Skills Assessment: Investing in Professional Development

Why do U.S. organizations continue to spend billions of dollars a year on professional development programs despite a challenging economic climate? Maybe because it leads to employee and member retention.

In addition to salaries, retirement accounts, and health insurance, professional development is one of the myriad benefits companies can offer their employees. It’s also a resource many professional and trade associations offer their members.

But how much is professional development worth?

According to the American Society of Training and Development’s 2012 State of the Industry report, U.S. organizations spent approximately $156 billion on employee learning and development in 2011. That’s down from 2010, when organizations spent $171.5 billion, but up from 2009’s number of $125.8 billion.

The survey also found that employees averaged 31 hours of training in 2011 and technology-based delivery increased to 37 percent, up from 29 percent in 2010.

“The report’s findings demonstrate that despite continuing economic challenges, senior executives understand that a highly skilled workforce is a strategic differentiator and they are making substantial investments in the development of their employees,” ASTD said in a statement.

To meet the challenges of a tougher economic climate, some organizations are incorporating more cost-effective professional development programs. At a panel event on employee recruitment and retention I attended in October, one panelist said training programs could encompass something as seemingly simple as a brown-bag seminar, which is relatively inexpensive and can be hosted by members of your own staff.

Panelists also highlighted the importance of professional development programs in employee retention, one of the seven trends expected to influence training and development (T&D) in 2013, according to the American Management Association (AMA) Enterprise.

With growing levels of employee turnover, employers and HR professionals are expected to use T&D to help build closer relationships and improve engagement among workers.

AMA Enterprise also noted that employers will likely invest more in global leadership training and mobile-delivery options for development programs. There will also likely be an increase in the demand for basic skills training—a niche associations could fill.

For example, to help its members train and recruit new employees in a tough job market, the International Sign Association recently launched a series of webinars to educate  sign installers.

Similarly, in 2010, the Marble Institute of America instituted a program that allows its members to provide continuing education to potential customers, who might be members of the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Interior Designers, and so on.

In addition to a steady growth in popularity and increased sponsorship, the program has so far led to a 97 percent retention rate among participating members, MIA Vice President Jim Hieb told Associations Now. “With this program we have been able to prove the value proposition of membership in the MIA in a way we were never able to do before.”

How important would you rate professional development programs? What types of unique T&D programs have you seen or implemented?

(Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock)

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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