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What to Do When Your Job Doesn't Offer Professional Development

Lakshmi Hutchinson profile image

Lakshmi Hutchinson

A woman reads a pamphlet by a window.

Jobs with plentiful professional development opportunities are highly sought after. According to a Gallup study, 87% of millennials (and 69% of other respondents) rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as being an important part of a job. After all, most people would love to be offered the chance to learn new skills, network, and explore career advancement.

Larger organizations often have more room in their budgets to offer professional development initiatives. But if you work for a smaller organization, you may find that your options are limited. So what can you do if your job doesn’t offer professional development? With a little legwork, you can take the lead in finding and creating opportunities for yourself.

What is professional development and how can it help me?

Professional development refers to any kind of training or educational program that can develop your skills to help you succeed in your job. It can be stand-alone, like a seminar or conference, or a more continual learning opportunity, like a job-shadowing program. Professional development can be beneficial in many ways. You might use it to:

  • Sharpen your project management and presentation skills.
  • Network with others in the social-impact space.
  • Train for advancement opportunities.
  • Develop as a leader.

Given these benefits, it’s important not to be discouraged if a formal professional development program doesn’t exist at your office. You can still recognize where you need to grow and look for learning opportunities both inside and outside your organization.

Find a mentor

You don’t need to rely on a formal mentoring program to find a mentor who can guide and advise you. It may be someone in the office who is working in a position that you aspire to hold, or it could be someone whose work you admire. It may even be someone outside of the office. Expand your search to your network of friends, colleagues, and alumni. Reach out to a potential mentor to meet and discuss your goals and what you hope to gain from the partnership. Ideally, a good mentor will be able to help motivate you, provide exposure to areas of interest, and help you to work toward your professional goals.

Attend conferences or seminars 

Keep an eye out for conferences and seminars in your field. If you see something that interests you, it's worth going to your supervisor or HR team to see if they will cover the cost of attendance. If you can demonstrate how attending will be beneficial to your work and organization, they're more likely to cover it.

For example, if you are developing coursework for development professionals overseas, a seminar on eLearning could help you create accessible materials. This would be a very wise investment for your organization.

Look into classes and professional associations

Similarly, if you identify classes that are directly related to your work, you can make a case for having the cost reimbursed. Language classes and software trainings are both more likely to be covered than other more tangentially related classes. You might try searching for lower-cost (non-credit) continuing education classes. Some community colleges even offer free classes in business skills and software trainings.

Joining a professional association is a great way to meet like-minded professionals and find networking and professional development opportunities. Many associations offer classes and seminars, some of which are free or at a reduced cost for members. For more information, check out the National Association of Nonprofit Professionals or explore professional associations in your state.

Make the most of what is available, and don’t be afraid to ask for your employer’s assistance in subsidizing any costs.

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Lakshmi Hutchinson profile image

Lakshmi Hutchinson

Lakshmi Hutchinson is a freelance writer with experience in the nonprofit, education, and HR fields. She is particularly interested in issues of educational and workplace equity, and in empowering women to reach their professional goals. She lives in Glendale, California with her husband, twin girls, and tuxedo cat.

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