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Of all the ways business owners can boost morale and empower employee success, offering continuing education (CE) certainly ranks near the top.
While competitive salaries, good benefits, and positive company culture are undoubtedly linked to a happy, productive workforce, professional development programs provide a particularly powerful option for showing your employees appreciation and making a sincere investment in their future.
Even a minor focus on continuing education or online courses can make a major difference for employees aiming to develop skills and improve on-the-job performance. It also helps instill the trust and confidence employees need to stick around, increasing job satisfaction and employee retention rates in the process.
Yet, despite the potential advantages of employee continuing education programs, many business leaders continue to overlook or ignore their value. While many companies may have basic employee training programs in place, additional pathways for achieving personal and professional growth are often nonexistent, a missed opportunity to strengthen connections and nurture the future leadership your business needs to grow.
WHAT IS CONTINUING EDUCATION IN ORGANIZATIONS?
Continuing education within an organization includes any program or pathway to increase their knowledge base and improve their personal and professional skills relevant to work performance. Continuing education programs can range from workplace mentoring programs and book clubs to online courses, certification programs, online skills courses, and more.
In fact, any step your organization takes to encourage and support personal and professional development fits under the continuing education umbrella. And with so many technologies options available to foster skills building, implementing employee continuing education programs has never been easier.
WHY IS CONTINUING EDUCATION IMPORTANT FOR EMPLOYEES?
Employees with access to quality, on-the-job continuing education programs can benefit in a variety of ways. With increased access to CE and encouragement from their employer, employees are rewarded by:
- Increased knowledge and skills growth. Professionals who pursue an employer-sponsored continuing education program benefit from a skills development opportunity that may not be available outside of work. This allows team members to grow their skills AND enhance their value to your organization while increasing proficiency in their current role.
- Potential incentives and internal advancement. In some cases, an organization will incentivize CE to spark engagement, using bonuses, pay increases, and other rewards to nudge team members toward those opportunities. Implied or perceived incentives like increased promotion opportunities and internal advancement can also be a significant benefit to many throughout your team.
- Variety and job satisfaction. Career development and other continued education opportunities can help break up the routine and burnout employees often experience performing the same duties for years at a time. CE allows team members to reduce boredom and hit a personal and professional benchmark that instills pride while improving overall job satisfaction.
HOW DO CONTINUED EDUCATION PROGRAMS BENEFIT EMPLOYERS?
The benefits of continuing education for employees are numerous. But even with the many potential rewards for your staff, you may be wondering what the payoff is for your business. After all, incorporating even a minor online course, video tutorial, or internal CE policy into your operation takes time and resources – not to mention careful planning to minimize the impact on team productivity.
So, how exactly can encouraging continued education or instituting CE pathways be an advantage for your company?
BETTER EFFICIENCY AND PRODUCTIVITY
Employee continuing education programs equip workers with the knowledge to better understand the technologies, processes, and innovations affecting your operation. By doing so, they prepare your staff with the skills to more confidently navigate those elements, adapt to upcoming innovations, and improve process efficiency.
In other words, the right continuing education program helps employees close the skills gaps that harm workplace efficiency, allowing them to better manage change and ultimately improve performance. Better performance means higher productivity, ensuring better results for your clients and your bottom line.
IMPROVED EMPLOYEE RETENTION
Connecting employees with opportunities to learn and grow shows you value their worth and are invested in their future.
Contrary to what many believe, visible, viable support for CE and employee betterment efforts doesn’t cultivate employee skills they’ll simply turn around and take elsewhere. Instead, it helps instill a sense of confidence and trust vital to employee retention. Encouraging and supporting CE programs not only provides an extra incentive to stay for the long haul but helps cultivate the employee buy-in at the heart of employee loyalty that’s harder to break as time goes on.
Of course, better retention rates mean lower employee turnover, which results in fewer hiring expenses over the long term.
STRONGER HIRING POTENTIAL
When you do need to hire, the promise of things like professional development and certificate programs can be a great way to attract great new candidates. While salary and health benefits may be top of mind for potential hires, being able to tout an internal continuing education program or two could provide just the edge you need to lure qualified applicants away from the competition.
Outside of the hiring process itself, CE initiatives like training courses and “corporate universities” can also provide an online reputation boost that high-quality candidates are likely to note during the research process. Employee reviews and marketing materials pointing to your commitment to employee education can help leave an indelible impression on prospects and solidify your brand as a go-to resource of career and professional empowerment.
