Updated: August 27, 2022

Professional Development: Importance & Best Practices

This is a guide to the importance and best practices of professional development.

Professional development is the step towards increasing an employee’s skill set to open up opportunities and career progression. The practice may accelerate advancement in the workplace by improving competencies and skills. Participating in professional development programs allows workers to demonstrate their dedication to personal and professional growth.

These concepts often appear in career-planning books and books on employee training and development, and factor into job satisfaction statistics.  Professional development is an employee engagement best practice.

This article contains:

  • definition of professional development
  • importance of professional development
  • benefits of professional development
  • best practices for a professional development program

Let’s get started!

Definition of professional development

Professional development is training that helps employees improve their present job performance and prepares them for a future career path. The process promotes forging forward and determining opportunities to learn something new, brush up on your abilities, or stay on top of changes in your field. Professional development might mean anything from taking a whole new course to gain new skills in your current career to just brushing up on what you already know to stay up to date.

Although work training is a crucial aspect of professional development, this idea spans various subjects and methods, such as specialized training and formal education. The learning routine depends on the employee’s job, industry, and prior experience. The training opportunities may include professional development courses, industry conferences, e-learning programs, and training. However, the training may also happen in informal settings, such as talks among coworkers, independent reading and study, looking at a colleague’s tasks, or learning from another coworker’s experience.

Professional development can also mean keeping abreast of new developments in your field and incorporating them into your existing knowledge base. Many industries require professionals in engage in continual training and education as a condition for retaining their employment or keeping their designation, license, or certification. These cases often have continuing education guidelines that professionals must meet through an accredited continuing professional education provider. The desire for professional growth and learning may motivate many professionals, even if they are not obligated.

Professional development goes beyond getting more qualifications. The concept influences an employee’s ability to function well in the workplace and career prospects by consistently improving their skills and competencies. Professional development needs to be relevant, collaborative, identifiable, measurable, and personal to work. Sometimes you may be undergoing professional development without realizing it, and other times you will have a planned strategy for your growth.

The importance of professional development

Professional development is important for employees who desire to be better. The step can qualify the employee for additional options to progress in their profession, such as a promotion or a lateral move. Following professional development, an employee’s knowledge and competence in their sector might make them more attractive candidates. Professional development enhances the employee’s skills and knowledge and earns the employee recognition. However, the practice also benefits employers and organizations by producing highly skilled and knowledgeable workers. According to Havard Business Review, 95 percent of employees would remain in a company that invests in employees’ career development.

Every worker should keep up with the latest industry developments and aim for optimal performance. Change is constant, from the marketplace, employees, and consumers. Therefore, professional development programs are becoming more critical as the global business environment changes.

Professional development training guarantees that academic and practical credentials do not become outdated. Individuals of any age, vocation, and educational level may consistently switch or upgrade their skills regardless of their educational background. According to Pew Research, 47 percent of employees say the professional development program in their company helped advance their careers.

In the long run, planning and executing a professional growth plan helps both the person and their career. The market’s ever-changing dynamics demand that workers ensure their knowledge base stays regularly updated.

Professional development is essential for:

  • Improving one’s abilities in the workplace
  • Upscaling qualifications
  • Ensuring that your education is current
  • Keeping abreast on industry happenings.
  • Ascertaining that your skillsets are on par with others in a similar field.
  • Updating a resume
  • Providing high-quality service to customers or clients

With self-development activities, you desire to learn new skills, discover knowledge gaps, and engage in your career. You will also get the chance to move into a new specialty without the commitment of full-time study. In today’s competitive job market, professional development classes and other types of training may help you improve your CV and toolkit by focusing on in-demand skills.

Regular professional development indicates a genuine commitment to personal and professional growth. In a nutshell, the professional development process enables employees to become aware and proactive, rather than passive and reactive, in their learning and address these issues in a recognized method to progress. This step helps you keep track of your personal growth regularly.

The framework for professional development serves three purposes:

  • To develop knowledge, experience, and skillset for current and future roles.
  • To show your employer you are professionally competent.
  • To demonstrate to your employer that you have planned, updated, and sustained your knowledge, abilities, and experience in an organized way.

What you need in terms of professional abilities and knowledge depends on the role and field. It is up to you to choose which skills and expertise are relevant to your position. Requirements change throughout a career, and staying on top of your professional development will give you more control over your career direction.

