An Overlooked Workforce: How to Develop Employees Who Are Too Often Underserved

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When it comes to employee professional development programs, most companies seem to have it all figured out - on the surface, at least. Maybe they offer leadership development training to young professionals or perhaps they allow individuals to participate in growth-focused special projects. In turn, the employees participating in these types of programs are often the ones selected for internal promotions and advancement opportunities. It seems like a win-win for everyone.

However, what most programs are missing is a development component that focuses on entry-level, non professional employees, like warehouse workers, customer service representatives, and delivery drivers. If your company doesn’t have roles like these, think of other positions that might be neglected by development opportunities, such as assistants or office managers. The point is, regardless of industry or size, it’s likely your company has employees who fall within this category. They may have a college degree, or they may not. They may want to advance their career and transition into a different role, or they may not. Ultimately, the problem is employers aren’t offering these workers a fair chance to grow, learn, and succeed professionally.

These individuals are likely too afraid to speak up and advocate for their own growth, making it that much more difficult for these workers to advance in their companies.

In order to cultivate a culture where employees of all levels and skill sets are afforded development and advancement opportunities, companies should consider individual professional development programs. When done correctly, these programs aren't required of all employees, and operated on a voluntary opt-in system. Naturally, there will always be people who aren't interested.

However, these programs should be offered to all employees within a company, and should leave plenty of room for personalization and independent decision making. For example, don’t make all employees participating in a development program attend the same seminar or go through the same online training. Instead, allow individuals to guide their own careers through self-selected programming. Companies can still offer framework for development so their employees have some guidance, but ultimately employers should allow their employees to drive the bus, so to speak.

Furthermore, if companies are looking for star employees or top achievers, they should look beyond those who are far too often sequestered to higher levels over their untapped counterparts, as some of the best workers may not currently work in a position that allows them to reach their full potential. When you give underserved individuals the resources to grow, there’s no telling how they might transform or what value they’ll bring to their team. Invest in employees of all levels and you’ll likely reap great rewards.

In the end, it won’t just be employees who benefit from professional development programs. You’ll soon be recognized as an employer who puts time, efforts, and resources into their people - an invaluable assumption for the public to have about a company.

Employees who hold entry-level, non professional jobs are traditionally overlooked by their superiors when it comes to advancement and development opportunities, as leaders are often quick to assume they won’t be interested or have nothing else to bring to their table. However, this unfair assumption may be holding back countless individuals who could bring great value to their companies and communities. By providing them development opportunities, employers will find that their workforce is strengthened, reputation enhanced, and turnover low.

Meghann Arnold is director of team success at Readers.com.

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