Simply defined, learning is the process of acquiring new skills and becoming good at something. Development is simply a career or job path. At Amazing Workplace, we view learning and development as one unified workplace area to improve and maintain. Taken together like this, learning and development is the process of helping employees learn new skills, getter better at their jobs, and advance along their preferred career paths.
Learning and development have a lot to do with employee happiness. Employees want room to grow professionally — whether that is the ability to get promoted, become part of management, or simply acquire new job responsibilities. They want to know there is room to grow at their workplace. Make no mistake, employees will leave to find a workplace that helps them accomplish their professional goals. It's much better for a workplace to focus on learning and development as a critical area.
This is time and effort well spent: Wharton notes that employees with professional development opportunities show 34% higher retention, and providing learning opportunities to employees can substantially increase productivity, engagement, and innovation.
Invest in Job Descriptions and Career Paths
Employees can better grow in their careers and skills if they can clearly envision their personal goals.
Create clear and simple job descriptions. These should be focused on explaining in basic terms the activities that the employee performs in their job, the purposes of their activities, and the objectives that they are expected to achieve. Descriptions should not be bogged down by legal or technical terms, so — where possible — set aside those more complicated descriptions and legal disclaimers into separate documents or separate sections of the description.
Give employees detailed career paths from entry-level to expert or leadership roles. These should describe the skills, level/quality of work, achievements, or qualifications needed to ascend to more senior roles. Make sure these are regularly distributed, easy for everyone to find, and that team leaders periodically review them with their people. During a one-on-one once a quarter is a pretty good time to look at the career path together, but this may depend on the workplace.
Remember, career paths do not all need to lead to eventual management or executive roles. Many employees would prefer to have an opportunity to be promoted as a senior producer, a subject-matter expert, a master tradesman, or to otherwise stay out of people managing. Consider ensuring that a non-management promotion track exists for all staff roles.
Make Training Part of the Plan, From Day One
Ensure that training is planned from the beginning. The onboarding process should communicate to employees what training they can expect to receive, when they will get it (at least at a high level), and how they will participate in it. Team managers can have regular training activities planned, and they can make voluntary training available for when employees have unspent time. Most important is that team leads proactively encourage training from the first day of work.
Along these lines: make it normal for employees to ask for training, just as they would ask for tools or materials that they need to do their work. So when staff identify skills they would like to improve or training that would be valuable for their job, encourage them to request it. Make sure to have leadership acknowledge and thank staff for making the time to request training. Remember, when staff ask for training it means they care about doing better in their job. That's something to appreciate!
Raise up Mentors in the Workplace
The best trainers for the work you do are the people who already do your best work. Have managers keep their eyes peeled for the best in each role and find out if those people would be willing (and a good fit) to serve as mentors to new staff in their areas. Mentors provide the most practical kinds of training and are able to pass on knowledge that has slipped through without being written down or recorded. Mentors also help new employees adapt to your workplace's culture and understand new words that are commonly used. Employees who adapt to culture and get key work training early are much more likely to stay on a long time, are more productive, and are going to be making significant contributions faster.
Provide Education Benefits
Education benefits come in many forms, but the best are those that enable employees to grow in the direction of their career goals. The most popular and useful education benefits include:
- Student loan repayment assistance. This means the employer sets conditions when, if met, the company will pay some or all of the employee's student loan debts.
- Educational expense reimbursement. This means the employer agrees to pay back employees when they spend money on designated expenses. This could cover any or part of books, fees, transportation, dining, supplies, or even tuition.
- Employer-sponsored online education. This means the employer works with a college or other education provider to provide free or low-cost access to its online courses or degree programs.
- Assistance for basic education. This typically means connecting employees with a high-school equivalency program and paying the cost of completing the program.
Workplaces will decide which (if any) of these benefits may be a good fit, but the payoff can be significant: they increase skills in the workplace while also driving up happiness and retention. For more on getting started with educational benefit programs, take a look at this great guide from the Society for Human Resource Management.
Employee learning and development is one of the many workplace areas we measure in our Employee Happiness Survey. If you'd like to learn more about what Amazing Workplace can do for you, email us here, or visit our Amazing Workplace nomination page to get started.