Do You Think the Corporate C-Suite Finally Understands the Value of Professional Development?

It took a pandemic, an acceleration of unceasing change, and a surprising Great Resignation, but it looks like the C-suite finally understands and buys into the value of professional development for their employees. For its 2021 Workplace Learning Report, LinkedIn Learning surveyed over 1,200 learning and development (L&D) professionals and nearly 900 learners to find out how workplace learning is changing—and the news is good for associations.

What the research says about the C-suite’s focus on professional development

The C-suite dramatically shifted their views on learning over the past year. In 2020, only 27% of L&D professionals said their CEOs were active champions of learning. In 2021, 62% made that claim. It’s not just wishful thinking: 63% of L&D professionals said they now have a seat at the executive table.

This news raises questions:

•    Does L&D have a seat at the executive table in your industry? If you don’t know, how can you find out? This data would help inform your marketing efforts.

•    If L&D does not have a seat at the table, how can your association support their efforts to get one—and raise your own profile in the process? How can you raise the alarm about the need for upskilling or reskilling in your industry?

•    If companies in your industry don’t have L&D departments, how can your association assume that role for them?

•    Before pointing figures outward, who owns L&D at your association? Do they have a seat at your executive table? Isn’t it strange to push professional development onto your members when it’s not valued at your association?

If companies in your industry don’t invest in their employees’ professional development, share these research findings with them too. 59% of HR leaders said building critical skills and competencies will be their number one priority in 2022. 60% of executives and L&D leaders plan to increase L&D spending over the next few years. 66% want to boost the number of employee-training hours. What are their competitors doing?

L&D departments can’t possibly provide all the education needed by their executives, managers, and employees. But these Gartner findings suggest two ways you can help:

•    38% don’t know what skills gaps their employees have. You can help employers identify these skills with needs assessment tools.
•    40% said they can't develop training fast enough to meet evolving skill needs. With an employer advisory council and their financial support, you can hire instruction designers skilled in agile program development.

c-suite meeting discussing the value of professional development

3 professional development opportunities for associations

Let every C-suite in your industry know: you can help them achieve their business goals by offering their executives, managers, and employees the training they need. Your association can be the career salvation for other market segments too.

#1: Manager training

The top area of focus for L&D professionals, per the LinkedIn report, is reskilling and upskilling. Do your programs cover the skills employers prioritized? If the need is there, shouldn’t you?  

•    Resilience and adaptability
•    Technology skills and digital fluency
•    Communication across remote teams
•    Emotional intelligence
•    Cross-functional collaboration
•    Leading through change
•    Change management

In the past year, managers, compared to the average learner, focused 24% more of their learning on soft skills. Managers must learn how to hire, lead, and retain remote/hybrid employees in a competitive market. This skill set involves knowing how to:

•    Coach employees, identify skills gaps, and discuss career growth.
•    Listen and seek feedback.
•    Show compassion and build trust.
•    Create a meaningful work experience for employees.

Your association can offer this training along with peer networking. Because your programs would be industry specific, they would be more effective than generic programs.

#2: Career changers

LinkedIn research found that half the employees who moved into data science and artificial intelligence careers in the past five years came from entirely different occupations and industries. Since it’s impossible to have much experience in these new fields, skills and aptitude are the hiring differentiators.

The number of career changers is even higher in engineering (67%), content (72%), and sales (75%) roles. If your industry is attracting or wants to attract career changers, your association should jump on this opportunity. Conduct awareness campaigns to attract attention to these jobs, along with:

•    Career 101 programs
•    Reskilling course packages
•    Career bootcamps
•    Virtual job fairs
•    Mentoring/coaching programs

a puzzled man wishing his employer understood the value of professional development

#3: Generation Z

76% of Generation Z (18 to 24 years old) believe learning is the key to a successful career. They are “career-minded to the core,” said LinkedIn, and “more than any other generation in the workforce will spend time learning if it can help them:

•    Perform well in their current jobs,
•    Build skills to work in a different function, or
•    Find new roles internally.”

Over two-thirds of Gen Z reported making more time to learn in the past year. They’re another audience ripe for your educational programs, but can they afford them? Do their employers support them with a professional development budget?

If not, consider offering sponsored programs and/or scholarships. The Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau has sponsored ASAE’s Diversity Executive Leadership Program (DELP) for several years, making it possible for all accepted applicants to participate.

Building an industry culture of lifelong learning

Your efforts to get employer support won’t go far unless you can persuade them to build a culture of lifelong learning, starting in the C-suite. Many people still haven’t accepted the reality: learning doesn’t end upon graduation. In our constantly changing world, learning is the only way to ensure a prosperous future for the individual and their employer.

Leaders must model the behavior they want their employees to emulate, like blocking time each week for learning. Your association can promote this mindset with a newsletter series: “How do you find time to learn?” Distribute a poll to members and customers. Showcase the efforts of those who make time for learning. These companies will look good to prospective hires too.

Life would be easier if all we needed to know was what we learned at school, but we all know it doesn’t work that way. You can’t even rely on what you knew five or ten years ago. Everything is changing and the only way to keep up and get ahead is by continuing to learn new skills and gain new knowledge. Seems obvious, but it’s a fact that many professionals and their employers resist. Let’s try to change that so associations really can make this world a better place.

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