How to Convince Employers to Pay for Professional Development

When you’re a lifelong learner, it’s frustrating to see people in positions of power who don’t understand the value of professional development. It’s especially frustrating when these people are employers in your association’s industry or profession. What do you do when members (and non-members) are interested in your online learning programs but their employers won't pay for professional development?

Here are three of the most common reasons professional development budgets are sparse (or non-existent) and what you can do to help employees get the money and education they need.

Reason #1: Employers are afraid employees will leave after they’ve invested in their professional development.

Employers with this mindset have it backwards. People leave managers, not jobs. And, one of the biggest reasons they quit is because their manager doesn’t invest in their professional development. According to the 2014 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement survey of the Society for Human Resource Management, 40 percent of employees rated job-specific training as “very important” to their satisfaction, and 36 percent rated professional development the same way.

The numbers are even more drastic with young professionals. In a Gallup survey, 87 percent of millennials said opportunities to learn and grow were important to them, and of that group, two-thirds said these opportunities were extremely important.

Employees can’t fight this one alone. Create a “convince your boss” page for your online learning website. Provide talking points, research findings, and testimonials about the positive impact made by professional development on employees and on the company’s bottom line. Here’s a sampling of arguments:

  • Employees who participate in professional development are more engaged, loyal, and committed to meeting their company’s challenges.
  • Employees who apply new skills and knowledge to their work help their company become more competitive.
  • On the other hand, employees who feel underappreciated disengage from work. Disengaged employees are less productive and more likely to quit.

Finally, who stays when a company doesn’t invest in their employees’ professional development? Not the good ones—they’ll find a better employer elsewhere. The only ones who stay are the ones no one else wants to hire.

Who in their right mind wouldn't pay for professional development? Ugh.

Reason #2: Employers don’t value professional development.

The employers who are afraid people will leave after they’ve invested in their professional development are aware of the power of education—they just don’t know how to use that power for good. But some employers don’t value professional development at all. Perhaps because they’re not lifelong learners, they don’t see why their employees need it.

You wouldn’t think you’d have to convince employers in your industry that their employees’ professional development is vital to their organization’s success, but you might have to. This is the type of marketing campaign that can be pushed year-round to not only increase business for your educational programs but also to increase member recruitment. Consider it a public service announcement (PSA) of sorts for your industry—and association.

Here are some stats to buttress your campaign.

The National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce found that an increase in a workforce’s education level was far more effective at increasing productivity than an increase in the value of equipment. A 10 percent increase in workforce education level led to an 8.6 percent gain in total productivity, while a 10 percent increase in the value of equipment increased productivity by only 3.4 percent.

In a survey of employees spanning three generations (boomers, generation X, and millennials), 70 percent said job-related training and development opportunities influenced their decision to stay at their job. 87 percent of the millennial participants said access to professional development or career growth opportunities was very important to their decision of whether to stay or go.

Another study found that 74 percent of employees felt they weren't achieving their full potential at work due to lack of development opportunities.

If your association produces a compensation benchmark survey for your industry, include questions about professional development budgets. See if you can connect an investment in education to an organization’s bottom line.

Employers who provide professional development opportunities as part of their hiring and benefit package have a competitive edge over employers offering similar jobs and wages. Employers who invest in their employees’ career gain a reputation with professionals in their industry as someone who’s good to work for and gain a reputation with prospective clients as someone who’s good to work with.

An organization’s best asset for dealing with change and disruption is a workforce with up-to-date skills and knowledge. Help the employers in your industry see the contrast between the talent they have and the talent they could have if only they invested in professional development.

Smart employers pay for professional development

Reason #3: Employers don’t see value in your professional development programs.

Make sure your professional development programs (online and face-to-face) are aligned with the current and future needs of employers in your industry. Consult employers before developing new programs. Ask for their feedback on curriculum. Discuss whether a digital badge program would help them in hiring and promotion decisions.

Leverage the power of social proof. Employers are more likely to trust the recommendations of people they know—and even of people “like them” whom they don’t know. Collect and publicize testimonials about your programs from employers whose employees have taken your courses.

Coach employees on making a case for professional development.

On the “convince your boss” page, provide tips for making a business case for professional development.

  • Tie professional development to strategic, departmental, or position goals.
  • Do your research. Present options. Include testimonials from others who have taken the program.
  • Find out if any precedents for professional development investment exist in your organization. Talk to the HR department. Review the employee handbook. Is your boss an anomaly? Or is there a history of others having access to professional development? Find any success stories you can share.
  • Describe how the program will impact your job, department, and company. What skills will you learn? What understanding will you gain? How will that make you a better employee?
  • Show how much time and money is saved by taking an online program compared to the time and travel expenses involved in going to an in-person program.

No organization can afford to ignore their staff’s professional development in today’s economy. With the rapid pace of change, employees must continually update their skills and knowledge if their employer is to survive and succeed. Your association can help your members and industry thrive by spreading that professional development message.

Continuing Professional Development
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