Going back to school feels a bit different this year, with e-learning and virtual instruction playing a bigger role than ever before. With more students learning online this fall, it’s a timely reminder that professionals can benefit from online instruction, too. Professional development classes often fall to the bottom of our to-do list, and there’s no time like the present to make them a priority.
Why Professional Development Matters
Whether you’re mastering a new technical skill, improving leadership capabilities, or broadening your industry knowledge, professional development amplifies your impact on your organization. You’re maximizing the value of your time, talent and energy at work– and improving your value to your employer.
By sharpening your skills, you’ll be viewed as a subject matter expert (SME). Soon, you may find yourself sharing knowledge internally at your company and externally as a thought leader. You might contribute articles to industry publications or be quoted as an expert in articles. That draws more attention to your work and your organization, which can have significant financial benefits.
Time and Money: Overcoming Obstacles to Professional Development
One of the biggest obstacles to professional development is the belief that continuing education takes too much time. If you’re leading a major project, managing a team, or jumping from one fire to another each day, it’s natural to worry there simply isn’t time to add yet another item to the to-do list. I’ve been guilty of believing this myself. The thinking goes something like this: “If I take time for a continuing education course, then my work will suffer and my job might even be in jeopardy.”
In reality, the opposite is often true. You get better at managing your time, you become more efficient, and your work is a higher quality since you’re bringing new insights to your role. Taking professional development courses aren’t a liability; they’re an asset. You’re investing in yourself with new marketable skills and making yourself more valuable to your company.
A second common obstacle is cost. Many companies have a budget for professional development, and it’s worth checking with your supervisor to see if this budget can cover a course you wish to take. If you’re getting certified in Google Analytics or Kubernetes, for example, your company may cover part or all of the cost. There are also online learning programs available at low or no cost that can boost your knowledge without the expense.
Getting Started: Alternatives to Full Certification Courses
If you aren’t ready to jump into an online certification course, there are still plenty of ways to brush up on skills. Start with industry publications– how comfortable do you feel with the trending topics they cover? Is there a webinar you could take that would quickly give you the lay of the land? This is also a great opportunity to get your whole team involved. Form a virtual discussion group with a few teammates to track trending topics each month. One month might focus on an emerging technology skill and the next might look at leadership best practices.
Next, consider your own blindspots in day-to-day work. For example, maybe you learned all about Pivot tables in school, but a decade later, you rarely use them day to day– and a new project will require you to be on your Pivot Table A-Game. YouTube tutorials are a great first stop for quickly getting up to speed on skills you’re already familiar with but may not practice day-to-day.
Third, consider which topics are most important to your clients. For example, many companies I work with are currently switching to Kubernetes. While I’m not going to get a Kubernetes certification, I am going to learn why it’s viewed as a superior technology compared to other container orchestration systems. Diving into the how and why ensures I can hold informed conversations with clients, reinforcing my value as a trusted, consultative partner.
Books are another inexpensive way to do a deep dive on a topic. I’ve taken advantage of the …for Dummies books for more technical topics, like Hacking for Dummies or Development for Dummies. From a leadership perspective, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a great tool. It outlines five common leadership pitfalls and how to avoid them, plus the steps to get everyone on the same page, working toward the same goal.