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Professional development: Future careers depend on it

Feb 22, 2022

In the past, professional development at most financial institutions was paid for based on perceived necessity. If it was compliance-driven, it was offered. Training needed to be tactical, hard-skills training. No one wanted to pay good money for that “soft-skill, touchy-feely stuff.”

In today’s financial services environment, those soft skills seem to be the hardest to learn and the most needed at all levels in a career.

The top questions applicants are asking employers in interviews these days are, “What do you do around diversity, equity, inclusion and acceptance?” and “What do you offer around professional development?”

In this competitive hiring environment, you can’t afford to be without a well-tailored strategy.

Since professional development is layered, your professional development plan needs to be layered too. If you have a well-planned professional development strategy, you will stand out as an employer of choice.

Well-planned strategies layer in job-level-specific training options, varied methods of training, availability of training and sessions about personal interests too. When thinking about professional development, at every step in a financial services career, people need to learn new skills, or improve tried and true ones for their professional and personal growth.

Multi-level, multi-layered

Think about tellers. They are the brand ambassadors. Often, whether in person, in online chats or over the phone, tellers are the first connection to customers. In addition to learning the requirements of cash handling, location safety protocols and proper transaction documentation, they need people skills.

Offering sessions on effective communication strategies, how to handle workplace conflicts, learning the basics of business development and problem-solving skills are imperative. They can use these to progress their careers, build solid relationships with customers and help increase the bottom line.

For loan officers, they need skills to help them succeed externally and internally. Externally, they need to deliver what the customer needs. Internally, they need to work with teams around lending processes and procedures. When I was a commercial business banker, I used to tease colleagues that sometimes getting the internal loan processed was harder than getting a new customer to take my call. I was only kidding … a little.

In addition to learning loan processing protocols, understanding unbiased lending regulations and again being proficient in the layers of paperwork documentation, lenders need other professional development. They may need bias training to self-reflect on actions they are (or are not) taking in their day-to-day processes.

Their job is often to hurry up and wait, so time management and project management can be great tools of the trade. Professional development comes into play when preparing to have hard conversations — for example, when someone averse to giving bad news needs to share that a loan was not approved.

I was that someone. I had a business owner cry when his loan was declined for his third-generation family business. After that day, when I left feeling inept at handling that situation, I looked for professional development around having hard conversations. It was not offered internally. Thankfully, I found it externally.

Branch managers and even the president or CEO need to keep their skills fine-tuned to today’s environment. Yes, leaders need to receive harassment training, understand the human resources protocol in hiring and termination and delve into reading financials. They also need to learn how to hire and coach the next generations of leaders.

They also need to know how to best manage based on the situation, and what motivates that individual. They need to reflect on how their attitude and actions impact others. They need change management and change communications skills. And so much more.

The value-add of professional development

In past careers, we had a lifetime to learn these skills. With the rate of turnover now, we may only have weeks to learn and implement.

Learning styles today vary. A good professional development plan has sessions that are short and sweet with one actionable takeaway. And they offer deep dives into courses, too.

They deliver professional development through numerous modalities. On-demand training so people can learn as they have the time. In person options for those who benefit from a connection to others to learn. Online in real time when quick access and safety are paramount.

Consider also how videos, town halls, panel discussions and other engaging formats can enrich your offerings. PowerPoint presentations and lecturing people likely won’t make for memorable learning.

In addition to helping people develop hard and soft professional skills, think about ways to improve well-being. Cooking classes, eating healthy, desk yoga and relaxation techniques are in-demand professional development topics — even if they do not directly relate to a job.

Update your process, modalities and methods annually. Not every 5-10 years. You need to keep it fresh to continue meeting the needs of your teams.

Some employers can build training offers internally. If your size limits your options, work with external resources to fill in the gaps.

How Wipfli can help

Building a successful professional development strategy is important at every level of your organization. It helps your employees and helps you to stand out as an employer. If you need help thinking through your professional development needs, please contact us; we are happy to help build a plan with you.

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Author(s)

Tammy T. Jelinek, MBA
Principal
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