Employee Development Opportunities That Work

employee development opportunitiesAttracting employees who bring the right skills and experience to the workplace often feels like searching for a needle in a haystack. That’s why companies are investing more in employee training and development.


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But sprinkling in a few extra learning opportunities isn’t going to get you the impact you’re looking for. Meaningful and sustainable employee growth relies on robust learning and development opportunities. An effective employee development program depends on a handful of components, all essential for employee learning.

In this article, we will cover:

  • What employee development is
  • Why you should invest in employee development opportunities
  • Best practices for employee development
  • 6 types of employee development opportunities employees want


What is employee development?


Employee development is the process of working with your employees to develop, improve, and hone existing skills and train them on new skills. Employee development aims to build a talent pool that supports the organization’s mission while creating highly engaged employees.

But employee development isn’t just about paying for some seminars or having employees complete training exercises.

Employee development should:

  • Center around short and long-term goals
  • Motivate and encourage employees
  • Be accessible and available to all employees
  • Cater to the needs and interests of your employees at different levels and tenure

A robust employee development program should be focused on the long-term facilitation of a strategic workforce that engages employees at each level based on their needs, and your organizational vision.

Our research has found that tenure has a significant impact on employee development needs and interests. For example, 70% of employees ages 25 and younger and 60% of those with less than one year of experience at their current organization chose promotion and advancement as more important than opportunities for development and training.

However, as tenure and seniority increases, employees become less interested in promotions and more interested in training and development opportunities that deepen their skill sets and expertise.

When you understand what employee development is and what your employees need, you can create a program that successfully engages, develops, and retains top talent.


Why you should invest in employee development opportunities


Of course you want employees who are always improving and growing—the more skilled your workforce, the better for business. However, not all employees are self-motivated. And many won’t know where to look for development opportunities.

That’s where an employee development program comes in. Employee development requires commitment and investment. But when done well, the payoff is worth it.

Employee development opportunities are linked to better performance and higher engagement—both of which impact business success.

In fact, 79% of employees who had access to a formal development program were engaged (compared to only 58% of employees whose organization didn’t have a formal program).

Of employees who participate in learning and development opportunities: 

  • 71% feel motivated
  • 55% feel empowered
  • 64% feel more equipped to do their job

When employees have access to development opportunities, it’s good for them, and it’s good for business.


Best practices for employee development


Planning and implementing your program can be tricky—but getting it right is crucial. Without the right opportunities and structure in place, you’ll have a hard time executing your ideas, getting buy-in from employees, and seeing positive results in performance and engagement.

Here are a few best practices to keep in mind as you plan your program.


Gather information.

Don’t just assume you know what opportunities employees want or need. To create an effective program, you need to make decisions based on reliable data. Survey managers and employees to uncover key insights and identify areas of opportunity.


Plan and prioritize.

Based on the data and feedback you gathered from your employees, you can begin planning your program. Map out what you will need and how you will achieve those benchmarks. Use insights from your data to prioritize opportunities so you can invest in things that will have the most impact.


Collaborate with stakeholders.

Work closely with stakeholders and subject-matter experts to build a robust and effective program. This will ensure your learning opportunities are high-quality. Plus, including input from team members will also encourage participation and engagement from the rest of your workforce.


Make it accessible.

The easier it is to access and participate in your development program, the more likely employees will be to take advantage of the opportunities you offer. Meet employees where they are so they can access opportunities anytime and anywhere in their preferred format.


Empower learning.

If employees don’t have a chance to practice and apply their knowledge regularly, they will have a harder time retaining the information and keeping those skills up. Empower learning by giving employees opportunities to share what they have learned and practice their skills. For example, they might present lunch and learns or help cross-train other co-workers.


6 types of employee development opportunities employees want


There are many ways to train and develop employees. Consider including these 6 employee development opportunities in your program.


1. Online training sessions and webinars.

Online training and webinars are time-efficient and cost-effective ways to train your employees. Online sessions make it easy for managers to track employee progress and reach out if and when assistance or support is needed.

Additionally, online training often allows employees to interact virtually or in-person with their colleagues to develop skills and grow their knowledge of specific topics.


2. Manager coaching and mentorship.

Manager coaching is the simplest, yet most effective development opportunity for employees. Employees want more feedback and direction. And managers have direct visibility into employee performance so that they can assess and ensure continuous employee development.

Consider creating a formal mentor program to integrate coaching into your manager-employee relationships and ensure team members have built-in support when they have questions or need direction.


3. Classroom-style learning.

According to an SHRM Skills Gap Report, 25% of Americans believe educational institutions should be responsible for solving workforce-development issues—making a case for exploring classroom-style learning.

This style of learning is useful when training a group of employees on the same tasks. The group setting allows for communication and encourages questions. Addressing specific topics all at once will help standardize messaging and build consistency.


4. Peer coaching.

Training can be intimidating, especially when it’s facilitated by someone you don’t know well. Peer coaching eliminates the intimidation factor and fosters a more relaxed learning experience.

Employees may feel more comfortable asking questions in this setting, which leads to a better understanding of the concept or development area at hand. Additionally, managers observing these sessions can learn valuable insights about employees’ personal goals and their perspectives on the organization.


5. Cross-training.

Cross-training develops employees to be their best selves in several areas of the business. This development style helps curb position fatigue while expanding employees’ horizons to build and grow different skills.

Explore providing alternative cross-training opportunities for your employees—such as conferences, online courses, or facilitating a company-wide book club. Regardless of the types of opportunities you provide, cross-training allows your employees to enhance their skill sets in various disciplines that will improve their fit within their role and the organization.


6.  Stretch assignments.

A simple way to help your employees grow is by assigning stretch assignments. Stretch assignments challenge employees with something new, which can spur learning and inspire greater confidence. Just be sure to connect the extra work to an opportunity for growth.

This is best done by tying the work to the employee’s professional goals. Work with them to identify areas they want to work on or skills they would like to learn so you can offer them relevant opportunities as they arise.

Keep in mind that with stretch assignments, it’s important to set employees up for success. Be careful not to overload them with responsibilities. Make sure you give them the resources they need to rise to the challenge.



Employee development isn’t a quick fix for talent gaps and employee engagement. But if you invest in good opportunities and commit to building a robust long-term program, you’ll reap the benefits for years to come. For more ways to build your employee development program, download HR's 4-Ingredient Recipe for Healthy, Balanced Employee Growth.

Employee Development

Published October 6, 2020 | Written By Jocelyn Stange