Yesterday I posted on a new reality we need to accept--that we can't leave professional development up to our employers because they aren't providing it. This isn't true for everyone, of course. You need to evaluate your personal situation. So I thought it would be helpful to come up with some key questions to ask.
One word of caution--don't assume that because your organization talks about professional development and the importance of learning that this is actually happening. We can easily get caught up in thinking that we work for a company that values learning because we keep hearing about how much they value it. But then we look at the reality of the organization's actions, we realize that they aren't walking the talk. That's why you need a reality check.
Another thing to pay attention to is the type of training and development taking place. If the only learning you are able to get access to is very company-specific, this should be a red flag. This means that if you only take advantage of organizational learning you will not be preparing yourself for other opportunities outside of your organization. Look for learning that is transferable, that provides you with skills that can be used in other jobs and companies. Also look for learning that is "in demand" in your occupation or industry. What are the particular skills that will make you most marketable?
So here are some professional development reality check questions for you:
1. What training and development opportunities are available through your company?
Let's start with the basics. What formal learning and training is available through your company? Does your organization provide development in transferable skills--skills you could use in other places? Is there a tuition remission/reimbursement program available? If so, what are the requirements? What training can you receive?
If your organization provides a way for you to develop skills that make you more marketable in the larger job market, then take advantage of those opportunities. If they don't, then you need to make those opportunities for yourself.
2. What training or professional development has your company sent you to in the past 12 months?
If the answer is "none," then you need to pay attention. If the training you've received is very company-specific--how to implement company policies and procedures, for example--you also need to pay attention. Neither one of these is going to keep you marketable.
3. What informal learning are you able to access through your organization?
Much of organizational learning is on-the-job training. How does your company support these opportunities? Are you able to access social media at work so that you are able to tap into knowledge networks and skills training from outside of your organization? Can you easily connect with colleagues and other departments to share knowledge and information and develop new skills? If the focus is on "keep your head down and just do your job," then this is a problem.
Reflective practice is about weaving opportunities into the organizational culture to learn from work experiences and projects. Does your company conduct After Action Reviews to learn from its experiences? Are there structures in place that allow you to ask questions like "Why is this happening?" and "What can we learn from this?" Are you encouraged to surface and learn from mistakes? If not, then these are practices you will have to incorporate for yourself.
5. What mentoring is available to you through your organization?
Some companies do have formal mentoring programs, but these are few and far between. If you work in an organization that provides mentoring, then see what you need to do to take advantage of it. If it doesn't, you may need to find a way to create an informal mentoring arrangement for yourself.
It's worth it to ask yourself these questions and to examine the reality of your particular situation. Don't fudge it and try to make it better (or worse) than it is. When you have a clear picture of how your organization supports your professional development, this gives you valuable information for your own planning. Use it to decide how you can develop yourself if your receiving little internal support for what you need.