technology than baby boomers or Gen Xers, fear being left behind by economic change and are attracted to companies that will help develop their workplace skills.

  • Improves employee performance: An employee who receives ongoing skills training will likely perform better than someone without training. Employees who are new to a position typically have some – but not all – of the skills necessary to excel. By identifying areas that need development early on, employers can help their workers perform exceptionally well within a short time of taking on a new job.
  • Creates a pipeline of promotable employees: An effective employee development program will help people to work on their shortcomings, develop their strengths, provide valuable growth experiences, and prepare them to rise in their organization.

While it’s good to strike a balance between promoting from within and hiring from the outside, having a large number of employees who are ready to move up enables companies to easily fill positions and to grow in concert with the development of their employee capabilities.

  • Increases employee engagement: The sad fact is that 85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work, according to Gallup. The loss in productivity and the damage to customer relationships and workplace culture is incalculable.

While an effective employee development program is not a panacea, a good program fosters engagement by challenging employees to grow and helping to define attractive career paths.

Employees Must Take Charge of their Development

An employee who stays in the same function for several years and doesn’t upgrade his/her skills is probably at a career dead end. Over time, the person may become vulnerable to staff cutbacks or job obsolescence.

As an employee, by building skills and competencies, you:

  • Enhance your career prospects: Employers look much more favorably on employees who continue to grow, get progressively better at their current job, and build skills and competencies to prepare themselves for greater responsibilities.
  • Facilitate skill transfers: So-called soft skills like communication, problem solving, and teamwork are vital to many jobs. By developing those skills into strengths, you prepare yourself for new roles and career paths.
  • Increase your workplace satisfaction: By improving your performance and increasing your promotability, new skill development will tend to make you happier in your work and optimistic about your future.

A Shared Responsibility

U.S. companies spent over $90 billion on employee training in 2017, which worked out to about $1,075 per learner, a 32.5% increase from the previous year. Clearly, organizations have gotten the message and are investing more in their employees.

Moving forward, organizations need to make development and training a more important part of employee job performance expectations. Taking a one-off training seminar isn’t sufficient. Employees should continuously seek out upskilling opportunities and be measured on tangible skill improvement.

For their part, employees need to take greater responsibility for their own development and carving out their own career paths. If their employers don’t offer what they need, they should figure out other ways to obtain ongoing training.

By working together, organizations and employees can help each other better prepare for the future.


Authored by: Carolina King