HR Leads Business

Jan 6, 2020 | Clare Chiappetta, MA, HRCI Contributing Writer

Professional Development on a Shoestring Budget

Offering professional development opportunities to employees can make or break your organization’s hiring and retention goals. In a survey of 2,000 employees, 92% of employees ranked professional development as high in importance. 

Furthermore, the same survey demonstrates that access to professional development results in 15% higher engagement and 34% higher retention.

Professional development opportunities can have a huge effect on your employees’ success and happiness — as well as your overall organization. But, finding the right budget to make those opportunities accessible can be tough.

“When budgets are cut, training is usually one of the first things to go,” says Gayle Smerdon, PhD, workplace training consultant and author of “iDevelop.” “Sometimes you have to be inventive about how you support people in your organization in doing their best every day.”

Here are three ways to offer professional development and stay on budget.

Tap into Vendor Resources and Local Partners

Providing professional development on a budget sometimes requires thinking outside of the traditional scope. A frequently untapped source of potential development is your vendor partners. “It's such a competitive environment that many service vendors are really trying to go out of their way to offer more than their competitors,” says Allie Waite, owner and senior HR partner at Engage People Ops

Other local organizations can provide potential development opportunities. “Think about partnering with other companies in your area to help sponsor or create learning events,” Waite says. “It’s good exposure for the companies and professionals who are presenting and should be relatively low cost.” Partnering in this way saves money while increasing positive relationships with other organizations. 

Check Out Government Offerings

Another free or low-cost resource for professional development is through state and local government or colleges, Waite suggests. “In many cases you can recommend employees for training as part of workforce enhancement,” she says. “Many people aren’t even aware these funds exist, so contact your local Department of Workforce Services to see what’s available.” Some funds may even provide partial reimbursement for professional certifications and related study materials.

Your local chamber of commerce is another option. These groups are dedicated to seeing businesses succeed and can provide useful connections. “Local business groups often host free professional development opportunities that are excellent for employee development and networking,” Waite says.

Be Intentional and Reflective

To make the most of any professional development your organization is able to offer, encourage employees to approach opportunities intentionally and reflectively. “Self-directed learning can be as simple as setting a small goal and just reflecting on how your day went,” Smerdon says. Learning is enhanced by application, she says, so facilitating reflection and application can help employees learn from daily operations.

Taking that reflection to a work community level can have even bigger ripple effects. “Consider a community of people who are all learning together to share not just what they're learning, but how,” Smerdon says. “The biggest bang for your buck is helping people to learn how to learn.”