Your IT leader has just hired someone who has amazing skills. Fantastic! Many leaders are great at understanding the skills their employees need to excel in their roles. What leaders sometimes have difficulty enabling, though, is the training that needs to happen to keep their employees’ skills sharp, and for those employees to learn new skills within their field. This is where a strategically aligned learning and development (L&D) team can really help.

Supporting an organization with professional development (PD) opportunities is an area where L&D teams can demonstrate tremendous value. By highlighting the benefits of PD, creating great partnerships with organizational leaders and external training providers and promoting development opportunities, L&D teams can help an organization upskill current teams and provide training for any future needs.

Consider the Benefits

If you’re looking to start a PD program, consider the benefits it will bring to your organization. Many companies understand the need for upskilling their people, but do they realize how critical it is? A survey of 2,000 people showed that PD opportunities resulted in 34% higher retention and 15% more engagement. Any company that is dealing with our current “Great Resignation” would love to find ways to keep their talented people. A structured PD program also shows employees what internal career progression or career changes look like and how to get there.

For example, if an employee wants to move from a developer position to a senior developer, a PD program can show them what training is needed to prepare for that role. Succession planning becomes so much easier when everyone has a career path and the training to support it. PD opportunities also prepare organizations for changes in technology, marketing practices and so much more, ensuring they are staying ahead of the curve.

Start Small

So as an L&D team, where do you start? It will be difficult to meet the needs of an entire organization right away, so you may choose to start with one department. Choose the department that needs your help the most. Think about which department is struggling with hiring, retention and engagement.  Or maybe there’s a team that is launching new software in the next few months that needs to get everyone trained. Giving PD opportunities for these employees will have the biggest impact. Next, get the leaders of those departments on board. Find out what their most urgent needs are, as well as what kind of budget they have, and show them what you can do for them. Build a business case that shows them how a PD program can help them with their training gaps now and in the future.

Partnership Considerations

The next step is finding the right training for the team you’re supporting, whether that means using external or internal providers. When determining which you should use, consider the following: External providers are best when you have generic needs (i.e., accounting skills). They are also best when you need training quickly, and have a healthy budget. Consider partnering with local universities, colleges or other academic institutions.  You could also bring in a facilitator from a recognized institution. There are also some cost-efficient external providers. Consider using MOOCs (massive open online courses), as well as training that is available directly from software providers. These courses are often free or available at a low cost. It’s important to work with an internal subject matter expert to curate any courses you find. With so many different providers, as well as the varying quality of content, you’ll need to make sure that the courses chosen are the best fit for their specific needs. Over time, you’ll be able to create a list of preferred external partners that meets the needs of your organization.

On the other hand, you may decide that internal training is the way to go. Creating training internally is best when you have content that is specific for your organization and you have subject matter experts that have the time and expertise to partner with you. Not only will you need them to help co-create the content, but you’ll need their help with facilitating it as well. For some companies, this is too much of a strain on their resources. There are some resource-efficient ways to come up with internal content suitable for professional development as well.

For example, you could start a community of practice where you have a group of professionals (like data analysts) meet regularly to teach each other and share best practices. If you record the training, the videos can live on your learning management system (LMS) for future development. Whether you choose external or internal training, or a hybrid of the two, you’ll be able to start upskilling your company’s teams.

Utilizing an LMS

Speaking of your LMS, it can be a great tool to help you organize, assign and track the training you’ve created or curated. Not only can you create clear pathways that will guide people through the courses they’ll need to take, but it will also help with reporting on key training metrics to share with leaders. Consider using your LMS even for external courses by creating a “shell” in your LMS that houses instructions on how to access the external training with a direct link. Your learners will appreciate having one place to access all their training.

Market Your Training

Finally, think about how you’ll communicate and market your PD program.  How will learners know what training is available to them, and how will leaders know how you’ve been able to support them? You might consider creating an online catalog for your learners. Employees can view which courses are available, how to access them and if they need approvals.

Having an online resource makes it easy to quickly update and provide links to courses, support or approval forms. New or updated courses can be communicated through your company’s intranet or newsletters. When communicating to leaders, consider doing a monthly or quarterly update to show them what’s new, how many people are taking courses and what’s coming. Use data whenever possible to help highlight increased retention or employee engagement. It can also be powerful to get a few soundbites from learners who have recently graduated from a program or course. Having someone say they are so appreciative of your company because of their development opportunity can speak volumes about the impact your PD program is having.

Starting down the journey of creating a PD program can sometimes feel daunting. Hopefully, these tips will help you think through some of the strategic decisions that will help your program be successful, and help your organization have the skills it needs now and in the future.