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Employee Development through Conferences, Seminars, and Mentoring

Employee training should be an ongoing process. As new employees get acclimated to your company, they should continue to develop skills and take on new responsibilities. There are many ways to provide continuing development opportunities to your employees.

Professional association conferences and public seminars

Professional association conferences and seminars can provide a wealth of information on a broad array of topics and professional issues. Often, associations rotate the location of such events from one city to another. That can make it more convenient for certain members to attend, depending on the proximity of the conference or seminar.

Associations are well aware of the issues that are most important to their members, and they tailor programs accordingly. Conferences and seminars also offer opportunities to meet other members to exchange insight and viewpoints.

Like other training options, however, the cost of travel and lodging can be a significant issue. Additionally, because some conferences can be quite large, one-on-one interaction with speakers and other people leading the program can be difficult if not impossible. Plus, topics may be more generic and not relevant to your organization or business goals.

To circumvent the travel expense issue, you may be able to identify local professional associations or user groups offering training that could benefit your employees. These may not be as comprehensive as an annual conference, but an after-work lecture or presentation could still be valuable.

You also can encourage employees to attend topic-specific workshops that are organized and run by training companies. These public seminars usually are held at a public site, such as a hotel or conference center. Companies that stage these seminars typically market them through direct mail or advertising.

Recognize, however, that most public seminar offerings are, by necessity, generic. Similar to large industry conferences, the topics covered don’t necessarily have direct relevance to your particular company. Another problem: inconsistent quality from one seminar to the next.

Executive education seminars

Seminars and workshops offered by universities and business schools are targeted, in most cases, to middle- and upper-level managers. Typically they cover a wide range of both theoretical ideas and practical pointers for putting these principles into practice.

Instructors are usually faculty members with a high level of expertise. These kinds of seminars are a good opportunity for attendees to network and share ideas.

However, courses at the more prestigious schools can take the executive away from the office for more days than desired. They’re also expensive, in some cases as much as several thousands of dollars (including room and board) for a course lasting several days.

Choose these courses wisely. Make sure that events cover management concepts and techniques that are relevant or applicable to your firm’s business focus and culture.

Mentor relationships

Some skills, such as interpersonal abilities, aren’t easily taught in the classroom or through online courses. In fact, some skills aren’t taught well in groups at all. Enter employee mentors. Just as appointing a more experienced employee to serve as a mentor for a new employee can help her acclimate to your work environment, well-chosen mentors can assist staff at any stage of their careers with longer-term developmental learning.

In a mentoring role, an employee who excels in a given area — customer service, for example — can help less-experienced employees discover how to smoothly interact with customers and colleagues or develop additional skills that require more long-term and individualized attention than a classroom or online course can offer. Mentoring also helps people build interpersonal, or people, skills.

Mentors also can serve as valuable training facilitators for high-potential employees you may want to groom to eventually take over key roles in your company. As firms brace for significant turnover among their most experienced employees due to the eventual retirement of many Baby Boomers, such arrangements may become increasingly important as a means of passing on valuable expertise to less-experienced workers and preparing them to take on greater responsibilities.

In short, the opportunity to have a close confidant is a valuable — and appealing — form of training.

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