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Importance of Professional Learning and Development Programs

Discuss about the Professional Learning and Development Program.

There are numerous factors that influence an organization’s performance. One of these factors is employees. For any organization to performance efficiently and competitively, it must have well qualified, experienced, motivated and consistent employees. It is quite challenging for an organization to get employees with all these characteristics unless it develops internal strategies for realizing them. One of the strategies that many organizations use to increase their employee’s competence and effectiveness is having professional development programs (Looper, 2016). These programs enable organizations to equip their employees with the latest knowledge and right set of skills thus making them more competitive and successful in the industry they are operating.

It is also important for employees to remain competitive because the professional landscape is ever changing. For instance, the use of technology has become very crucial in all professions especially engineering. There are new technological tools being developed and launched almost every other day. Most of these tools can help organizations to increase their performance and competitiveness. So the best strategy that organizations can use to keep their employees updated with such technological developments and capitalize on their benefits is by having a professional learning and development program (Wilcox, 2005). These programs also help employees to understand current and projected trends and changes in the market so that they can help their employers respond to these fluctuating market conditions accordingly.

Previously, professional learning and development was largely emphasized in schools. It means that those in teaching profession were the ones who usually enrolled for, developed or implemented professional learning and development programs. This is what led to the famous professional learning communities (Provini, 2012). These communities were aimed at improving the performance of students and schools in general by training teachers on how to improve their teaching knowledge and skills. However, this has changed over the years and now professional learning programs have become a necessity for many organizations. In fact, in some places it is mandatory for certain professionals to have a professional learning plan (Utah State Board of Education, 2016). These programs are being used to nurture employee’s skills, motivate and retain staff and improve overall productivity at workplaces (Sarita, 2016). Therefore the beneficiaries of these programs are both the employees and the organizations involved, as discussed by The Peak Performance Center (2016).

All professions and professionals have something to benefit from professional learning and development programs. This makes the programs useful in all workplaces. For instance, teachers who enroll for professional learning and development programs have significantly impacted their students’ learning (Timperley et al., 2007). The task here is to develop a professional learning program for my previous workplace. This company has a proven track record of success in engineering industry in Australia. Being part of their project team in engineering department for three and a half years, I learnt a lot regarding creating opportunities for employees to learn and develop their professions while working. It is for this reason that I because interested in professional learning and development programs. As an engineering educator, I have vast knowledge and experience in regards to professional learning and development programs. Therefore the program developed here is from my personal experience at my previous workplace. From my experience, it is very important to ensure that the professional learning program developed is effective and produces positive results to the organization. To achieve this, it requires proper planning and involvement of all relevant stakeholders. Therefore it must start by understanding the procedures of planning, developing and implementing a professional learning program. 

Developing an Effective Professional Learning and Development Program

The first step that the company should do is to analyze the importance, applicability or relevance of the program to the company. Developing and implementing this program should be seen as an investment for the company. Since the program aims at expanding the knowledge and skills of employees, developing a program that will achieve these objectives has to start with identifying its potential benefits. Some of the expected benefits of the program include: addressing employees’ weaknesses, maintaining employees’ knowledge and experience consistency, boosting staff morale and satisfaction, and improving staff performance (Frost, 2016), among others.


Understanding potential benefits of the program will also make it easier to give it the necessary attention and adequate resources when implementing it. Therefore it has to start with looking at how employees and the company in general will benefit from the program. After identifying and analyzing the potential benefits, it is also important to share them with all stakeholders in the organization, including employees. This will help in preparing stakeholders in advance so that when they are called for to participate at different stages of the program, they will be supportive.

The second step is to explore the target employees. It is important to acknowledge that different employees have different weaknesses, strengths and capabilities. Having the same professional learning program for all employees may not produce good results. For example, the specific needs of the company’s employees in human resource department may be different from those in project management department. In this regard, it is more sensible to have different learning development programs for the two groups of employees.

The aim of exploring target employees is to understand their needs. The company has many employees in different departments and so their needs are also probably varied. At this stage, relevant department can ask their staff to list down their weaknesses, strengths and what they need so as to improve their performance and productivity. According to (Duke, 2016), the process can be made easier by preparing self-assessment forms and giving them to employees to fill. The forms should require employees to list their skills, interests, personalities and values. These forms should also be prepared based on the skills, technologies and opportunities available for the employees and whether they will help the organization achieve its needs and objectives.

