How communicators can advocate for professional development

Comms pros can work strategically across the organization to promote upskilling opportunities.

Upskilling is one of the most valuable benefits you can include in your employer brand. What ambitious employee wouldn’t want the chance to improve their competencies and hone their skills? But in many cases, employees either aren’t aware of or can’t advocate for the upskilling opportunities that best fit them—especially when they’re just starting.

That’s where communicators can come to the rescue. Comms can serve as a critical conduit not only to connect employees with upskilling opportunities and frameworks that already exist but also to advocate for funding and operationalizing opportunities as the organization reorganizes.

To gain a better perspective, we spoke with comms leaders about how communicators can positively impact professional development, how to talk to leadership about funding the right opportunities, and more.

Making upskilling a priority for leadership

In any line of work, comms pros are most valuable when you’re up to date on the latest trends and patterns. It’s also key to translate your research findings and interactions with employees to leadership.

“No leader wants to see their organization stagnate or fall behind in any area, and oftentimes, communications is one of the most rapidly evolving areas of their business,” said Lizz Summers director of communications, rental division, at Cintas.

The biggest gap to close for comms pros is helping leaders understand how upskilling employees can directly impact the bottom line.

“Leaders don’t always have experience or insight into our world and what we do, and it’s incumbent on communicators to keep them appraised of industry developments,” Summer said. “More importantly – we must demonstrate how they can benefit the organization and help it meet its business goals.”

That demonstration can manifest through detailed preparation. Troy P. Thompson, career consultant, speaker and workforce development program lead at Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business, suggests that comms help interested employees draft upskilling proposals for leadership that include the details, costs, and potential positive business impacts of these programs.

“Employee resource groups (ERGs) or affinity groups can also be utilized to advocate for more development opportunities through the creation and distribution of a professional development needs survey,” Thompson said. “In addition, you can share the results, associated training options, and projected return on investment with leadership.”

Managers and communicators should also work together to share statistics and anecdote-driven research that lends credence to the programs they’re trying to earn funding and support for. You can help managers craft upskilling cases for their reports by positioning them through the lens of present business challenges.

“You should then look to make an inventory of present challenges that they or their team are facing and then identify specific professional development options for each, being mindful to include offerings at different price points to account for budget constraints,” Thompson said.

Continual learning

An integrated upskilling program doesn’t end with just one course or learning module — it’s an ongoing process that an employee can employ throughout their careers. You can help position yourself as a leader by framing upskilling opportunities as not only a tool to increase satisfaction within the company but also as a tool for recruitment.

“If you build a team of continual learners – a team who sees every project as an opportunity to both show off their stuff and learn and grow – you are setting yourself up as a leader, as well as setting up the organization, for greater success,” Summers said.

“Once you have a team like that values continual learning and stretching themselves, and you foster a culture of growth and knowledge sharing, you can leverage the team to maximize the development opportunities you get.”

Cultivating and maintaining relationships is central to getting these upskilling opportunities implemented.

“When you have relationships across your organization that allow you to gain insights and vision into where it’s going strategically, that helps identify development opportunities that can help communications drive the business forward in those areas,” Summers said.

Utilizing the programs and a better culture

So you’ve advocated for upskilling programs and got them approved. Great work! But it’s also important to ensure that people know about them and use them. Measuring how often your programs are attended, engaged with, and continued will allow you to see what tweaks might need to be made after launch.

In the end, upskilling is meant to make for happier, more fulfilled employees, and that in turn should lead to a more robust work culture.

“Turnover is expensive,” Summers said. “Inefficiency is expensive. But cohesive, useful, and connective communications can get organizations past that and drive everyone toward success. And in the end, isn’t a successful organization better for everyone?”

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.

COMMENT Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from directly in your inbox.