Beginning Your Own Professional Development Plan

professional development

Rarely a day goes by without receiving an email, flyer or mailer inviting me to a conference, seminar or professional development opportunity. I dream of winning the lottery and attending all of the ones I desire to go to with money as no object. I’m a self-proclaimed life-long learner who yearns to learn new things and put them into operation.

Some employees consider it the job of their employer to develop them and encourage them to learn. They want the company to pay the costs associated with their attendance at professional development opportunities. This can be very cost-prohibitive, and frankly, some companies, universities or small businesses simply cannot afford to do so. As an employee, you should start your own professional development fund. Take a portion of each paycheck and set it aside in a fund to take advantage of a conference, seminar or learning experience you are interested in. Think of it this way: An employer is more likely to match you on the cost of your professional development than to pay the total cost for you. The employer can set the precedence of only matching costs for employees, their professional development fund will go farther and your director is more likely to approve your attendance at a conference if they know you are paying half the bill. If your own professional development is not important enough for you to invest in, why should your employer?

There are other alternatives to paying for travel and registration at conferences in order to add to your professional development. One of the unique perks of working in higher education is some schools offer free enrollment in classes. Take advantage of this. Remember, professional development may include classes outside of your usual area of study. If you want to better understand department budgets, why not take an accounting or higher education finance class? If you need to find ways to encourage leadership in your student employees, why not take a class in leadership or management? You could complete an advanced degree tuition-free while working or you could simply add to your knowledge base with classes in subjects you haven’t had before.

A one-day seminar is also a wonderful professional development opportunity. Universities offer one-day workshops on a myriad of subjects. Maybe you want to learn how to podcast. Find an expert in the area and attend their one-day workshop to learn. Attending workshops and seminars on campus identify you as an employee trying to improve themselves.

Some professional organizations offer all-day seminars you have to pay to participate in. The information and presentation is outstanding, but if you don’t have the money in your fund at the time, keep your eyes peeled for the one-hour version. Speakers may offer a one-hour online free seminar where they will plug the upcoming full seminar while sharing a small portion of information they’ll be presenting.

It’s very important you begin your own professional development fund today. Put a jar on your desk to remind you of the goal. Take the cost out of the equation so your supervisor can easily approve your attendance at these events. If nothing else, you may have saved up funds for a wonderful vacation if you’re lucky enough to have your professional development completely reimbursed.

Julie Terstriep
Julie Terstriep, M.S 2013, is a business manager at Campus Recreation, Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois. She is also a certified Illinois High School Association volleyball referee and was named the 2015 IHSA girls’ volleyball Official of the Year. Her family is the seventh generation to farm in western Illinois.

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