Professional Development for Creatives: 3 Ways to Grow Your Team's Skills

Creative teams of the future never stop learning. Here's how to help your team keep pace and boost retention.

What's one of the biggest career concerns in-house creatives have today? Keeping their skills up to date. As part of this year's Creative Team of the Future project, we surveyed more than 750 in-house design professionals and an overwhelming majority (94 percent) told us they're worried about staying current.

With constant changes in software and technology, it's natural to want to keep up, but that doesn't mean it’s easy: More than half of in-house designers rated their company's training resources as fair or poor. This makes many designers feel like they're on their own to learn critical new skills.

But this reality also represents a big opportunity for creative team managers. Investing in professional development opportunities for employees helps you attract and retain top talent. It also equips your team with the knowledge to push your organization's marketing and branding efforts forward.

Here are three ways to start creating a winning training program:

1. Identify Your Team's Skill Gaps

Survey respondents told us they crave training in a range of areas, from HTML and JavaScript to project management and business acumen. As one designer said, "I can't narrow it down to one skill. In-house creatives need the full package in order to succeed and have options." Another respondent zeroed in on soft skills: "When working in-house, you have to deal with a lot of other people, and you need to know how to interact and communicate with them."

Try conducting a quick informal survey of your team – either in staff meetings or through an email survey.  Also, make notes on areas where you either see your team struggling or want them to grow. Don't have enough creatives skilled at talking with C-Suite executives? Is your team getting requests to design or build things – say native apps – you don't have the skill set to handle? Use those insights to guide where you spend professional development dollars.

2. Invest in Online Training Memberships

If you have a tight budget, investing in a group membership to an online training site can be one of your best choices. There are typically hundreds – sometimes thousands – of courses on a wide range of subjects. It's a good way to meet the varied needs of your team and let them learn at their own pace and on their own schedules.

You'll also help your team feel valued and empower them to grow. "Something that we are very privileged to have is a subscription," says Katherine Mutz, graphic designer at Colgate University. "It's an amazing opportunity to find tutorials." Other excellent options: Skillshare, Treehouse or even the free classes on Coursera.

3. Give Your Team the Power to Choose

At Colgate, Mutz and her peers are each given the freedom to attend at least one professional conference each year. Mutz attended the national AIGA conference, higher education conferences and a three-day intensive conference on Digital Publishing Suite. Try setting aside the funds to send team members to one class or conference of their choosing annually or every other year.

This approach allows individuals to identify their own skill gaps and grow your company's creative capabilities. "Right now I'm taking a CSS3 and an HTML5 class," says Barbara Moser, graphic designer at Tampa General Hospital. "There's no reason for any designer not to know code anymore. You have to know code to implement your own ideas. You can't just give it to the coders because they have their own initiatives."

To learn more about the Creative Team of the Future, download The Creative Group's new report, Innovation in the House: Creativity Lessons From Five Top In-House Creative Teams.