Why Employee Development Programs Matters (And How to Implement One)

Research shows that investing in employee development can boost employee satisfaction, performance and retention. Plus, employee development programs can be easier to implement and less costly than you think.

What is Employee Development?

Employee development programs are ways to improve an employee’s broader skills as a person over an extended time period in a more holistic approach. Learning and development opportunities help boost employee engagement and productivity. Often, these programs are administered or managed by human resources departments. They are often bundled in a broad category “Learning and Development” or “Training and Development”. While they are related, and even complementary, there are some key differences between the two.

Employee Development vs. Training

So, what are the main differences between Employee Development and Employee Training?  

Training is a learning process in which employees get an opportunity to develop skill, proficiency and knowledge required to perform a job. In other words, training is oriented to a specific job, and is focused on improving the work performance of an employee in the short term.  

Employee development on the other hand, is “an education process which is concerned with the overall growth of the employee.” Development is more extensive than training. It’s oriented to the employee, and aimed at preparing employees for future challenges and opportunities. 

In sum, training helps an organization fulfill short-term, immediate needs. Development is a long term investment in your people.

Why is Employee Development Important?


Photo by Stephanie Cook on Unsplash

Today’s business needs are ever evolving. We’re faced with swiftly advancing technology coupled with a tight talent market that’s more competitive than ever. A recent study by LinkedIn suggests that in this environment, focusing too heavily on training of skills (which can quickly become outdated) can actually lead to a gap in any number of skills.

Automation can pose a dangerous threat to making existing skills irrelevant. A report published by Oxford University on The Future of Employment estimated that 47 percent of jobs in the US are at risk of being automated in the next 20 years.

Another hidden threat to skill erosion is retirement. According to a study by SHRM, the majority of workers in the U.S. will be over age 40 within the next five to 10 years. Additionally, the United Nations forecasts the population growth among people 65+ is outpacing the growth of those ages 25 to 64. Astonishingly, a mere six percent of companies in the U.S. have implemented specific policies and management practices to address an aging population.

By comparison, millennials are eons away from retirement. Plus, they are still hungry for development opportunities. In fact, according to a cross-generational study by PayScale, 72% of younger workers say they are more likely to value opportunities for learning and career advancement (compared to 52% and 64% of Boomers and Gen Xers, respectively).

In order to temper such rampant skills obsolescence, organizations should invest in employee development instead of rote skills training. If your organization values innovation, your employees will need to collaborate effectively – across departments and generations. Helping your employees develop essential “soft skills” will pay dividends.

Steps to Creating an Employee Development Plan


Photo by Brook Anderson on Unsplash

Looking for ways to create an employee development plan? An article by Insperity outlined five key steps. 

1. Consider Business Goals

Before you set objectives for employees, try to align their development needs with your company’s business needs.Think about both your long- and short-term business objectives. Are there any new initiatives or product launches coming up? Do you need to reallocate headcount from one team to another? Once you’ve identified your business objectives you can align your employees’ development needs with your organization’s business needs.

2. Talk to Your Employees
It’s important to talk to your employees to find out what their career goals are. You can’t simply assume you know your employees’ career aspirations. By having an open conversation, you can figure out what opportunities you can offer them. Think about how employee demographics will factor into your plan. Does your company have a significant proportion employees who are nearing retirement? Consider making a plan to ensure that existing knowledge from older workers get transferred to younger ones before they retire.

3. Recognize Potential vs. Readiness

It’s important to keep in mind that there’s a difference between potential and readiness. Even though someone may be a high achieving performer in their current role, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready to move into management. They may need two or more years of progressively more complex projects to master that skill.

4. Consider all Types of Training and Development

Employee development programs can take many forms. They can run the gamut from online courses to formal classroom training. They also need not be expensive. Some ideas include:

  • Encouraging employees to join local industry groups
  • Giving employees opportunities to work directly with a subject matter expert
  • Providing high performing employees with stretch assignments and special projects
  • One-on-one mentoring and coaching
  • Employee-to-employee learning

Be creative: how can you provide employees with opportunities to practice key skills outside of their regular job function?

5. Create a Plan for Before, During and After

Once you’ve identified some specific development opportunities, it’s important to create a plan with specific and timely goals. What resources and prep work needs to be done? Are there any barriers that need to be removed in order to be set up for success? Once you have the plan in place, then you can help them apply their new skills in the workplace. Set up some opportunities where your employees can quickly apply their newly learned skills and get feedback. This will help them reinforce and refine what they’ve learned.

why you should start today

Research has shown that companies that invest in their employees benefit from higher employee satisfaction. In PayScale’s whitepaper, The Formula for a Winning Culture, we found that employees cited development as one of the top factors that drive employee satisfaction.

Another benefit of employee development is improved employee performance. Training can help an employee master the skills necessary to do their job. However, development can help boost their confidence even further, motivate them to perform better, and potentially innovate new ideas to help them excel.

Last but not least, investing in employees’ growth can help boost retention. In fact, according to a recent LinkedIn study, 94 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. 

Tell us what you think

What programs have your organization established to help employees grow? Tell us in the comments below or on Twitter.