Types of professional development

Professional growth is not necessarily linear and structured, and a wide variety of activities and approaches may help you grow. On-the-job training, formal education, and unstructured, hands-on education all fall under the umbrella of professional development. In the end, your chosen type will depend on the areas you want to grow. Developing an individualized professional development plan is up to you, so long as you know your workplace’s demands and prospects.

There should be various learning opportunities available in today’s contemporary workplace, including official and informal professional development activities. These learning possibilities fall into one of three categories:

1. Structured and active learning

Structured professional development takes participatory learning and an interactive approach. This method includes training sessions, workshops, conferences, seminars, lectures, and e-learning courses. Structured professional development also includes assessments and tests geared toward advancing the employee’s career. However, keep in mind that preparing for these tests fits under self-directed learning.

2. Reflective or passive learning

Reflective professional development is one-way and passive, and there is no interaction between the instructor and the participants. Podcasts and reading relevant articles, case studies, and business updates are good examples of this learning activity. If the employee’s overall professional development plan reflects the learning goals of an informal meeting, then the meeting falls under the reflective professional development category.

3. Unstructured or self-directed learning

All unsupervised professional development activities, such as reading papers and publications online or in print, fall under self-directed learning. Peer-reviewed books and research, industry journals, trade publications, and industry-specific news feeds are examples of unstructured educational resources. On-the-job training is just one aspect of professional growth. Any additional training or education outside of the workplace falls under this umbrella term.

Benefits of professional development

Some of the benefits of continuing professional development include:

1. Boosted confidence

Professional growth might help you feel more confident in your abilities as an employee. As your knowledge grows from expanding your skillset and learning new skills, you may gain greater self-assurance and mastery of your role. In other words, a long-tenured employee will have learned a great deal more than when they first started. This skill upgrade makes individuals more confident in their ability to carry out their duties at work. In addition, self-assured employees are more likely to take advantage of opportunities, make well-informed judgments, and demonstrate leadership qualities.

2. Improved employability

Developing your skills, knowledge, and abilities through professional development programs improves employability. Employers may consider you a more appealing candidate if you have increased your skillset via professional development. Employers may be more inclined to hire you if they see you as a competent applicant.

3. Skill development

According to SHRM’s skills gap research, 75 percent of HR professionals say there is a shortage of skills among candidates applying for a role. Professional development can help employees improve hard and soft skills in the workplace. Soft skills include workplace habits, such as effective communication, and soft skills are job-specific knowledge acquired via formal schooling or training. Developing your talents may help you become an expert in your profession, share your expertise with new staff, or uncover prospects for career progression.

4. A bigger pool of available work options

If you want to get a raise or promotion in your present position, then you should focus on your professional development. You may have a better chance of moving up the corporate ladder if your boss sees that you are working hard to improve yourself. The firm will know how you are becoming more informed and skillful and that you are a self-taught individual. Employers may see your progress and opt to promote you, which might open up more work prospects for you.

5. More networking opportunities

Participating in professional development activities such as seminars, webinars, conferences, workshops, volunteer events, and classes can provide a chance to network with other professionals.

Professionals from your sector are usually present at these events, making them excellent venues for meeting industry experts and influencers. By meeting colleagues, mentors, and potential employers via networking, you may advance your career. Mentors and coworkers can provide advice on your professional path, while hiring managers may be able to point you in the right direction.

6. Mentorship opportunities

Finding a mentor or role model to look up to might also help you advance your career. With the support of a mentor, you can achieve your objectives. The mentor may also help you learn new things or offer suggestions to improve your situation. If you can identify a mentor or role model in your field who has the position or characteristic you can, you may get insight into their work and how they achieved their success. Mentors might also provide information about other career opportunities that are a good match for your skills and interests.

Here is a list of books on mentorship and a list with unique mentor program ideas.

Best practices for a professional development program

The following are professional development program best practices:

1. Clarify the goals of your employee development program and get management buy-in

Several employee professional development initiatives lack defined goals or sufficient support from management. Since there is no metric for success, these projects often fail. SMART goals—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound—are essential to achieving success. Setting the program’s goals ensures participants and leaders understand why they should participate or support it. You should have a metric to define the attrition rate of your program if your objective is to keep talented employees in your company. Every quarter, conduct a satisfaction survey of employees and track the findings over time to enhance the program’s efficacy. You should consider appointing an executive who is enthusiastic about the program and ready to act as its advocate. This executive will be an invaluable supporter and resource.

