Learning and Development

Employee development program: Essential components

Competition for top talent is at an all-time high. Employee development programs help you foster top talent so you can promote from within. Master these five essential components to retain talented employees, improve performance and boost morale.

Together Team

Published on 

February 17, 2022

Updated on 

November 10, 2023

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According to the World Economic Forum, 60% of employees will need to upskill by 2027 — with 44% of workers needing to reskill. Meanwhile, only 41% have completed training to improve their skills.

The same study revealed employers’ fears about attracting talent and closing skills gaps, with 48% prioritizing overall employee development rather than higher wages (36%) or basic reskilling/upskilling initiatives (34%).

For organizations focused on retaining top talent and leading their industries, employee growth and career development will be key.

What is employee development?

The term employee development refers to the strategies and practices employers use to ensure their employees have the skills and knowledge needed to do their jobs and advance within the organization.

Examples of employee development in the workplace

An employee development program goes beyond what we saw in employee training programs of the past to encompass all workplace learning and career development initiatives, including: 

If an employee shows promise in one area but lacks skills in another, employee development can help to fill in the gaps.

What employees look for in development programs

Employees intrinsically understand that workplace skill sets are changing, and they want to develop the qualities top employers are looking for. Many employees look for employee development programs that will offer:

  • Soft skills like analytical or creative thinking, motivation, resilience, and curiosity rank as the top core skills identified by organizations in 2023.
  • On-the-job training like job shadowing, peer learning, and mentorship programs offer employees the opportunity to learn from their coworkers and learn other jobs within the company.
  • Online courses to help workers develop specific skills in a flexible format that fits their schedule. Combined with certifications and assessments, these courses help build employees’ resumes.
  • Career development that guides workers toward long-term goals and helps organizations create clear paths for internal advancement. 
  • A strong learning culture fosters an atmosphere of continuous learning that gives employees the tools they need to grow their careers while employers benefit from knowledge retention and employee retention.
  • Technical training that supports the technological literacy needed in modern workplaces and helps employees adjust to job changes brought on by advancements in artificial intelligence and automation.

A strong employee development program can be the differentiator your organization needs to attract and retain high potential employees while other companies struggle to recruit skilled workers.

‍4 benefits of employee development

According to Gartner, over the next 10 years, cognitive work — i.e., creativity, critical thinking, digital upskilling — will outweigh the importance of tenure and experience in the workplace. What’s more, employees will be looking for passion and purpose in their jobs, with even salaries taking a backseat to the importance of company values. 

When it comes to the future of work, organizations that take an active role in employee development will thrive amid these changes. In LinkedIn’s 2023 Workplace Learning Report, 89% of L&D pros agreed that companies need to be proactive about upskilling and reskilling to succeed. 

Establishing an employee development program will bring four key benefits to your organization.

“Organizations that encourage upskilling among their workforces find their employees are happier, more engaged, and, in turn, more productive.” — MIT Technology Review Insights

1. Retention

LinkedIn says it best in its 2023 Workplace Learning Report: “People who aren’t learning will leave.” Of the top five factors affecting employee retention, three of them are related to professional development and learning. 

It’s the top concern among employers, too. For the 93% of organizations that are worried about retention, providing learning opportunities is their No. 1 strategy for combating employee churn. 

The need for learning is especially strong with workers under the age of 35. They’re most likely to crave opportunities to grow their careers, add skills, and continue learning.  

Internal mobility also affects retention — employees who have advanced or taken on new roles are 75% more likely to stay with your company. The problem? Only 26% of employees say they learned new skills, and just 14% have been coached to create a career development plan

2. Recruiting

Simply put, workers are drawn to employment opportunities that offer some form of learning and development. According to Gallup, Millennials say they place the most emphasis on the learning and growth opportunities offered by a potential employer. And for non-Millennials, 69% ranked it as an important factor. 

Clearly, top candidates are looking for organizations that offer opportunities for growth and development. In Glassdoor’s annual Best Places to Work in 2023, workers said the best companies offer opportunities for career advancement. By promoting how they provide employees with access to learning and development programs, businesses can show potential recruits that they are serious about their employees’ professional development.

3. Positive workplace culture

A positive and supportive work culture is essential for employee productivity, creativity, and engagement — it’s also an expectation. In their 2023 Workplace Trends Report, Indeed and Glassdoor reported that 46% of workers expect more out of their jobs when it comes to their overall happiness. 

