Get the Most Out of Professional Development: 6 Top Training Methods


Most managers recognize the importance of professional development. But not everyone knows the best training methods for inspiring employees to learn.

Here are six ways professionals say they prefer to learn. These findings all come from The People Puzzle: Building and Retaining a Talented Accounting and Finance Team, a joint report by Robert Half and the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA).

1. On-site workshops

Holding workshops in the office is the most popular training option for employees aged 18 to 34. Thirty-three percent of workers in that bracket prefer it to other training methods. And, 37 percent of employees at very large companies also favor these workshops.

This professional development option is often the most affordable, as well, because you can simply bring in an expert and hold a brown-bag session. In addition, it ensures that your entire staff receives the same information and training. But to inspire learning, you need to find a presenter who leads an interactive, engaging session, rather than simply lecturing at your staff.

2. Off-site conferences

Interest in traveling for professional development opportunities apparently increases with age, with 29 percent of employees aged 55 to 64 preferring this method above all others. Off-site conferences are also particularly popular with workers at small companies looking to get out and expand their networks, with 29 percent preferring this to other training methods.

Of course, your budget dictates how many employees you can send off-site — and how frequently. So one way to maximize conference benefits is to have attendees train other employees on what they learned. This helps educate the entire group, while giving the new trainers an opportunity to expand their presentation and leadership skills.

3. Webinars and virtual conferences

Virtual professional development methods, including “Skyping in,” are most popular with employees aged 35 to 44. This is a great option for reducing travel expenses and providing training in any location. However, the required technology may intimidate some employees. And some companies’ servers don’t have enough bandwidth to use this training most effectively. 

4. Online courses 

These courses are most popular with employees at larger organizations. Their biggest benefit is flexibility, because they usually allow employees to learn on their own schedule. And they’re useful for developing hard skills, such as learning a new analytics program. However, online courses aren’t ideal for improving soft skills, such as the skills needed for improved customer service.

5. Mentoring

The popularity of mentoring programs is greatest at smaller companies. They offer a particularly effective way of training new employees, while simultaneously giving more experienced employees a chance to take on a leadership role.

6. Industry publications

Reading industry publications offers an excellent way for finance and accounting employees to keep a finger on their industry’s pulse. But it’s a self-motivated, independent form of learning. So your staff will be in charge of what they ultimately learn — and should be encouraged to find out which publications are most relevant to their work and their goals.

Of course, you’ll want to weigh these options with your own company and employees in mind. If you choose to survey your staff for their preferences, be sure to include an open-ended question calling for their own ideas. You never know what might come up. 

What professional development options have you found to be most effective? Share your thoughts in the comments below.