What Is Professional Development?

By Chris Kolmar
Nov. 24, 2022

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Those who have achieved personal success in their careers know one thing: you must continuously hone your craft. Growth and advancement in the workplace is all about being open to receiving new knowledge, and being judicious yet adaptable in applying this knowledge.

Personal career growth and success can be achieved through professional development. Professional development programs give you the opportunity to expand your skill set while exposing you to new information relevant to your chosen career path.

In this article, we’ll discuss what professional development programs are, what professional development looks like in action, and how you can get the most success out of your professional development.

Key Takeaways:

  • Professional development is the continued education or training of a person to advance or maintain their career.

  • Professional development is important because it provides you with rewarding opportunities such as promotions and mentors.

  • Professional developed can either be formal or informal base on needs and resources available.

  • To improve your professional development, keep yourself challenged and set aside enough time.

What Is Professional Development?

What Is Professional Development?

Professional development refers to the continued education or training of a person in order to advance or maintain their career. This could be highly structured, as in the case of formal academic coursework, or it could be as simple as informal learning opportunities related to an individual’s work or professional goals.

The aim of professional development is to help develop new skills you may need to advance in your field, and to ensure that your working knowledge is up-to-date.

Professional development is often collaborative and more intensive than casual learning. It may include an end stage in which you evaluate the process.

Certain professions require professional development as part of the job. Physicians, for instance, must ensure that their knowledge is thorough and up-to-date in order to renew their license, making professional development a must.

Why Is Professional Development Important?

Professional development is important because it leads to beneficial growth. It improves your abilities and offers rewarding opportunities. Employees who focus on their professional development are able to handle increasingly new and challenging tasks. This creates the skills and experience that help you stand out and can lead to many rewards including bonuses and promotions.

Employees who do not work towards their professional development put themselves at risk of job insecurity. You will not be able to handle changes that come with time.

Employers look for employees who have developed their skills to meet the needs of the moment. So if you do not work on your professional development, at best you can hope to be stuck in your current job, and at worst, you may lose it!

Benefits Of Professional Development

Professional development comes with many benefits. Not only does it help you grow as a person, but also:

  • Improves hiring/promotion potential. When you learn more skills, you become more essential as an employee. Either with your current employer or elsewhere, someone will want to capitalize on your growth.

  • Increases confidence. You will feel better about your professional life when you work on your development. You expand your skill set and experience new responsibilities, which will affirm your capabilities. Your development can help you take on new challenges because you know you have the abilities to do it.

  • Adds personal value. Your professional development makes you a better employee, but it also can make you a better person. Since you have decided to grow, you have taken up a challenge that that you can feel good about on following through.

  • Provides mentorship. Professional development opportunities usually come with some form of mentorship. This guidance helps you better navigate your career.

  • Expands network. Employees who work on their professional development find themselves among other developed professionals, whether its through training or by being noticed for their abilities.

Factors Of Professional Development

Professional development is a broad term that encompasses all types of approaches.

  • Formal. Professional development. may include formal vocational education through post-secondary or poly-technical training programs as necessary parts of earning certain credentials or qualifications needed for the advancement or retaining of employment. Formalized pre-service or in-service professional development programs are another option.

  • Informal Professional development might also take the form of informal pre-service or in-service professional development program. They can be group work or individual work.

    In the case of individual work, professional development may be pursued independently of the employer, or independently with the help of programs offered by the human resource department.

  • On-the-job. On-the-job professional development aims to develop and advance employees’ process skills, or leadership skills, by increasing work effectiveness and optimizing team functioning. It also aims to enhance employees’ specific task skills.

  • Amount of commitment. Professional development opportunities vary widely in terms of time and energy commitment. They may be semester-long academic classes or single, hour-long workshops.

Professional development providers offer an incredible variety of services, all with unique information, points-of-view, and formats for their learning experiences.

Types Of Professional Development

Professional development aims can be addressed in three key ways: job assignments, skill-based training, and developmental work relationships.