It is important to note that giving employees a chance to list training needs that will improve their performance is one way of telling them to analyze and determine their career progress. These employees will take time to look at how their careers have been progressing in the past few years thus being able to know whether they are on the right track. So they will use this opportunity to identify their strengths, weaknesses and areas that need improvement. Some employees may also use this opportunity to express their wish of changing the department they are working in, such as from finance department to human resource department. Identifying the specific areas that need to change indirectly means improving their productivity at workplace. So this step will play a key role in enhancing the effectiveness of the professional learning program.

Strategies for Developing a Professional Learning and Development Program


The third step should be to set goals. This comes after evaluating the current situation of the organization i.e. company and employee needs. For the program to achieve the desired goals, it must have goals. As discussed by (Shala, 2013), there must be an ultimate goal and sub-goals. The goals should be as specific as possible, which can be achieved by using the SMART (specific, measureable, achievable, realistic and timely) strategy (Bowen and McDonough, 2013). For example, the company can use the program to aim at training 50 employees for the first half of the year and thereafter double the number for the remaining half of the year. Having such a goal will help the company to know the exact amount of resources required during the first six months and last six months of the training for that particular year.

Setting goals also helps the company to identify any specific gaps in the knowledge or expertise of its employees, which may be preventing them from attaining their full potential at work. The company deals with different types and sizes of projects and clients thus these gaps will always be there. Knowing the gaps is also essential in designing a more specific program. The deadline for each goal should also be realistic so that everything is done painstakingly.

The fourth step is to research the most suitable training course for implementing. There are different courses available and each is suitable for meeting varied needs. What is important is to select a course that will be effective in achieving the target goals. The company can decide to develop its own course from scratch, because it has the capability and/or resources, and use it to train employees internally. According to Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, (2014), the most important thing is to ensure that the professional learning and development program chosen contains all effective elements. If the company cannot implement the selected course internally, it can look for available places where the course is offered and enroll their employees there.

Some of the factors to consider when looking for a place to train employees externally include: location, duration of course, cost, and proven track record of execution, among others. Whether the course comprises of formal classes or online classes, it is very crucial to ensure flexibility because in most cases employees will be required to continue with their jobs while attending the course. The company can use its network to create or identify the most suitable course for its employees. 

Best Practices for Developing a Professional Learning and Development Program

The fifth step, which many people or organizations ignore, is to analyze costs. This is a crucial step because if the company can’t meet the cost, the program cannot be effectively developed and implemented. It is worth noting that implementing a professional learning and development program requires substantial amount of resources (Warren, 2006).Some of the costs incurred include: equipment, tools or material costs, travel expenses, technology costs, downtime, instructor fees (especially if instructors come from outside the organization), and reduced employee productivity, among others. Remember that your employees may have to split the time between performing their normal tasks at the organization and going for the program training. So their level of production is likely to reduce when they are through the program. All costs associated with the program should be analyzed so as to find the best strategy of balancing them with the benefits of the program. Considering the qualified staff that the company has in its finance department, this should be an easy step for the company.

The sixth step is to start implementing the program. This step comes after the organization has performed cost benefit analysis of the program and decided that the program is worth implementing. Basically, implementation involves employees going through the selected training course/program. The best way to know whether the program is being implemented effectively or not is to check attainment of sub-goals. It must be remembered that failure to achieve sub-goals will inhibit attainment of the ultimate goal. The benefits and goals of the program should be the main motivators to keep those involved committed throughout the process. As noted by DuFour (2004), it is important to ensure that the environment enables employees to learn, there is collaboration among all stakeholders, and focus is put on results. Ullman (2009) also argues that there should be trust among participants, learning teams should be given adequate time and the program has to be wide-ranging. 

Last but not least, the program’s progress must be monitored and evaluated along the way. This will help in ensuring that everything is done on schedule and also gives updates on nearness to achieving the target goals. Monitoring the progress will also help the organization to identify new challenges or opportunities and make necessary changes to improve the program’s effectiveness. The company can assign the monitoring task to head of departments in conjunction with the person in charge of professional learning and development program. Both the company and employees have to be ready for challenges that come along because nothing can go as perfectly as planned. The challenges should be used as learning opportunities. All difficulties or setbacks have to be recorded followed by establishing approaches of overcoming them. The company should celebrate any milestone attained along the way and reward participants who complete the program successfully.


