Paying for professional development can feel like pumping money into a black hole. The resulting benefits to a business, however, can be huge.

Angela Atkins, Auckland branch president for the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand (HRINZ) says that thanks to the global financial crisis many businesses have downsized and changed their structures. As a result both managers and staff are taking on more responsibilities and are expected to be all-rounders.

"There will always be specialist engineering, scientific and IT roles that are more defined," she says. "It is the admin and operations (fields) where the roles have a broader scope. They are doing more with less."

Atkins who runs Elephant HR & Training , says she does not think that the bulk of employees are always given the level of training they need for the increased scope of their roles.

The flipside of this is that upskilling staff members increases productivity and engagement. The latter is particularly the case with Gen Y workers who have had drummed into them the need to up skill.


More and more organisations are using online learning to train staff members by providing access to online or intranet-based short courses. Larger organisations design their own learning modules. And recognised educational organisations such as Stanford University are providing online short courses. For example, it's possible to complete Stanford's Advance Project Management Certificate online.

The trend to short courses is largely due to people having busier work lives and the cut in training budgets, says Atkins. She sees fewer big facilitated programmes. "Employees are expected to do more (so) they don't have the time to do the training. It has to fit in around their job."

One area where businesses need to be up skilling staff constantly is in technology, says Atkins. For example more and more businesses are using cloud-based applications and need staff to up skill to use these platforms. No longer are specialists being employed to use proprietary or server-based applications.

"I know one big company which is moving its model (to the cloud). The managers now have to use the online recruitment system (where) HR used to do that in the past. The HR department has been downsized."

Many professional bodies provide or encourage up skilling. For example, the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) has a professional development partner programme to boost up skilling. The programme inspires the member organisations to:

* encourage their staff to become registered

* become an employer of choice for graduates

* promote the capability of staff members to clients

* improve productivity and workplace health and safety.

Employees at all levels need professional development, says Equal Employment Opportunities Trust (EEO) general manager Beverly Cassidy-Mackenzie.

Cassidy-Mackenzie says providing training improves company morale, reduces absenteeism, slows down staff turnover, and increases productivity. She cites the example of Thames Timber which entered this year's ANZ New Zealand and EEO Trust Work and Life awards.

"Their entry was about training men and women who process timber, in literacy and numeracy skills," says Cassidy-Mackenzie. "The outcome was impressive and the bottom line even more so."

Some of the staff members struggled to read and write or didn't have the mathematics skills to do basic tasks at work such as filling in timesheets.

"All that changed when literacy trainers were brought in to up-skill employees. It takes a bit of time out of their work hours but in the long run it's worth it as everyone is working more efficiently, communicating better and understanding the importance of increasing output," says Cassidy-Mackenzie.

There are many ways to crack the professional development nut. Delivery can involve provision of mentors, the opportunity to study at a post graduate level, channelling an employee through a career pipeline and encouraging them to continue to succeed and develop their career within the company, says Cassidy-Mackenzie.