  • Job assignment. Job assignment based professional development is focused on the principle of learning through direct practice. With this approach, employees will be assigned new work responsibilities, from entirely new jobs to short-term projects. These new assignments are ideally designed to be difficult and require brand new ways of thinking compared to the employee’s usual workload.

  • Skill-based training. Skill-based training refers to any professional development akin to a class, a workshop, a seminar, or other learning situations that don’t directly accomplish business goals. Skill-based training gives employees the chance to learn new conceptual information, practice learning this new information hands-on, and then receive feedback on their performance.

    Skill-based training works best when it is focused, and when post-training evaluation is utilized. Supervisors should have a clear understanding of an employee’s reason for wanting to partake in a specific training program. They should also be sure to debrief the experience to solidify what has been learned and how it can best be put into action.

  • Development work relationship. Developmental work relationships are exactly what they sound like, fostering work relationships in order to develop professional skills. Developmental work relationships may take the form of employees assessing or challenging each other’s work, offering support, or a combination of these forms.

Examples of Professional Development

Below are a few specific examples of some different approaches to professional development that are common in the workplace:

  • Increased job responsibilities. This is a direct form of development in which employees take on new, challenging responsibilities or projects.

  • Mentoring. Mentorship allows employees to develop through close work with someone senior to them within their organization. Mentors provide and suggest opportunities while closely observing and giving opportunities for reflection.

  • Lesson study. This approach involves solving practical problems related to instruction or intervention through collaboration and individual work in structured settings.

  • Coaching. Similar to mentorship but with a more direct and intensive focus. Coaching allows someone to improve specific skills through observation, action, and reflection.

  • Continuing education. With this approach, employees enroll in formal degree programs, workshops, and courses. This may be for general development or for specific aims such as pursuing certificates or other credentials.

  • Technical assistance. This approach helps employees improve their usage of technology and equipment by offering information and resources.

  • Consultation. This is a formal type of professional development that typically involves professional consultants. Consultants will instruct employees via a systematic problem-solving process.

  • Research. This approach to professional development allows employees to conduct independent research on topics and then present the findings of this research to others.

  • Communities of practice. With this approach, constructive communities are formed around practicing and developing an understanding of a specific skill.

  • Case method. This method aims to teach through identifying with a role other than the one the employee currently holds. It helps foster an understanding of how decisions are made by others.

  • Reflective supervision. This is a process in which employees are encouraged to reflect upon their own learning as a way to further develop understanding.

How To Improve Your Professional Development

Professional development opportunities can assist people both in and out of work. They also play a crucial role in helping labor markets and industries adjust to what the future of work may look like.

When it comes to planning professional development for your organization, keep these three crucial parts in mind for an effective strategy:

  1. Make it challenging. Arguably the most important part of professional development, perhaps of learning in general, is the element of challenge. In order to learn, individuals must be (gently) pushed outside of their comfort zone. Challenging situations help people to think and act in new, creative ways.

  2. Have clear aims and an assessment process. To have a successful professional development program, you first have to define what success looks like. You also need to have clear methods of assessing an individual’s work in accordance with this definition of success.

  3. Use new skills. Good professional development programs not only help employees learn new things, but they have clear plans for how these new skills can be used in the workplace. It’s important to have someone providing feedback and assistance as employees take on new responsibilities related to their new skills.

An employee’s level of involvement in professional development programs is largely decided upon by the employee and their supervisor. Ideally, each employee will have at least one assigned activity within the program.

Assigning activities to employees could be based on either their previous evaluations and identified areas for improvement, or their future career goals.

Professional Development Tips

If you are reading this article from the perspective of someone who wants to maximize their own professional and personal development, look no further. The desire to learn and improve yourself is a crucial quality for anyone who would like to be in charge of their own career future. All skills are built off of being a good learner.

However, a desire to learn can only take you so far. Eventually, you have to gain real-world practice.

