How Training and Personal Development Leads to Career Advancement

Dr. Don Ford is a human resource management consultant specializing in talent development and the author of four books.

We recently asked Don about the value of continuing education and how to make your continued education stand out on your job applications. Here’s what he shared:

Can you tell us about the mission behind Training Education Management?

The mission of Training Education Management LLC is to assist organizations and employees to reach their full potential by improving human performance at work. We achieve our mission by partnering with leaders to analyze their human resource management, identify areas for improvement and design and implement custom HR solutions that produce business results.

Can you talk about the importance of talent development to businesses and professionals today?

People have always been a critical component of business success, but today this axiom is more important than ever. In a global economy in which goods and services move freely throughout the world, the only remaining competitive advantage is a company’s talent.  It’s the only resource that cannot be easily duplicated.  Moreover, research studies have shown repeatedly that investments in human capital (people) are more productive by far than any other business investment, be it land, buildings or equipment.  So, companies that want to thrive today must pay close attention to their human resources and the managers who lead them.

When should organizations and/or professionals seek talent development and training?

Ideally, organizations should have a talent development strategy from the very first employee a new business hires. Unfortunately, few organizations possess this kind of foresight. Typically, small businesses start out relying on relatives, friends and known referrals for their hiring strategy. Once selected, new employees often get little formal on-boarding, instead relying on the assistance of co-workers to learn their new jobs. This haphazard approach leaves many employees without the knowledge and skill to properly do their jobs, creating productivity problems down the road.

A much better approach is to proactively create a talent development strategy based on a careful analysis of the kinds of skills the organization needs, the kinds of personalities that are most likely to succeed in the organization’s culture and the places where such people can be found. This ensures that the organization is hiring the right people for their openings. Once hired, new employees should go through a systematic process of on-boarding, learning both the particular skills required of their new position, plus the organizational and industry knowledge that will help them succeed. As they gain more experience, organizations should provide regular training to improve and upgrade skills and prepare for promotion. Talent development should also be linked to the compensation and rewards system so that employees are being rewarded for obtaining new skills and applying them to help the organization succeed. Such a systematic approach to talent ensures that organizations are getting the best out of their employees and that employees are deriving personal satisfaction and rewards from the work they perform.

What have you found are the most common areas professionals need development in? What type of training do businesses seek your services for?

Development needs tend to fall into two broad categories – technical and interpersonal. Technical training includes the specific job skills required to keep complex processes operating as designed. Although companies hire for technical skills, few people possess the entire range of skills required in the modern high-performance workplace. And even when employees are fully competent, rapid changes in technology require constant retraining to keep up with the pace of change.

I have clients in a number of high-tech industries who hire me to develop custom technical training for their employees. These include companies in the utility, oil, auto, health and food processing industries which require very specific technical skills that are not taught in any post-secondary school. Many employees in these industries must be certified to perform their jobs.  This requires intensive training and periodic retraining along with demonstrating competence on examinations. As an example, I work with an electric utility to ensure that employees they hire to be planners and designers of electrical systems are properly trained and certified for their positions. New hires undergo a full year of training, consisting of both classroom and on-the-job training, before they are qualified to assume their full duties designing new electric services for customers.

The second major category of training is interpersonal skills – essentially being able to work effectively with others. This includes basic communication skills, team-building skills and leadership. The primary target for this type of training is management, since their job requires outstanding people skills. Professional individual contributors are another primary audience, since they often work in cross-functional teams whose success depends upon effective collaboration.

I have clients in a wide range of industries who hire me to improve their interpersonal and leadership skills through targeted training and performance improvement programs. Examples include leadership training for pharmaceutical companies, performance management training for financial services companies, and strategic planning for nonprofits in the human services field. As an example, I worked for a credit union to help them start a supervisory development program for first-time supervisors promoted at their local branches.  Supervisors attended monthly training sessions and were mentored by a senior manager for the first six months in their new positions, resulting in a much smoother transition to management.

