How to Create an Affordable Professional Development Plan

How to Create an Affordable Professional Development Plan

Jan 4, 2018

“I don’t have time for professional development. It’s too time-consuming and expensive. I have too many fires to put out.”

We feel you.  We’ve been there, too.  But without deliberate professional development, employees sacrifice growth potential in their long-term careers and managers sacrifice staff potential and keep their organization stagnant.

Luckily, professional development doesn’t have to mean sending all your staff to a big conference or paying for expensive certifications. Applied learning means that we pick up skills on the job or in our daily lives. Here are some easy, inexpensive applied learning examples that staff and managers can use.

Pay attention to colleagues who have skills you want.  If you want to become more comfortable talking to high-level potential clients, for example, ask to shadow a colleague who does it really well.  Ask for their feedback on what you’re planning to say to your next client.

Look at what you’re already researching.  Sometimes, as you do your daily work, you have to learn something new to get the job done, like learning about digital marketing strategies to promote your organization’s newest product.  This is a great time to join a local professional group, look at interest groups on, or join professional communities on LinkedIn.  Google alerts are easy to set up.  Pick your keywords (“digital marketing strategies” for instance) and every day, Google will send the most recent news articles to your email.

Read what the movers and shakers are doing. What’s happening in the national landscape of your field?  Who are the think tanks, the innovators, the individuals who get quoted in articles you love?  Follow them on social media and subscribe to their newsletters. Knowing what they know will keep you up to date.

Practice through volunteer work. What skills do you want to practice that a community group could benefit from? If you want to learn better facilitation skills, for instance, check out local nonprofits, religious groups, or community groups like volunteer fire departments that might appreciate having a professionally facilitated meeting.

Ask to volunteer at a conference you want to attend.  If money is the issue rather than time, look at local conferences and see what volunteer work they need or if they are offering scholarships.  One of our staff used this approach and learned that she was eligible for a scholarship that paid the registration fee. She had no expenses since the conference was local and on a weekend.

Embrace self-directed learning. Here at Integrated Work, most of our staff are devoted podcast and Ted Talk listeners during the commute or even when cleaning the house.  We also have staff who are voracious consumers of free online courses through Coursera and Lynda.  Highbrow offers bite-sized learning in your email every day.  Duolingo is an easy way to pick up foreign language basics. And did you know that most public libraries offer free courses from Ed2Go?  All you need is a library card.  While these typically aren’t accredited college courses (although they can be on some sites, if you pay a fee), they can get you started on something like photo editing or understanding project management principles.

If you’re a manager, encourage employees to take advantage of low-cost, low-effort professional development. This might mean allowing an occasional afternoon off to attend a professional meeting or paying a small fee so staff can take a class or attend a webinar. It might mean organizing a Lunchtime Learning club for employees, or showcasing a staff member’s pro-bono or volunteer work at a staff meeting. Maybe it means supporting your staff in finding a colleague to shadow or an informal mentor. Send the message that professional development doesn’t have to be extensive or formal, and that you support staff efforts to learn and grow.

What’s been your go-to professional development resource when you don’t have a lot of time or money to spend?