While these opportunities may be seemingly few and far between for you, there are a number of steps you can take to set yourself up for success and ensure that you are taking every opportunity available to learn.

Below are ten ways you can play a more active role in your own professional development process:

  1. Set aside unstructured learning time. To make the most out of your professional development, you need to incorporate it into your life in a way that is genuinely meaningful for you.

    Really ask yourself what your goals are, both in your career and in your life, and recognize that learning and growing are the only ways to achieve these goals.

    Set aside time for yourself to learn without structures, schedules, or rules to get in touch with why professional development is important to you.

  2. Develop a reading habit. Luckily, we live in a time and place where we have access to a wealth of human knowledge, both online and printed in books.

    Reading regularly not only helps expose you to new information and perspectives, but it develops your attention span and processing skills.

    Try to read everyday, even if it’s just a few pages before bedtime. There are countless books written on business-related subjects, but we recommend broadening your reading list. Try reading a variety of different subjects and materials.

  3. Develop a writing habit. On the flip side of reading is the art of writing. Writing has numerous benefits for leaders. Writing regularly will help you get a deeper understanding of the content you’re writing about, improve your creativity, and enhance your communication skills.

    Try to write on different subjects and in different formats, you could even try keeping your own blog as a way to get your writing out there. You may even be able to use this blog, or any of your writing, to prove your expertise on a subject.

  4. Build awareness. Building an awareness of both yourself and the world around you may seem simple, but it is anything but. If you want to be an effective leader, you’ll need to develop skills of awareness in all areas of life. Without awareness, you’ll be blindly going from task to task without direction.

    Awareness can be built through practices like meditation and mindfulness. Check in with yourself throughout the day through the lens of an objective observer, notice what decisions you are making and why. Use your observations as data to see what works for you and what doesn’t.

  5. Reflect often. Along with building awareness, take the opportunity to reflect on your path often. Taking the time to examine your past decisions will help you gain a better understanding of where you may be running into challenges and other areas of improvement.

    Before making major decisions, try seeing your situation from the opposite point of view. Be sure you can explain why you are making certain decisions and what the intended outcome of these decisions is.

  6. Get feedback from others. While reflection can take us quite far in being honest with ourselves, we are still inevitably going to have blindspots. To curtail your own blindspots in the learning process, gather feedback from colleagues, supervisors, and anyone else who would be able to provide constructive input.

    If you have employees that report to you, or others from whom you may want feedback but who may be hesitant to give it, try asking for anonymous feedback. You could engage with a third-party feedback gatherer or implement a program for anonymous feedback.

  7. Try teaching. Teaching others about a subject is a powerful tool for understanding a subject more deeply. Try using your skills to help others develop their skills. It will not only help you with professional development but it can directly help others as well.

    Teaching something helps you look at the material in entirely new ways, and helps to simplify and solidify the information in your brain. You may even end up learning something from those you are teaching.

  8. Attend professional training programs. There are lots of short-term programs out there being offered to enterprising individuals; see if you can search some out.

    Though reading and intaking new information is invaluable, training programs offer the opportunity to practice and get hands-on experience.

    Training courses could take the form of classes, workshops, seminars, and other programs with relatively low time investments. These programs also offer incredible opportunities to network.

  9. Network with peers. Meeting peers within your industry is one of the most important ways to help yourself progress professionally. Develop as many professional relationships as you can to keep up with new developments in your industry and gain new perspectives.

    Forming relationships with others who share the same passions and motivations as you will open you up to plenty of career opportunities. Invest some time in getting to know those you work with, and even those who you hope to work with one day.

  10. Find a mentor. Peer relationships are incredibly valuable, but in order to get where you want to go, you may need to get some advice from someone who’s already there. Find leaders and inspiring figures within your life who have been in your position before and ask if they would be open to discussing your professional goals and giving feedback.

    Mentors and coaches will give you the honest insights that you may not hear simply going about the regular business of your job. The best mentors are those who are willing to give you tough, but constructive criticism to inspire your professional growth.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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