A positive workplace culture is one where employees feel valued and are given the opportunity to learn and grow. Employee development can help to create a positive culture by providing employees with opportunities to learn new skills, take on new challenges, and grow their careers. When employees are engaged at work, they are more likely to be productive at work. What’s more, companies with engaged employees are more profitable.

4. Employee performance

If your employees grow stagnant in their skills and knowledge, it stands to reason that their performance will suffer. This is because employees who are not constantly learning and expanding their horizons will eventually hit a plateau in their productivity.

On the other hand, 90% of employees who are actively engaged in employee development programs report that their performance improves significantly, and this is because they are constantly challenging themselves to learn new things and improve their skills. 

90% of employees who are actively engaged in employee development programs report that their performance improves significantly

As a result, they become more productive and contribute more value to the organization.

5 ways to build an effective employee development program

It’s clear that employee development is crucial for your business. But how do you go about creating an effective employee development program?

With five these essential components in mind, you can create a development program fit for a winning organization of talented individuals.

1. Connect each employee with a mentor

In order for employees to develop and grow, they need access to mentors. This means that every employee in your company should be paired with a mentor — someone who can help them navigate their way through the corporate culture and offer guidance when it comes to professional development.

Mentorship in itself can be considered an employee development program, especially when the mentee is challenged to become a mentor once they have developed the skills to do so. Mentoring programs offer the complete package of skill acquisition and putting those skills into practice.

87% of mentors and mentees feel empowered by their mentoring relationships and have developed greater confidence

Mentoring software makes starting a mentoring program easy. Pair employees with relevant mentors in minutes—not weeks of manually matching in a spreadsheet. Our platforms manages everything from registration, pairing, and reporting. Join companies like Heineken, Discovery Channel, First Horizon and drive more connected company cultures.

2. Assign employees as coaches for peer-to-peer learning 

In addition to having access to mentors, employees should also be given the opportunity to act as coaches in a peer-to-peer learning program. This gives employees the opportunity to share their knowledge and skills with their colleagues, and it also helps them develop leadership skills by taking on a mentoring role.

In a peer coaching situation, colleagues observe one another and gain confidence through teamwork. Coaches in this setting simply need to display the skills they want their peers to emulate, answering any questions that may arise along the way. This reinforces their own confidence and hones the skills they are demonstrating.

3. Encourage ongoing knowledge sharing between employees 

In order for employees to learn from each other, it's important to encourage knowledge sharing. This can be done in a number of ways, such as through brown-bag lunches, team meetings, or simply by providing employees with a forum where they can share ideas and thoughts.

Knowledge sharing simply means that skills and experience are exchanged between colleagues, departments, and teams. It’s ideal to facilitate knowledge sharing in development programs so that everyone is taking on the role of both learner and teacher. 

4. Employees need clear goals for their development plans

One of the most critical aspects of an employee development program is ensuring that it has clear goals. This way, employees know what they're working towards and can track their progress. Goals allow for personalized development plans, which in turn helps employees to feel more engaged in the process.

When making Individual Development Plans (IDPs), goal setting is particularly important as it allows employees to see a clear trajectory for their learning. It also gives mentors an idea of the specific skills they need to focus on with their mentees. 

5. Make time for reflection and career-pathing

Employees should be given time to reflect on their own development and career paths. This can be done through periodic reviews, goal-setting sessions, or simply by providing employees with access to resources that will help them map out their careers.

Career-pathing allows employees to reflect on their current learning journey and ensure that their development program aligns with the direction of their career. It gives them an ultimate focus and motivation for developing their skills, and your organization gets the benefit of talent development.

Employee development doesn’t happen in a vacuum

Employee development impacts everyone in the company. That also makes it a team sport. From onboarding programs that prepare new hires for success to on-the-job training that helps employees succeed in their current roles, and even leadership training aimed at career growth, it’s a company-wide effort. 

For that reason, your employee development plan will have a major impact on company culture, employee engagement, employee morale, and employee satisfaction. The ideal employee development program includes everything from how you onboard new employees, to how you develop and recognize top performers, to how you deal with difficult conversations and beyond.

Mentorship programs can be the catalyst for launching a new employee development program. When learning and development is everyone's responsibility, everyone is able to contribute and everyone can benefit.

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