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If put to the question, how many of us can say our careers have not evolved over the past 10 years? Over the past five years? Even the past 12 months? Competition and new technology disrupt the status quo in our day-to-day jobs and the corporate landscape today is nothing if not malleable. A well educated workforce is both productive and agile, adapting new trends and developing their own, but isn’t something that just occurs overnight.
As HR Leaders we are often called on to help shape the professional development of our employees through direction of learning methodologies, organization of a “learning” team who coordinates professional development, or implementation of continuous education programs. While the idea of continuing professional education (CPE) is not new the methods for gaining knowledge are changing and, with them, our understanding of how CPE can be utilized.
Learning and Development in the Workplace
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The first step in professional development and learning will always be what is done each day on the job – building efficiencies, making changes, learning new skills. But, while those focus on what is already at hand, the idea of CPE revolves around gaining access to knowledge and skills that are not going to be easily mastered when you are focused on getting the job done.
The most well-known form of CPE is to go back for post-secondary and post-graduate education. Be it an Associates, Bachelors, Masters, or Doctorates, developing a new set of core skills or expanding on existing ones using an accredited institution is one of the most effective ways of building a knowledge base for a career. Learning and development is critical when developing future leaders at your company.
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This effectiveness does come with a cost: the time and price to complete programs of this nature can be intimidating for employees. Cognizant of this, we in the HR profession have a few avenues to guide our employees to success.
- If your company can afford it, tuition reimbursement is a huge incentive; by providing a reasonable annual sum that covers a portion of tuition, employees can spread their education out (to avoid becoming overloaded).
- Many universities offer executive degrees (which have potentially higher costs but shortened terms for completion) which, if taken advantage of, can quickly yield dividends; modifying your reimbursement amounts for these fast-track courses might be worthwhile.
- Distance learning courses can expand the potential university/college pool for employees as well as letting them shop around for lower tuition rates.
- CPE accreditation courses are typically available so working with a local university to find and communicate a schedule can save time for employees who require a certain number of credits each year to remain certified in their field.
It is important to avoid the concept of credentialism. Just as we would not hire based solely on where someone went to school, focusing only on the concept of traditional degrees as being the be-all/end-all of development can be a disservice to our employees. Our people are the sum of both their education AND their experience and growing their professional skills internally can help guarantee knowledge that is valued within an organization is available to any who want to learn it.
E-Learning has had a renaissance over the past decade. Learning management systems (LMS) like Raytheon, Skillsoft and Halogen have appeared with fully customizable curriculums, websites, and cloud-based courses for companies both large and small to work with; less expensive (but very expansive!) Lynda.com (recently acquired by LinkedIn) provides an array of courses. Each option allows employees to learn new skills whenever and wherever they like. Engaging these companies to develop a curriculum and implement it internally can be daunting at first, but designating a team to curate and work with managers to determine what employees need to grow will allow for a robust solution to in-house professional development.
The key here is to shop around the solutions that make the most sense if you don’t already have one in place; if you do, take time annually to review your available courses (checking out what is new and what is/is not being used) to make sure your course listing remains relevant.
As a relative newcomer, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is tying together the old and the new CPE forms and doing it all for free. MOOCs are collections of online tutorials, coursework and materials from top universities and colleges around the world that are free to access online. Several non-profit organizations (such as Coursera, edX, and EDUCAUSE) organize and support these systems and the amount of material grows daily.
The value of MOOCs comes in the breadth of topics offered and, of course, their inexpensive/easily accessible nature. As a tool to brush up on skills or to learn new subjects, they are easy to pick up and use and are a great adjunct for smaller business who are looking for something to advance certain skills without having to contract out to a full LMS. Some drawbacks worth pointing out include:
- Coursework does not yield accreditation/degree.
- You will need to be self-motivated since there is no official grading or tracking.
- They can be impersonal for those who prefer a traditional professor/student relationship.
Of course, the end game for all CPE will be to help our employees gain knowledge and skills and continue the journey of educating themselves. Learning and development especially self-development is key. Keeping the door open for all of the different options and exploring each will make sure that we have a good mix of resources available for them to maximize their potential.