5 Ways to Improve Employee Development

As the tech skills gap grows and more IT roles remain unfilled, the search for top tech talent has never been more competitive. Companies are upping the ante with perks like yoga classes, nap pods, free meals, unlimited vacation days and more in order to attract and retain employees. But according to Stack Overflow’s annual developer survey, there is one factor that potential employees in the tech sector value more than anything — even more than pay and compensation — and that’s opportunities for professional development and continued learning.

developer learning and education
Source: Stack Overflow

The response from more than 22,000 developers that Stack Overflow asked shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has ever worked with developers and programmers. With 90% of the survey’s respondents also stating that they are at least partially self-taught, it’s clear that the industry is a community of learners. Many of our leaders have been self taught and driven by pure passion for technology — Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg all famously left prestigious universities in their pursuit of technological innovations.

Investing in continued learning and education isn’t just a good way to attract new talent, but can also be used as a tool to keep current employees engaged, productive and feeling empowered — making them less likely to take their skills elsewhere. The impact of disengaged employees can be staggering, affecting everything from staff retention to morale to a company’s bottom line. Gallup estimates that a disengaged employee costs an organization about 34% of their salary per year, but re-engaging these employees offers an opportunity to improve performance, profitability and customer experience.

At Kenzan, continued development and learning is not only a big part of our culture, but part of our business. As a software engineering and digital consulting firm that is tasked with helping clients make the most out of technology, it’s crucial that our teams stay current on the tools and tech that are leading the industry.

We are continuously improving how we enable our employees to skill up. Here’s a few things that we’ve learned that help ensure a well-supported learning community within an organization:

Develop a continuous feedback loop of learning.
Managers who recognize progress, tangible goals, and teach-back opportunities will have stronger relationships with their reports and a clear roadmap for their team.

Provide a structure for training requests.
A clear process allows all staff to understand what is considered a reasonable request and that requesting training is not considered self-serving. Providing structure opens the door for new or shy team members to take opportunities because they know it’s appropriate and valued.

Share a clear strategic vision with your team.
Most employees want to make sure their training aligns with the organization’s future. Setting the goal posts gives employees the agency to plan their path forward.

Implement a way to track skills and progress.
Tracking progress means you value the effort that your team is putting in. Unless the team prioritizes training the way you approach other tasks, it will always be at the bottom of the list. At Kenzan, we’re developing a Badge Board to assess team members’ skills and growth based on the organization’s goals and technical vision.

Encourage developers to manage up.
Managers have a lot on their plate, and in the tech world, are usually more than just managers. It’s often up to the developer to make sure that their learning needs are part of the regular conversation. For employees who aren’t quite comfortable approaching their manager about training opportunities, we’ve got some tricks for them too:

Set up a clear need that keeps the core of your request in focus. Make sure you have an answer to questions like: “What is your learning goal? How will growing in this area make you a better employee?”

Respect your supervisor’s time. Follow set procedures and follow up with your needs. Even the most thoughtful, learning-minded supervisor is going to forget about the registration deadline. It doesn’t mean they don’t want you to go, but just that they probably had a few fires to fight this week.

Be Flexible. Sometimes your request will be denied, perhaps due to timing or cost. If this is the case, there is likely another resource that offers growth in this skill, but is less expensive or time bound. If the no is because your supervisor doesn’t see a connection to your learning goals or a value to the organization, make sure you’re continuing the conversation to align your goals with your company’s strategic vision.

Whether your goals are in recruiting, employee retention or tied directly into business drivers, the value that learning and development brings to an organization is clear. Far too often professional development is overlooked, and far too many talented employees leave a company because their success is stymied by lack of support.

Kate Pisano is the Training and Development Manager at Kenzan, based out of our Rhode Island office. She is responsible for managing Kenzan’s internship program and supporting Kenzanites through continued learning opportunities. With a background in AmeriCorps and program development, Kate’s always excited to help team members grow and advance.

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