How To Keep Employees Engaged With Continuing Education

Think your employees are too busy to care about continuing education? Try again. Lack of growth opportunities is one of the key reasons for employee turnover, and 87% of millennials say professional development is important in a job. Here are some tips for managers looking to keep their teams engaged (even on a small budget).

The first step is to make training a high priority at all levels of the company, says Dan Sommer, founder of New York-based startup Trilogy Education. Trilogy partners with universities to offer continuing education classes in technology. “The best people-focused organizations spend time trying to understand what employees need,” he says. Consider polling workers annually with a short survey, since there’s often a disconnect between what the rank and file want and what their managers think they need.

For example, if your employee survey shows many workers want to improve their public speaking skills, organize a day for everyone to share a presentation on the subject of their choice, and videotape each performance. Afterward, gather a group of managers to review the presentations, and sit with each employee to provide feedback.

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It’s also important to create a culture of accountability to ensure that people are continuously giving and receiving training, Sommer says. One of the ideas he has for addressing this issue at his own 300-person company involves compensation. Sommer is exploring creating an incentive where executives won’t receive their full bonuses if they don’t meet training-related goals.

Universities provide continuing education classes on a wide range of topics, from creative writing to 3D modeling. But there’s a little-known fact about the schools that offer these programs: They can also build custom training classes for companies, and these courses can be quite affordable.

Emmanuel Sarris, a manager at technology firm Jenzabar who consults with companies on how to make the most of continuing education, notes that these sorts of programs have small margins because they’re non-profit organizations. So they’re set up to take less of your money than for-profit consultancies offering similar training. For instance, if you own a restaurant and you want to teach 10 waiters how to give wine recommendations, you can ask a continuing education program to create a class. A 10-hour training course might cost $1,300, Sarris says.

If you don’t have the budget for training, don’t fret. Sarah Stamboulie, a New York-based career consultant, suggests building a “knowledge base” of materials for employees who want to improve or learn new skills. One of her past employers took this approach.

“We had this incredibly comprehensive set of activities you could engage in to improve financial modeling skills, presentation skills and interpersonal skills,” she says. “Everyone used it.” Managers would direct employees to it as part of their performance review feedback. While some workers didn’t seek out the knowledge base as often as they could have, many found it invaluable, according to Stamboulie. Book club meetings and online courses through platforms like Coursera could be valuable learning vehicles to include in such a knowledge base.

Tools and resources are great, but what can managers do to do make sure training doesn’t get crowded out? “There’s no silver bullet for that,” Sommer says. “You have to have a culture that values training and improving. You have to show that people who develop both soft and hard skills are getting promoted.”

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