As an employer, you want your employees to be successful and effective—especially because their accomplishments make you successful, too. And with the skills gap (the gap between the skills you need and the skills prospective employees have) growing ever larger, you need talented individuals already on staff to help your company stay relevant and profitable.
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One of the best ways to close that gap is to offer your employees time at work to learn new skills and develop them consistently. Just because your employees aren’t actually “working” during this time doesn’t mean their efforts aren’t worthwhile. On-the-clock learning is incredibly beneficial to both you and them.
Here are five benefits of professional learning time and how you can start implementing a PLT program at your organization immediately.
Benefits of Professional Learning Time for Employers
A whopping 70% of employers say their employees don’t have the skills needed to adapt to “disruptive change” in the workplace. Peter Cappelli argues that this skills gap is essentially the fault of employers who seek to cut costs by making employees responsible for getting professional development on their own time and dime.
If you don’t value your employees and their development, people won’t want to work for you or stay in their current roles at your company.
But the skills gap shouldn’t just be an employee’s focus—it should be yours as well. You need to get and retain worthwhile talent, and if you don’t value employees and their development, people won’t want to work for you or stay in their current roles at your company.
In fact, 42% of millennials (who’ll make up almost half the country’s workforce by 2020) say that their current workplace doesn’t offer the opportunity to develop skills and experiences they want to advance in their career. Instead of waiting for the perfect employee with the specific skills you need for a role, you can help your current personnel build the exact skill sets you require through a PLT program.
1. Retain Better Employees
Employees want to learn. Let’s face it, no one is satisfied with using their basic knowledge to do a job. Most people take a position with the hopes that they’ll advance through the organization—or at least within their own abilities. By providing employees with development opportunities, and by focusing on their desires to learn, you give them a reason to stay. You also give other companies fewer opportunities to steal your talent.
2. Build Your Reputation
You want to be known as a company that cares for its employees and appreciates individual contributors. When you truly care about employees and their development, they will be more likely to brag about your company and the work they do. As they talk to friends, family, and industry connections, their brand advocacy helps build up your reputation. This way, when you do need to hire new employees, you’ll have a larger, more passionate applicant pool to work with.
3. Hire Leadership from Within Your Organization
By training your current staff and helping them develop a range of skills, you mold them into future leaders. When a leadership position opens up, you’ll have the perfect, loyal candidate ready to step up and take charge. Being known as a company that promotes from within can also help with your reputation, and promoting someone who is already familiar with your company processes and culture can reduce training time and costs.
4. Increase Creativity
Personal learning time gives your employees time to recharge between tasks. While it may not seem like much, short breaks throughout the workday are shown to improve focus, motivation, and creativity while reducing fatigue, stress, and procrastination. Just look at Google. It has emphasized PLT on the clock, and the program has produced some of the company’s most innovative products.
Want to create groundbreaking work? Give your employees time to open up their creativity channels through personal learning time.
If you want your organization to create groundbreaking work, give your employees time to take breaks from their regular tasks and open up their creativity channels through personal learning time.
5. Cut Company Costs
One of the biggest benefits of professional learning time is that the previous four benefits can cut company costs as well. PLT can help cut costs in a few ways:
- Increasing employee retention means less time and fewer resources spent recruiting new hires.
- When you must hire externally, hiring passionate, qualified employees attracted to your PLT program means less time spent training across the skills gap (and makes their retention rates higher as well).
- Internal promotions save time and costs for hiring and training.
- Creative breaks improve speed and efficiency—and the more productive your employees are, the more money you earn for your company.
- Employees can access thousands of free resources online specific to their interests and growth goals.
How to Implement Professional Learning Time at Work
Now you know the why behind adding professional development to your employees’ work time. But before you turn your employees loose, you need to establish a structure for your PLT program that benefits both you and your employees.
It may take some time to implement, but the benefits of professional learning time can make a huge impact on your company’s success.
Establish PLT Guidelines
- Set a maximum amount of time they can spend each week or month on personal learning time at work. Setting aside 5% of their work week, for example, gives them two hours each week to learn something new on their own. Google famously allowed 20% of work time to go to non-core tasks (leading to innovative products like Gmail and AdSense), and then famously rescinded the program a decade later. Don’t set your program up for failure. Be realistic about how much time you can accommodate.
- Regulate any situations when PLT may not be allowed. Will employees be allowed to do PLT if they are behind on their weekly tasks? If your company has a busy season or an important timeline for a specific project, you may want to suspend the program for a bit. Make sure your employees are explicitly aware of these types of regulations.
- Determine what kind of work is allowed under your program. Generally, on-the-clock PLT should be related to the work the individual or the company does. For example, learning a new coding language may be acceptable, while learning to make jewelry is not. Let your employees know what kinds of learning experiences are acceptable and what is not.
- Establish a method of accountability. For example, ask employees to share what they’ve learned with you in your regular one-on-one meetings or team stand-ups. You could ask them to present their findings to the group formally each quarter or set up regular, informal methods for such presentations.
Offer PLT Resources
Once you’ve established your guidelines for PLT, let your employees start learning! If you’re not sure where to send them, try these ideas:
- Let your employees search for and read industry articles.
- Encourage employees to explore free Lynda, Skillshare, or Coursera courses
- Ask employees who’ve already mastered a skill to host a workshop for other employees.
- Explore learning management software online. Some options cost a small fee, but you can find free options as well.
- Allow employees to attend local industry conferences (if your budget allows) during work hours.
- Encourage employees to look for and listen to conference archives or related TED Talks.
It may take some time to implement, but the benefits of professional learning time programs can make a huge impact on your company’s success. Share these tips with your fellow leaders and executives, and initiate a training program within your organization that will truly make a difference.
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