The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

How to Create a Professional Development Program Employees Will Want to Use

Is your institution’s professional development program a boom or a bust? Are employees excited about the offerings, or uninterested? Is the process for taking advantage of professional development easy or cumbersome?

When Normandale Community College faced a lackadaisical response to its staff development program, human resources took a step back to identify the barriers to usage and then reinvented the program, which is now highly valued by staff across campus.

The Problem:
Normandale’s staff development budget averaged $16,250 for its 300 staff members. However, from 2013 to 2016, $11,850 of that went unspent. Participation was dismal — only 37 staff members took advantage of professional development opportunities in 2013, and by last year, that number had decreased to 10. Says Karen Westendorp of the college’s HR department, “The low participation rates and the massive amount of questions we received about the offerings and the process indicated there was a high level of frustration among employees about the program.”

Westendorp and her HR colleagues identified several barriers staff faced when considering professional development:

  • New employees had to wait six months before they could participate in the program.
  • The enrollment process involved multiple forms, signatures and a lengthy approval process.
  • The program was strict in what it would cover, yet also wide open as to possible training options, which provided no direction to staff and caused confusion.
  • It required staff members to pay out of pocket for development and get reimbursed after the event.
  • Some development sessions were off campus and required travel, which was not covered by the program.
  • There was no guidance for staff members on what development options would best suit them.
  • Unspent money in one year led to reduced funding for the following year.
  • Supervisors indicated that their staff needed training in technology, MS Office, conflict management, leadership and data management, but those weren’t courses participants selected to attend.

The Solution:
“We needed a simple solution to reach as many staff members as possible, so we focused on reducing barriers,” says Westendorp. She and her colleagues found that Normandale staff are more apt to use professional development funding when:

  • The program includes pre-approved courses
  • Courses are held on campus
  • Course enrollment is easy

To revamp the offerings, HR worked with the college’s continuing education/customized training department to identify on-campus, in-person courses that would cover a wide range of interests but still meet the needs of staff and supervisors. The enrollment process was also redesigned to make it quick, easy and user-friendly. The new program was launched in the fall of last year. Course topics include Excel training, mindfulness, leading through change, business writing, navigating change and more.

The Result:
Over the past year, there has been a 200 percent increase in participation in Normandale’s staff development program. This past spring, 35 participants took 57 classes. And the program’s budget increased by $10,000.

Tips for Creating and Sustaining a Successful Professional Development Program:
Westendorp shares the following tips for those looking to reinvent (or start) a staff development program on campus:

  • Limit the number of classes per participant (one or two per semester)
  • Ensure employees and supervisors fully understand the process
  • Communicate with vendors the importance of customer service
  • Ask for feedback from participants and conduct surveys on what types of learning opportunities staff and managers want and need
  • Collect data on program usage and share with institutional leadership on a regular basis
  • Be prepared for faculty or others to want to participate in the program
  • Watch your budget — if it’s easy and applicable, employees will sign up, and you can run out of money fast