How to Create a Professional Development Map for Employees

Professional development can improve your employee retention rate. Here’s how to create a program from scratch.

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How to Create a Professional Development Map for Employees

Here's what you need to know:

  • Designing a successful professional development initiative has both short-term and long-term benefits to the organization, as well as to the employee
  • A successful career plan involves workers through the process
  • Tools and programs that employers can choose to invest in include remote learning platforms, continuing education, and more
  • To map your employee's professional development plan, have the employee complete a self-assessment and set goals
  • Help your employee to draft an action plan and check in with them regularly to track their progress and ask if they need help

Professional development and upskilling fulfill company needs and boost employee engagement, and yet starting an employee development program is an extensive project. But it’s becoming more of a non-negotiable benefit than ever before.

Over 90% of workers have said that development opportunities and training matter. At the same time, 56% of HR professionals believe that the skill gap within their organization is severe.

Designing a successful professional development program is 1 way to help employees stay on their career path (and stay with your company)! However, unlike other perks or benefits, this program is a continuous process for both HR and the workforce.

Often combined with performance management, professional development initiatives incorporate employer resources, 3rd-party tools, and employee input to bring value to the organization.

What is a professional development plan?

A professional development plan is a specific strategy to help an employee to acquire essential skills and meet their career goals. No employee wants to be stuck doing the same job 10 years down the line, and this is especially true for Millennial and Gen Z workers.

So, why invest in creating a career advancement program? Why can’t employees do it themselves?

An employee development plan can help boost employee engagement, increase the value the worker brings to your organization, and ensure they have a clear career path to follow. All of these benefits lead to increased retention and productivity.

In other words, there are both short-term and long-term benefits to the organization, as well as to the employee, by fulfilling their training needs.

At the same time, employees might not be aware of their next career steps or how to acquire new skills. Other workers might know their trajectory but aren’t confident they can take the time to pursue their career goals.

Providing employees with professional development opportunities gives them the space to grow without stress or uncertainty.

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How do you set professional development goals for employees?

HR and business owners need to approach employee development through the lens of their workers, not the organization’s immediate needs. Successful professional development opportunities build long-term gains and, more importantly, make sense to the employee.

In other words, simply listing a group of skills an employee needs to master isn’t enough to sustain a true career path.

Some questions to consider are:

  • What are the natural promotional roles from a specific entry-level position?
  • What is a healthy time frame for an employee to leverage the learning opportunity or pick up a specific skill?
  • How will a specific skill contribute to their long-term career plan?
  • What personal development goals can be linked to their professional life?
  • What types of development programs are there, and which would be most accessible for all employees?

However, it’s important to note that a successful career plan involves workers through the process. The human resources team may choose the platform of tools employees can use to meet their professional goals, but workers can help customize their journey.

Tools and programs that employers can choose to invest in are:

  • Remote learning platforms
  • Offsite performance training
  • Funding conference tickets and travel
  • Certification assistance
  • Leadership coaching
  • Mentoring network
  • Continuing education courses at the local college
  • Employee assistance programs that include career planning

How to map your employee professional development plan

Once you’ve decided on your organization’s specific tool set, it’s time to sit down and discuss the professional development benefits with the team.

The human resources team will likely introduce new hires to this benefit and include information about career advancement programs in the employee handbook. However, supervisors can also recommend the career path and training program to individual workers.

You can also highlight the program or specific skill training during performance reviews.

Regardless of how they learn about the opportunity, at some point, the employee will ask about promotions or career advancement. At this point, HR or the employee’s supervisor will need to help the worker develop their plan.

To do this, there are a few steps:

Step 1: Employee self-assessment

First things first, it helps to have the individual employee determine their current skills and competencies.

You want your employees to be as committed and involved in their individual development plans as possible.

You want your employees to be as committed and involved in their individual development plans as possible. Self-assessments are a great way to kick off what an employee believes is important for their role and career.

Step 2: Goal-setting

Next, you’ll want to have the employee set several short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals. Usually, you only want 1 long-term goal that lasts 1-2 years, and this goal will be broken up into smaller, achievable goals.

Setting more than 1 long-term professional development goal can lead to burnout as the employee attempts to complete their individual development plan on top of their regular workload.

Your HR professional or team supervisor can guide the employee through this process by using SMART goals. A SMART goal is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

Step 3: Draft an action plan

At this stage, you would help your employee choose from the organization’s resources how to achieve their goals. You may have a general action plan for certain departments or roles in advance, especially if there are specific skills in demand.

But even if you are starting your action plan from scratch, you and your employee can match development opportunities with their specific goals.

Step 4: Track progress

Finally, you’ll want to check in with your employee regularly to ask if they need help. If you have a mentorship program, then it’s possible the mentor would take over this role.

However, it’s more likely that you’ll track employee progress during monthly or quarterly reviews. You will want to find a balance between supporting your worker in their career plan but not micromanaging.

At the end of the day, work comes first, and deadlines might shift depending on your employee’s bandwidth. The important thing is that they continue to make progress.

The professional development map template

Not sure how to structure your professional development template? It doesn’t need to be complicated. Here is a general template you can use as a guide:

  • Employee’s Current Role — Include their current job description, skills, and competencies. You may also want to include their junior and supervisor coworkers to highlight where the employer is in the current hierarchy.
  • Employee’s Long-Term Goal — Include their main goal for the next year or so, what skills they will need, people they may need to meet, and how long it should take to achieve it.
  • Medium- and Short-Term Goals — List the specific and time-bound goals that employees can take over the next few months, weeks, and days to start moving towards their larger goal.
  • Additional Resources — List potential employer-provided or 3rd-party resources employees can use to accomplish their goals. This can be online course services, a special communication channel for workers focusing on professional development, EAP programs, and more.
  • Check-in Dates — Write in specific dates where a supervisor, mentor, or HR professional can check on employee progress.

How can companies dive deeper with employee well-being?

Providing professional development benefits is only 1 part of creating a competitive benefits package and building loyalty with your existing staff. To strengthen employee relationships and get a pulse on what your workers want, it helps to have an action plan.

A People Operations checklist for employee well-being can help you figure out how to make your employees’ jobs easier, tap into employee motivation, and foster a productive work environment through a mix of professional and personal development goals.

Likewise, if you want to find out what makes your specific workforce tick and hone in on key milestones, try including some of these sample questions in your next employee engagement survey.

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