Professional development is honestly a requirement if you’re going to work in technology. The landscape changes constantly – sometimes it changes quickly, other times gradually, but it does change and we have to keep up.
Today’s hot technology that will net you a 50% increase in salary may be considered legacy tech in just a few years.
Companies and professionals use a number of ways to keep up – everything from going to conferences to reading, watching videos, and hacking on personal/side projects.
Companies, I am going to give you a bit of gentle guidance – if you expect your employees to keep up with trends in technology as a part of their job, then make it a part of their job. Set aside time during their working hours for them to do professional development.
Even if it’s only a couple of hours a week, if you’re expecting them to learn as part of their job, you need to make it part of their every day routine.
If you want to go all out and send your people to conferences and trainings on a regular basis, by all means, please do so. That is fantastic and I applaud you.
However, if you hear me saying this and your reaction is “We’ll do a lunch and learn because then our people will learn and it won’t impact the work we expect them to do,” I need you to stop right now.
Seriously. Don’t do it.
You get your people for roughly 8 hours a day. You don’t need them for a 9th hour. If they take a lunch, that time is for them not for you.
You don’t own the people who work for you. This is something you will hear me say often (both online and in person), but I repeat myself so often because it needs to be said far too frequently.
Time that your employees aren’t working for you is their time – this includes their lunch. You don’t get to dictate what people do on time that they aren’t working for you.
This is especially true in the current market (though you shouldn’t try to monopolize your peoples’ time even when the market is in your advantage. We have long memories and we all talk to each other).
Companies and managers out there will respond to this by saying things like “lunch and learns are a perk” (extra work is not a perk), “technical people like this sort of thing” (some do, but again, lunch is their time, not yours), or “We can’t sacrifice billable hours for this” (If you can’t allow an hour or two of non-billable time for your employee every week, you’ve got bigger problems), or “Doing this allows employees to show how dedicated they are to us and to their craft” (I’m not going to sugar coat this one – You’re scum and don’t deserve your employees. Yes, I’ve actually heard this argument in the past).
This is where I admit that I used to be a proponent of lunch and learns. I’ve even given a number of them. That was in a time and situation where it was better than the alternative.
We’re growing as an industry and we should grow as an industry. That means realizing that, if you expect your people to train, you need to facilitate them doing that – with time and resources dedicated to it.
Now, that’s not to say that nobody should ever learn new things on their own time (personally I commit at least a couple of hours a week to reading or working on something that interests me). However, expect any learning that they do on their own time to be things that they want to learn instead of things you want them to learn.
Treating your people like people instead of property is a low bar, but it’s one that a lot of companies don’t clear. Part of the way that you can stand out in the crowd as an employer is to make sure that your people are paid for the training you require them to take.