WAYS TO PROVIDE CONTINUING EDUCATION FOR EMPLOYEES
Embracing a proactive employee development approach can have numerous benefits for businesses and employees. But for any business leader new to the process, knowing where to start can be a challenge.
Here are a few ways to work this valuable employee perk into your business management process:
1. ALIGN YOUR PROGRAMS WITH EMPLOYEE GOALS
As a business, it’s in your best interest to help employees be the best at what they do. That said, finding continuing education opportunities that align with their roles and augment their function is critical. Doing so not only provides the chance for employees to learn and improve on a continual basis. It also helps break up stagnation and infuse fresh energy into their day-to-day. Employee confidence and performance ramp up, resulting in better retention rates and higher company output.
Whether it’s a primer on new software or employer-supported recertification, building CE programs that supplement employee performance and goals is ideal. It’s a win-win approach that supports employee and company goals alike.
2. CREATE A COACHING PROGRAM
The best continuing education employees receive often comes directly from the leaders within the organization. These include the executives, managers, and department heads whose insight into company procedures and professional trends can provide real educational value to those in the trenches.
Creating a corporate coaching program can help capture this insight and place it in the hands of those you rely on most, providing a resource of enlightenment not available through other means.
Coaching sessions can be offered in any number of formats and sizes, depending on your unique needs. From large, team-based training events and monthly conference-room presentations and informal, one-on-one instruction, how and where you map out your coaching CE is really a matter of what works best for your team.
3. FACILITATE EMPLOYEE MENTORING
Mentoring opportunities provide another powerful option for tapping into internal insight and fostering employee education. By introducing an employee mentoring program in the workplace, you clear pathways for newer employees to learn from those with more years under their belt, creating conduits for relaying knowledge and sharing wisdom that can only come through experience.
Naturally, mentorship programs should be flexible and designed with each employee’s time and interests in mind, so as not to disrupt critical day-to-day responsibilities.
Still, there are ways to make mentorship work for even the most time-strapped among us:
- Be selective. Evaluating and selecting proteges based on potential is the best way to maximize your time and impact.
- Be innovative. Meetings, client calls, and even work travel can be clever and highly effective ways to share insight on what you do and what your position entails.
- Delegate. Delegating tasks to proteges provides authentic firsthand work experience while maximizing your time and schedule.
4. START A BOOK CLUB
No, really! Book clubs generally aren’t associated with work activities or continuing education initiatives. But, they’re rapidly becoming more commonplace among businesses seeking outside-the-box CE opportunities for employees.
Starting a department- or even companywide book club centered on personal and professional growth can be an effective way to cultivate knowledge. Such an experience brings teams together around shared topics, generating conversation and camaraderie among employees about new ideas and how those ideas apply in their own lives.
Leaders have a range of growth-based topics to choose from when shaping this new activity, including books on building new habits, improving productivity, business trends, and working together. That said, it’s crucial to carefully select books that actually discuss new skills that have educational value and real-world application for members of your team.
5. PROVIDE CONTINUING EDUCATION CREDITS
Offering continuing education credits provides an attractive incentive to employees with the desire to learn and grow in the workplace. From one-time classes and lengthy online courses to complete degree programs, employers have a number of ways to seize on the common CE opportunity and inspire learning and professional growth among team members.
Of course, choosing industry-relevant courses and programs that fit your business will take a bit of research. And the level of cost or tuition reimbursement your company absorbs is dependent on your unique situation and business management assessment.
But once you’ve got a good process established for providing CE credits to employees, you’re creating a powerful opportunity for workers to learn, grow and sharpen your brand’s own competitive edge.
Providing tuition reimbursement for certification courses can also be an excellent way to keep employees trained and equip staff with the focused education to stay on top of their field.
6. CREATE A RESOURCE LIBRARY
Central resource libraries stocked with professional improvement and skills-building books, courses, and guides offer a relatively cost-effective CE opportunity.
When employees have free and easy access to information-rich resources, they’re more likely to pursue that literature and take the continuing education intiative on their own, often with little-to-no prodding from management or elsewhere.
Whether a physical library in the corner of the office or an electronic collection of ebooks, training modules, and video tutorials, resource libraries connect employees with CE opportunities to pursue when and where it fits their schedule.