In a challenging economy, employers are invariably looking for ways to cut costs. But it is extraordinarily important that no one neglects the importance of higher education and professional development for its employees. Providing opportunities for enhanced job skills is an arena that should be maintained, if not increased, if one is to remain competitive.
And savvy employers know this. Keeping employees up to date on skills in a rapidly changing workplace not only increases a company’s competitive edge, but also is a key element of ensuring employees’ loyalty to their employers and reducing staff turnover, details that contribute heartily to a positive bottom line.
Here I95 BUSINESS explores with three businesses on why they believe in the importance of continuing professional advancement for their employees and what they offer to remain at the top of their game.
Brian Wessel, Communications Manager Chesapeake Testing
Chesapeake Testing provides ballistic experimentation and non-destructive testing services in support of munitions and protection systems. Wessel has more than 18 years of experience in marketing and communications, and he serves as the company leader for all Internet, social media, print-media and internal communications. He works closely with all departments at Chesapeake Testing to communicate employee initiatives and support services.
Jeff Foulk, CEO SURVICE Engineering Company
Foulk joined the family business in 1983 and helped grow the company from its origins with just a handful of employees in his parents’ basement to 10 locations around the country. SURVICE, a defense contractor, today has more than 350 employees and is nationally recognized as a single-source provider for government and industry organizations involved in all phases of the systems engineering process. Over the past 31 years, he has held many technical and managerial positions within the company. As CEO, Foulk is responsible for the vision, management and strategic development for the overall company.
Anna-Maria Palmer, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Compass Pointe Healthcare System
Compass Pointe offers a full continuum of services – from help with activities ofdaily living, through acute care and rehabilitation. It has 46 skilled nursing communities, 24 independent assisted living and memory care communities, and four long-term acute care hospitals in 17 states throughout the country. Palmer has worked in HR leadership in the Baltimore community for 29 years for large companies, such as Textron Corporation and McCormick & Company. She holds a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in human resources development and is a certified senior professional in human resources (SPHR).
Chesapeake Testing has an internal professional development program that encourages employee growth, says Wessel. The program focuses on employees’ career goals within the company and areas outside of the company. “We offer tuition reimbursement for careers that directly benefit the company, as well as paid training, on-the-job training and leadership training,” he says, noting that training may be at a conference or seminar, webinar or professional membership subscriptions. “Our business has benefited by the cultivation of highly-technical employees who offer top-of-the-line service.”
“We encourage on-the-job growth and education by learning from others through mentoring, in-house training and lunchtime ‘brown bags’ that allow employees to share technical project specifics with other employees,” says SURVICE Engineering’s Foulk, who adds that online courses can be very cost effective in terms of time and material presented. “For skills development needed by multiple employees, we may develop, coordinate and fund paid training opportunities. We have also used Harford Community College to train our employees in advanced Excel functions, for instance.”
At Compass Pointe Healthcare Systems, Palmer encourages employees to volunteer on non-profit boards. Doing so, she says, enables professionals to observe and understand a variety of business models. “This enables employees to develop a coaching network and a sounding board without having to compromise competitive intelligence of their respective businesses,” she says. “However, it is equally important to stay active in your industry’s professional association and to keep current in your field.”
Of course, it may be hard, albeit not impossible, to estimate an employer’s return on investment. “This is one of those difficult-to-measure intangible investments,” says Foulk. “At the very least, we have confidence that we are making the best investment that we can in our employees and conversely, our employees recognize and appreciate that investment … at the end of the day, hopefully what we have is a well-educated, marketable workforce that feels appreciated by its employer.”
Similarly, says Palmer, “the well-connected and astute professional is able to problem solve more quickly and is less flustered and more in control when there is a crisis business situation. The professional maturity gained outside of the workforce pays fast dividends.”
On a like note, Wessel observes that Chesapeake Testing’s return is reflected in its employees who have a vested interest in the growth and success of the company. “The value of these employees is evident in the award of several government contracts that understand the benefit of utilizing time-tested professionals,” he says.
And, for many industries, employers are well aware that those who award them contracts or who are their customers are paying attention to what an organization does for its employees professional development. “In some cases the government requires that our employees have advanced degrees,” says Foulk. “Doing so helps our employees have additional skills and knowledge to support our customers. It also helps us in retaining our employees.”
Furthermore, he adds, increased skills and education often translate into increased marketability, which allows Chesapeake Testing to communicate its employees’ capabilities to new customers and to develop stronger proposals for continuing existing work.
Continuing education additionally enables a business to distinguish itself from the competition regardless of the industry. “We all want to be on a winning team,” says Palmer. “To do this, employees must, likewise, constantly differentiate themselves from the competition’s staff.”
And in a world of increased globalization, keeping up with the fast pace of changing technology is critical for success.
For the most part, employers see their workers pursuing continuing education in the evenings. Yet, says Wessel, “We work with employees to develop a schedule that best suits their educational needs and that also fits with the internal needs of the company.”
When it matters of compensation, “We provide employees the financial resources to further their formal studies,” says Compass Pointe’s Palmer. “We also encourage them to network with others through professionals associations and civic organizations.”
In the end, no one questions the value of continuing education in the workplace. “Success today is measured by the breadth of experience and the optimization of knowledge resources,” says Palmer. “If you enable your employees to have increasingly more responsible or broader experiences, your business will be the winner in the end as you will distinguish yourself from your competitors.”
Her point of view is echoed by Wessel. “Creating an effective internal plan for employees’ professional growth and having a strategic follow-through is crucial to developing a skilled work force, which in turn increases one’s value to your customers,” he says. I95