Whether you’ve worked on the job for decades or just gotten started in your career, you may realize at some point that you need to enhance your knowledge base. The key to advancement is clear: you need to develop new skills, stay-up-to date on trends, or prepare for a leadership role.

That’s when you turn to a professional development program — a short-term continuing education and career training program geared toward professionals already out in the workforce. These programs help professionals stay abreast of industry trends, pivot into an entirely new career, increase earnings potential, or simply improve a skill set they already have. 

Certificate programs, leadership courses, workshops, online courses, and in-person seminars are all possible avenues to career advancement. In this blog, we’ll take a look at these options, evaluating what to look for in a high-quality professional development program as well as how to find a program aligned with your specific professional goals. 

Choosing the best professional development program that fits your needs is an investment in career progress. It can boost your confidence, credibility, productivity, and maybe even your salary! 

How Do You Find a Program Topic That Aligns With Your Professional Goals?

There are all sorts of professional development opportunities out there. They range from attending a conference to participating in a workshop to obtaining a certificate or a particular credential. Some programs focus on specific technical skills, others on behavioral psychology and social skills. 

What program you choose will depend, first and foremost, on your professional goals. Those might include:

  • Developing a new skill set
  • Improving your “people” skills
  • Moving into a leadership role
  • Expanding your professional network
  • Gaining new credentials 

Are you interested in rising into the C-suite? Are you already an executive looking to enhance your business strategy? Do you want to deliver better presentations? Become more persuasive? Improve your negotiation skills? Network with others? Any of those goals can be tackled by attending a specialized course dedicated to these topics. 

Some courses may be targeted to entry level employees just getting comfortable in their careers while other courses are specifically designed for senior-level managers who want to upgrade their skills or who are working toward the next level on the career ladder.

Determining at the outset your unique needs will help to narrow down the options. 

In addition, you should also consider the amount of time you have to dedicate to training, whether your employer is willing to sponsor your training, and whether a course is near-enough to attend in person, or whether your schedule works best with an online course. 

Some fields require professionals to participate in ongoing learning throughout their careers as a prerequisite for maintaining a license, designation, or certification. In these cases, industry regulators will provide continuing professional education (CPE) requirements which must be completed through an approved continuing education provider.

If you’re not in one of these fields, try searching for professional development opportunities by checking with your employer, a professional association within your industry, networking with your peers, or checking with your local school district or university.

When you find a course that interests you, be sure to read the course description carefully to make sure it actually addresses the skills you want to upgrade. 

What are the Characteristics of a High-Quality Professional Development Training Course? 

Not all professional development courses are created equal

In evaluating whether a professional development program is of the highest caliber, you might consider the following criteria:

Who is Teaching the Course? 

Instructors should be experienced and hopefully recognized within their industry. If possible, talk to former students to find out whether they found the instructor to be clear, communicative, and effective.

What Does the Curriculum Consist Of?

Here’s where an attentive reading of the course description can help.  Is the course described as theoretical and academic, or hands-on and practical? How long will the course last? What general topic areas are discussed? If you can’t get a good picture from the course description, contact the program team for clarification. Ask for a syllabus. Skim a few coursebooks beforehand to better determine what the course will cover.

Will There be an Opportunity to Network With Peers?

Check the course schedule and online reviews to see what you can expect.  for opportunities 

When delving into what distinguishes a quality professional development program from others, a report focused on professional development for school teachers identified a few criteria that set the best programs apart. According to research, the four common features of high-quality professional development programs either in-person, online, or hybrid were:

  • A focus on content
  • Support for collaboration
  • Provision of feedback and reflection
  • Personalized coaching and support

These findings suggest that, when possible, you should enroll in a well-structured program that invites plenty of opportunities to collaborate and consult with both the instructor and peers. If your instructor can offer more personalized coaching, it can be a huge benefit.

What Factors Should You Consider When Choosing a Professional Development Program?

Look for a program that will expose you to new ideas, help you build a new skill set, increase your earning potential, allow you to grow your professional network, help you to embrace new practices and learn new technology, and help open new doors within your industry.

That may sound like a tall order, but professional courses can do all these things, offering a clear benefit not only to individual employees, but to employers who often enjoy productivity increases as a result. Even if your employer won’t sponsor your enrollment, investing in a course on your own can still position you for promotions and leadership roles, just because your skills will improve.

As you weigh your choices, there are other practical aspects to consider. They include the cost of a program, whether your employer is willing to pay for training, how long it will take, what certificate or credit you earn upon completion, and whether you have enough bandwidth in your days to attend a course.

Courses can range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, and rates generally depend on what’s included. Some programs cover not only the cost of the instructor and materials, but also extras like meals, coffee breaks, and networking receptions. Some programs offer discounts to organizations sending multiple employees.

How Should You Weigh the Benefits of a Live Online, Self-Paced Online, or In-Person Program?

As you assess your options, you’ll see in-person opportunities, but also online learning either scheduled and attended live or material you can complete at your own pace. Each offers distinct advantages and disadvantages. Which way you go will depend on your own personal situation, your area of interest, how you learn best and what you hope to get out of the course.

Live online courses in which teachers instruct students in real time allow for more personal interaction with both instructors and other students. Such online classes meet at a regularly scheduled time as you work together with your instructor and classmates. These courses often offer breakout rooms of smaller groups that can allow you to meet others, work on group projects, practice, and discuss the material. 

On the other hand, self-paced online courses have the advantage that you can complete training at your own pace, with or without an instructor. You may save some time by dispensing with a commute and it may be easier to squeeze class time in between the other demands of your day since you choose when to attend.  The disadvantage, of course, is that it may make it harder to network, which could be a disappointment to anyone having that specific goal. 

Finally, in-person courses allow for the most interaction with both teacher and students, providing plenty of opportunities for spontaneous networking. You may also find that you are better able to fully engage in an in-person program. It can be challenging to focus on the curriculum if you are distracted by staying in touch with your day-to-day responsibilities. 

Alternatively, in-person programs can be more expensive and are sometimes harder to fit into a busy schedule.

No matter what option you choose, deciding to enhance your skill set by enrolling in a professional development program can be a momentous step. 

By doing your homework before you enroll, you’ll get the best out of an experience that could be pivotal in your career.