Why Are Companies Still Holding Back on Investing in Employees' Development?

An investment in your employees' upskilling and training is an investment in your company's future.

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By Leah Freeman

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PetSmart's new Grooming Academy for employees sounded like the cat's meow — at first. As it turns out, it went to the dogs fairly quickly.

The program's premise seemed airtight and compelling: Employees could sign up for the exclusive and intensive training opportunity to learn the ins and outs of pet grooming for four weeks. The offer, valued at $6,000, had a painful bite. As noted in a recent Wired article, employees who went through the Grooming Academy were expected to stay with the company for at least two years. If they left early, they would owe the company money. Not exactly the most fetching of agreements.

Puns aside, PetSmart's so-called Academy and the resulting hue and cry should be a warning for employers. Investing in your employees cannot be completely on your terms, and your employees will absolutely see your true intentions behind the investment. The labor market is still highly competitive. Employees want to work at companies that genuinely offer growth potential. That way, they can stay updated with industry trends, explore their talents and do their best work.

Related: Yes, You Should Invest In Upskilling Your Changing Workforce. Here's Why.

Unfortunately, many companies take similar paths as PetSmart and only offer their employees partial, strings-attached professional development experiences. There tend to be two reasons for this. First is the misconception among leaders that if they provide people with new skills, those people will leave.

Luckily, from my experience working for a company leading the way in reskilling and retraining, I can say that, usually, the opposite is true. Employees who get the development they need to excel in their positions typically leverage those tools immediately in their current work. As long as they're encouraged and empowered to drive change through their new-found knowledge, they will become engaged and motivated.

The second reason companies hesitate to offer employee training is the perceived expense. Certainly, committing to valuable training requires an investment. However, the cost pales compared to how pricey it can be to lose legacy know-how and recruit replacement talent. If you invest in employees and show them the value you can offer them, they will also invest in you.

Harnessing the benefits of employee professional development

More than anything else, employees want to feel like their workplaces care. In my job, I often hear that employees just want leaders to care about them and their lives. For this reason, I constantly try to improve our organization's internal communications processes.

Employers who provide training and development opportunities make a clear statement to their employees: "We want you to grow and are willing to fund that growth." But upskilling isn't just about altruism; it's about strengthening the organization as a whole.

When employers have teams on the leading edge of their fields, they position their companies for lower turnover. They also improve their employer brands, which helps source and onboard high-performing candidates for new openings. Plus, organizations with well-trained staff are more likely to meet their mission and revenue goals.

If you like the sound of those advantages, I encourage you to begin fleshing out your employee professional development initiatives. Here are some helpful hints on how to support employee growth and professional development to get you started:

Related: How to Prioritize Your Team's Professional Development, Even Remotely

1. Make sure company leaders model lifelong learning

Upskilling is for everyone, and it should come from the top down. All leaders, no matter their titles or experiences, can learn something new (and valuable). Leaders need to set an example for their employees by showing them that learning isn't just essential until you hit your mid-career years; it's essential forever. That's why many occupations in industries such as healthcare require professionals to undergo a certain number of continuing education hours throughout their careers.

As a leader at my own company, I consider the skills my employees will be learning or enhancing when creating my own professional development plans. For instance, if an employee is interested in learning project management skills, their manager could look for resources on how to supervise project managers to help lead that employee. This tandem approach ensures leaders can help employees implement new skills adequately and comprehensively while also giving the leader an opportunity to evolve their management style.

2. Allow employees to upskill in subjects unrelated to their roles

Many of your employees have goals and motivations far beyond their current job descriptions. Instead of keeping them boxed in, let them engage in employer-sponsored training that benefits them in a long-term, career-mapping way. Case in point: Let's say one of your administrative team members has no management responsibilities but hopes to be a manager one day. Management training might be appropriate. A year down the line, you might have helped educate your best new manager.

Before assuming this is a waste of company resources, consider that 63% of people who left their jobs in 2021 told Pew Research Center it was because they saw no advancement possibilities. Providing a door for your team members to train on new-to-them topics could be the way to avoid losing a budding superstar.

Related: Top Trends In Upskilling: The Urgent Employee Demand For the Younger Generation

3. Use employee learning to enhance your succession planning

Does your company have a well-considered progression plan for moving employees through the ranks? You might want to take time this year to think about using learning and development to future-proof the strength of your team. Promoting from within, or even giving employees opportunities to move among teams, is a terrific way to enrich your culture and ensure each team is made up of diverse perspectives.

Comcast's Grows to Code program is a terrific example of this succession planning approach. The program teaches front-line employees the coding skills they need to launch them into entry-level engineering roles. Employees who pass an aptitude assessment are paid full-time wages to immerse themselves in the experience.

The simple fact is that your employees are your most incredible resource. Rather than keeping them on a leash, set them free by helping them explore their talents through upskilling and reskilling. They'll be better for the investment — and so will you.

Leah Freeman

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Vice president of strategic communications at LaunchCode

Leah Freeman is vice president of strategic communications at LaunchCode, a nonprofit aiming to fill the gap in tech talent by matching companies with trained individuals.

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