How do you approach talent development/training? How does your approach differ from your competitors?

My focus is on the development of talent through training and education.  My approach is based on a common process model in the field of training known by its acronym ADDIE.  First developed by Robert Gagne and his associates at Florida State University in the 1970s, it is the most widely used model for instructional design in the world. I have adapted this model by adding a focus on results first and foremost. My proprietary model is depicted below.

In my model, training and development starts and ends with results, around which the rest of the process revolves. I work with clients to clearly define up-front the learning, performance, financial and strategic results they wish to see and then work with them at the evaluation stage to ensure that results are measured and used to drive future improvement.

How can employees make the most of training/development sessions?

To get the most out of training, you need to put the most into it.  Many employees simply show up to training at the appointed hour with no preparation or thought.  To make the most of the learning opportunities they are provided, employees should have a pre-during-post plan of action. Before class, do a bit of research on the topic and complete any pre-work that may have been assigned. This helps orient you to the subject and gives you a context for learning. Identify several good reasons for attending training besides a day off of work. During the training, employees should be active whenever possible. Ask questions, participate in discussions and activities, challenge yourself to try out new skills and above all, keep an open mind to the new information being presented, even if it contradicts long-held beliefs. After the training, create an action plan that describes specific steps you will take to apply new skills on the job, including deadlines for accomplishing them. The sooner you apply learning, the more likely it will stick with you for life. Conversely, if new skills are not applied within a month or so, they are likely to be forgotten and never used.

How should professionals highlight their training on resumes and job applications?

Besides formal education, employers are looking at whether candidates have kept their skills current through training and certification. Most resume experts recommend placing education and training after job experience, since it is experience that employers look at the most. Within the educational section, it is a good idea to go in reverse chronological order, putting your most recent degree first, followed by your most recent training. Highlight any certifications along with college degrees. Some certifications are now considered even more important to obtaining employment than a college degree. Professional memberships and attendance at professional conferences are also worthwhile additions to the resume.

What trends are you following in talent development today? Why do they interest you?

The field of talent development is enjoying a very exciting period, where many new developments are revolutionizing the profession. It is also experiencing a period of steady growth since the Great Recession that promises to continue for some time, due to an increase in hiring and the increased skill demands of work in the future. Of the many trends in the field, here are three that interest me the most:

1.  Globalization – I have worked in over 20 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Talent development is in demand across the world, as nations compete to develop their human capital and gain competitive advantage. I am fascinated by how people from diverse backgrounds, languages and cultures come together to form global teams of professionals working on common issues. I believe such contact with people very different from ourselves immeasurably enriches the human experience and leads to creative breakthroughs. Of course, we also see that globalization causes stress and tension that can lead to conflict and war. So it is very important for humanity to learn how to live together in peace while respecting our many differences.

2. Technology – More than any other trend, technology has had an enormous impact on training and talent development. We are no longer tethered to a classroom, with its four walls and neat rows of desks. E-learning technology allows us to deliver training wherever people happen to be and whenever they are ready for it. Whether delivered via the web, intranet, DVD, podcast, social media or virtual reality, training is now becoming ubiquitous. I am most fascinated by the design and development of e-learning and following the many exciting developments in software, hardware and theory that are enabling instructional designers to create more compelling and effective uses of e-learning and to further broaden our horizons beyond the classroom.

3. Neuro-learning and Artificial Intelligence –  We are beginning to unlock the secrets of our brains, including how learning occurs at the molecular level. Thanks to medical advances in brain research, the field of neuro-learning is unlocking the mystery of memory and how that translates into the performance of psycho-motor skills. It is also helping us understand and treat learning disorders such as dyslexia and dementia. Another aspect of this is the development of artificial intelligence that mimics the human brain. We are just on the cusp of a future filled with smart machines that will serve us and perform many useful tasks on our behalf. We will also undoubtedly open new frontiers in human creativity and human-machine interaction. Of course, we will also face huge social challenges, such as what millions of people will do for a living when smart machines replace them at work.

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