Additionally, the program has to be reevaluated after a certain period of time, such as six months. Reevaluation is important in ensuring that the program and its implementation process are aligned with employees’ and organization’s needs and objectives. The reevaluation should be done in conjunction with progress monitoring. This is because the monitoring report is what should form the basis of suggesting changes, if any. Reevaluation is of great importance especially if the organization is implementing the professional learning and development program for the first time. The best way to do evaluation is by checking progress and success indicators (objectives).

As stated by State of Victoria (2005), the importance of professional learning program across the world cannot be overstated. A professional learning and development program is an explicit approach that an organization develops and implements so as to improve the professionalism or competence of its employees. This program gives the organization the guidelines it has to follow to boost its employees’ professional growth, which translates into improved performance of the organization. Hence the program aims at identifying the needs of the company and formulating a strategy to meet them. If this program is developed properly and implemented effectively, both employees and the organization benefit significantly (Killion, 2008). I have no doubt that if I had a chance to go through a professional learning and development program while still at the company, my professionalism and productivity would have improved significantly. 

From my experience as an engineering educator, developing an effective professional learning and development program should follow this guideline: analyzing the importance, applicability or relevance of the program so as to know its benefits; exploring target employees/learners to understand their needs; setting goals; researching for the appropriate training course; analyzing costs; implementing the program; and monitoring progress. The program also requires necessary support system for it to be implemented effectively (Killion, 2013). Therefore professional learning and development programs are worthwhile for implementation not only in educational institutions but in all organizations. 

References

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, 2014, Designing Professional Learning report, Sydney: Australian Government.

Bowen, R and McDonough, M, 2013, Sample Smart Professional Development Goals, viewed September 17, 2016, <https://www.brighthub.com/office/home/articles/72258.aspx>

DuFour, R, 2004, What is a Professional Learning Community? Viewed September 17, 2016, <https://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may04/vol61/num08/What-Is-a-Professional-Learning-Community%C2%A2.aspx>

Duke, 2016, Professional Development Plan, viewed September 17, 2016, < https://www.hr.duke.edu/managers/performance/development/>

Frost, S, 2016, The Importance of Training & Development in the Workplace, viewed September 17, 2016, < https://smallbusiness.chron.com/importance-training-development-workplace-10321.html>

Killion, J, 2008, Assessing impact: Evaluating staff development, Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Killion, J, 2013, Professional learning plan: A workbook for states, districts, and schools, Oxford, OH: Learning Forward.

Looper, L, 2016, How Professional Development Programs Work, viewed September 17, 2016, < https://money.howstuffworks.com/business/professional-development/professional-development-programs4.htm>

Provini, C, 2012, Best Practices for Professional Learning Communities, viewed September 17, 2016, < https://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/best-practices-for-professional-learning-communities.shtml>

Sarita, H, 2016, Ways to Promote Professional Development in the Workplace, viewed September 17, 2016, < https://smallbusiness.chron.com/ways-promote-professional-development-workplace-45524.html>

Shala, M, 2013, 6 Steps to Create a Professional Development Plan, viewed September 17, 2016, < https://www.recruiter.com/i/6-steps-to-create-a-professional-development-plan/>

State of Victoria, 2005, Professional Learning in Effective Schools: The Seven Principles of Highly Effective Professional Learning, Melbourne: Leadership and Teacher Development Branch.

The Peak Performance Center, 2016, Benefits of Professional Development, viewed September 17, 2016, < https://thepeakperformancecenter.com/business/performance-management/professional-development-program/benefits-professional-development/>

Timperley, H, Wilson A, Barrar H & Fung I, 2007, Teacher Professional Learning and Development, Wellington: New Zealand Ministry of Education.

Ullman, E, 2009, How to Create a Professional Learning Community, viewed September 17, 2016, <https://www.edutopia.org/professional-learning-communities-collaboration-how-to>

Utah State Board of Education, 2016, Teaching and Learning Licensing, viewed September 17, 2016, <https://www.schools.utah.gov/cert/License-Renewals/Professional-Learning-Plan.aspx>

Warren, J L, 2006, Professional Community and Professional Development in the Learning-Centered School, Washington, DC, National Education Association.

Wilcox, J, 2005, Developing Professional Skills, UK Centre for Materials Education, viewed September 17, 2016, <https://www.materials.ac.uk/guides/developing.asp>

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