Invest in Your Professional Development This Summer

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By Hannah Morgan

For many, summer means reduced work hours or a slower pace, making these months an ideal time to invest in a little self-improvement.

You may notice your employer is promoting more courses this summer. Offering professional development is one way companies are showing employees how much they care. It may also be a way to retain valuable employees.

You should take advantage of every possible opportunity, especially when it comes to increasing your skills. This is one of the best career insurance policies. When you develop skills that are harder to come by, you increase your marketability, both inside and outside your company.

With so many options and the ability to access classes on the go, what do you need to consider before signing up for training? Here are common conundrums and workarounds to help you invest in your professional development."But I don't know what training to take."

Investing your valuable time requires you to carefully evaluate the training with the biggest bang for the buck. Take into consideration whether it will interest you, if it's in demand and how it will impact your performance.

Developing time-management skills and the ability to manage difficult conversations may seem fluffy, but these topics help prepare you for future opportunities. "Oftentimes, these skills take a backseat to skill-set development, but they're vital to preparing employees for leadership at every level," says Michele McMahon, senior director of learning solutions at Harvard Business Publishing.

Don't forget the more tangible, often less interesting, technical and procedural training. Jenny Dearborn, senior vice president and chief learning officer at SAP, suggests employees look for training that will make them most effective in their roles, such as process, system or tool training.

"But I don't have time."

Employers and training providers are catching on to the scarcity-of-time excuse and are offering classes that are online and accessible from mobile devices, which makes anytime-anywhere training possible. McMahon adds that virtual training "allows [employees] to engage with the training on their own time, when it works best. Plus, the time commitment for virtual programs is often spread out over time, which not only gives employees more flexibility in participating, but it also helps the learning stick."

"But training never seems to stick."

"Learning that matters is learning that sticks," according to McMahon, who recommends "combining learning with practice, reflection and on-the-job application to attain a deeper level of expertise." You'll want your manager's support to practice your newly acquired skills. The best scenario is to consult your manager and ask for support before you sign up for the training. Discuss how the training will fit into your manager's goals and yours. "Having a long-term personal development plan helps get the most out of the learning experiences you receive," Dearborn says. And after you've attended the training, review the key takeaways, and ask your manager to help you as you practice your newly acquired skills.

One way to practice is to offer to train your team on what you learned, McMahon says. Training costs can put a strain on your employer's budget, and a way around this is to propose delivering a class on what you learned to your team or within your organization. This may just do the trick and get your manager's buy-in. Sharing your new knowledge helps cement the content and concepts in your head and adds a cost-effective solution to up the skills in the organization.

Another way to develop your skills is to participate in or start a center of excellence. "Some organizations create centers of excellence around key business topics and provide articles and videos for people to access to gain more knowledge," McMahon says.

Consider yourself a lifelong learner. Dearborn recommends employees look at training differently. "Training doesn't start and stop with a specific session or piece of material – we learn and teach every day. If you're always looking to learn something, then you stand a better chance of retaining the content you're learning in a course for the long-term."

"But my employer doesn't offer training."

Not all employers offer to pay for employee training. Never fear – you can still get the training you want. McMahon and Dearborn recommend MOOCs. "Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are an affordable training option," Dearborn says. "These tend to be relatively inexpensive, high-quality training courses on in-demand topics, which can help individuals learn new skills that prepare them to take on new roles."

An alternative to training is to participate in a mentoring relationship, either company-sponsored or one you initiate yourself. Select someone who you respect and who possesses the skills you want to support and grow.

"But I don't need training" – said no one, ever.

Don't wait for a crisis or when you find your skills are out of date to think about training. Carve out time beginning this summer, and enroll in training that will amp up your skills and career potential.

Hannah Morgan writes and speaks on career topics and job search trends on her blog Career Sherpa. She is the author of "The Infographic Résumé" and co-author of "Social Networking for Business Success."
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