Five Ideas to Encourage Employee Development (and how it can pay off for your small business)

It’s not uncommon for a small business to attract ambitious young talent. It might be that they identify with the entrepreneurial spirit or that small business often fuels job opportunities in the market. But once on board, you want to keep them around. One way to do that is to create a culture that values professional development. As they grow, so does your business. Here are five ideas to encourage employees to expand their skills through professional development.

While you may not be able to offer the tuition reimbursement programs offered by big businesses, there are ways you can let employees know you support their development efforts. And that can translate into a greater sense of loyalty to your business.

Consider these ideas to encourage professional development in your small business:

  • Offer Flexible Schedules – Balancing work and class schedules is challenging. Students don’t always have a choice of when a class is offered. So offering to adjust work schedules can make a big difference. Perhaps an employee can come in earlier to make up the time or work later on a day when they are not in class. Even one-time adjustments to study for an exam or complete a project can be very beneficial (and appreciated).
  • Book Buy Back – The College Board reports that the average annual cost for textbooks is $1,200. Offering to reimburse a portion of those costs could be highly prized byemployees. Consider varying the amount of reimbursement based on their tenure with the business. And pay the benefit upon successful completion of the course (perhaps with a grade of “C” or higher).
  • Offer Classes On-site – Many community colleges offer training workshops that can be delivered on-site at a business. For example, “How to Deal with Difficult Customers.” Some will even customize the course to your business if there are enough students enrolled. The convenience of taking classes at your business means you’ll likely get more employees to participate.
  • Tax-Advantaged Tuition – There are tax breaks that may make tuition reimbursement programs more affordable for small businesses. You must meet IRS guidelines for fringe benefits. It can include payments for tuition, fees and similar expenses, books, supplies and equipment. Consult your tax advisor to determine whether this might be an option for your business.
  • Initiate Interest with Interns – Consider offering an internship with the cooperation of your local community college. Typically this is a short-term, temporary assignment at your business for a specific job task. It can be paid or non-paid and the student usually earns college credit. It gives you the ability to try out a prospective employee prior to hiring and it sends a message that you value professional development.

There can be a big payoff for small businesses that create a culture that values development. Increases in skill levels can translate into greater productivity and a better customer experience. It also promotes a greater sense of loyalty among employees who recognize that their employer is willing to invest in their future.

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