2. Choose your executive sponsor or a good program director

The success of any professional development project hinges on your choice of a program manager. A competent program manager does not assure success, but a bad one is certain to provide disappointing outcomes. The program managers can ensure participants get continuous support and training. The managers look for new possibilities and solve the existing issues while collaborating with other parties to ensure the program’s long-term viability. The manager will work to promote the program to prospective participants and act as the program’s representative to the company. This role requires passion, excellent communication, and meticulous planning.

3. Allow for flexibility when developing a learning and development strategy

Employee career development programs that are well-balanced between structure and flexibility are more likely to succeed. Standards are important, such as participant training, progress monitoring, and communication to ensure that the program runs successfully. However, since the focus of mentoring and coaching programs is on the personal development of participants, the results and preferred approaches will differ from one participant to the next. Therefore, identifying and incorporating areas that demand flexibility into a company’s employee career development program is critical. Areas for consideration include program type, length, and participant engagement tools.

4. Do some marketing

When presenting new employee career development initiatives, excitement does not necessarily convert into high participation rates. One of the most prominent causes of non-participation is a lack of efficient marketing. Participants may not be aware of all the advantages of the professional development program. The process may demand showing the employees that participation is worth their time and effort.

You could utilize internal promotions to spread the word about your program. Some strategies include lunch and learns, corporate communications, launch parties, milestones, and presentations at business meetings. You should ensure every employee has adequate information.

For more advice, here is a list of books on marketing strategies.

5. Ensure participants’ preparation

Participants should understand their responsibilities, recommended practices, and training methods. You also need to ensure mentors, coaches, and mentees know the goal. After the first orientation, there is still a need for more training and assistance. You should provide tips and best practices during each training session to ensure participants remain focused and maximize results.

6. Make the right connections

It is critical for mentors or coaches and the employees to create a trusting relationship for professional development to be successful. Choosing the right mentors and coaches for workers is a crucial stage in learning. A program management software can make a big difference and speed the process up. Instead of doing arduous and time-consuming hand-matching, software may produce intelligent matches based on gender, talents, and comparable corporate and university experience. Self-matching programs, in which workers pick their coaches or mentors, are also an option.

7. Use software for the program

There are several benefits of using mentoring software for program administration, participant procedures, and milestones, tracking progress, and assessing success metrics. Once the mentoring and coaching program is up and running, the software monitors the progress. Software may also create those essential ROI figures for reporting your program’s progress.

8. Talk about successes

After kicking a professional development program for employees, the attention naturally switches to administering and maintaining the program. To illustrate the importance of the mentoring and coaching program to prospective and present members, continue to acknowledge and highlight the successes and milestones. These steps can boost participation and support for the program.

9. Acknowledge and reward success

Success for an employee may not always mean a promotion or some other public recognition, depending on their goals. You can track an employee’s progress through the number of hours spent on training, the skills or proficiency levels attained, or any other metric and award badges. You can also acknowledge progress through peer support and recognition programs.

Here are employee recognition ideas.

10. Make development a part of a larger system

Succession planning, performance management, recruiting and hiring, and even pay and incentives are integral parts of the most effective professional development strategies.

Talent management may benefit significantly from an integrated approach to development. For instance, you can widen the recruiting pool by finding applicants who, with a minor investment in training, may become valuable long-term workers.

This approach can turn a performance assessment into a window for growth and success. Training personnel to replace crucial positions that may become vacant can help firms strengthen their workforce and maintain stability.


It takes time and effort to train and develop your personnel. Well-executed professional development programs indicate an organization’s commitment to employee growth and retention. The program provides the employee with a wide range of skills for a lifetime. Even yet, a professional development program may be difficult to maintain and, if mishandled, can be detrimental to both the organization and the person.

Next, check out this list of employee engagement strategies, this guide to virtual lunch and learns and these professional development ideas for work.

We also have a guide to employee advocacy in the workforce.

FAQ: Professional development

Here are answers to some common questions about professional development

What is professional development?

Professional development refers to the continuing education and training for employees to gain new knowledge, keep abreast of industry developments, and advance their position in the workplace.

Why is professional development important in the workplace?

Professional development in the workplace is important for upscaling employees’ talents, boosting employee retention, and improving service rendering to clients or customers.

What makes a professional development program good?

A professional development program requires marketing, employee participation, and a qualified program manager to be successful.

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People & Culture Director at teambuilding.com.
Grace is the Director of People & Culture at TeamBuilding. She studied Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, Information Science at East China Normal University and earned an MBA at Washington State University.

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