If you want to progress in your career, regularly seeking opportunities for training and development is a must. Whether formal or informal, training and professional development help you to grow your skills, perform your current job better, and make the case for promotion when the time comes.
The best companies understand this, offering opportunities for their staff to learn and develop as often as they can. However, tight budgets and even tighter schedules can mean that finding the money and time for these training opportunities is a challenge.
As a result, many employees say they don’t have access to the development opportunities they need to succeed. According to a 2022 survey by e-learning platform, Kallidus, 33% aren’t getting the training they need to progress in their careers and a whopping 27% had no access to learning at all in 2021.
Asking for development opportunities may be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean you should shy away from it. If your company isn’t already offering chances for you to learn, you’ll need to be proactive about seeking training and professional development yourself.
In this blog post, we’ll explore how to make the case for development at work, give you some ideas on how to approach your manager, and suggest some tactics you can use to overcome common objections.
Although we’re focusing mainly on training here, these tips should also help if you want to request a new tool or resource to support your work.
1. Making the Case for Development
If your organization has a culture of learning, you may need to do less of the heavy lifting to get your manager to agree to development opportunities. But even in companies where training and development are priorities, you should still be prepared to make the case.
After all, you are asking the company to invest in you – whether financially, or in the loss of some of your work hours, or both. Your manager will need to know that the investment is worthwhile, and that you won’t simply use it to get a new job.
Here are some of the steps to take when putting together a case for development.
Explore Internal Policies
We are working on the assumption that you have already identified a particular area that you would like to improve on. Before you go too far into researching training options to meet that need, take a look at the internal policies your company has around training and development.
Most organizations will have a written policy laying out what employees can request. It may even be part of your job description or contract.
The level of detail found in these documents will vary from company to company. Some may include plenty of detail, including budgets and information on how to make an approach.
There may also be rules around what training can be requested at certain job levels or after a certain amount of time served.
Other organizations may simply have broad guidelines, especially if they are smaller or have less of a learning culture.
Either way, knowing what is and isn’t likely to be approved will help you narrow down your request so that you can look for opportunities that fit your company’s guidelines, as well as your own needs.
As part of this exploration, you can also talk to colleagues at a similar level to find out what training they’ve had access to in recent years and how they went about making the request.
Finally, be sure to find out whose budget you’ll need to draw on to cover the training or new resources. Depending on how your company is set up, this may all need to be funded from your own team’s budget, or from a central HR or IT budget.
Knowing where the funding will come from means you’ll know who you need to convince.
Do Your Research
Once you’ve understood what your internal policies are and what you are entitled to, you have a framework to start to research training and development options that meet your needs.
When it comes to professional development, we often focus on courses, coaching, and qualifications. All of these can be fantastic options to increase your knowledge and skills.
However, formal training opportunities like these aren’t the only options for learning, and it is important not to overlook the other forms of training and development that are out there.
For example, self-led learning is increasingly popular. This could look like reading articles, blog posts, or books, listening to podcasts, or watching webinars. These resources are often available for free or for little cost, although you’ll still need to account for the time away from your usual tasks.
Don’t overlook the internal resources you have available to you either. Often, we can learn a lot from watching others work and there are bound to be talented, experienced people within your company who can help you develop.
Perhaps you could do some work-shadowing, ask for some mentoring from a colleague, or request internal training from experienced team members.
Depending on the skills you want to develop, you may want to combine a few different options to give you the best chance of expanding your learning.
As you research the different options, make a note of the cost, the time required, and the anticipated learning outcomes. This will prepare you well for making the case to your manager (and HR).
If you’ve done your research properly, this stage should be a walk in the park. You’ll already have a good understanding of the different learning avenues available to you, as well as their relative costs and benefits.
You don’t need to give your manager every single detail when you approach them for their approval, but it is a good idea to have at least two options for them to consider. One should be your ideal scenario – the option that brings you closest to your development goals.
The other should be a back-up plan that you believe may be more acceptable to your organization, especially if your first option requires significant investment or time commitment (or both).
We’ll explore how to actually approach your manager further in section 2, but it is worth saying here that we don’t recommend going straight to presenting them with a training plan. It is usually best to start a conversation about the general principle before going into this level of detail.
Focus on Benefit
Learning something new should be inspiring. We often feel fired up and energized by the opportunity to explore new knowledge and gain new skills. Regularly growing our skills and experience can help us to feel engaged and motivated at work, increasing productivity and keeping us at the same company for longer.
Passion and curiosity are great reasons to request training and the best managers will recognize the role that development opportunities play in staff retention and motivation. However, they still need to make a business decision on the investment, so you’ll need to consider this too when building your case.
Make sure you can articulate how developing your skills and knowledge will benefit your company. Like any other business decision, this will often come down to an analysis of cost versus benefit.
This becomes increasingly important as cost and time commitment rise. If you want to attend a half-day training for a few hundred dollars, you’ll need to put less effort into making the business case than if you want a day off every week for two years to pursue an academic qualification.
While you can touch on how the development will benefit you personally, the focus of your argument should be on the benefits to the company. What are your anticipated learning outcomes, and what issues is the organization currently experiencing that these will help you solve?
The same goes for if you are requesting new resources, such as software or equipment. How will the cost of the new tolls be offset by the benefit to the company, and how quickly can they anticipate seeing a return on their investment?
2. Approaching Your Manager
You’ve considered all the ins and outs of your development needs, put together a list of possible options, and built your business case for the investment. It is time to make the approach to your manager, armed with all the information you’ve gathered.
In many organizations, the decision won’t like with your line manager alone. You may need sign off from HR, IT, or Procurement too.
However, your first approach should always be to your own line manager. Even if the learning won’t be funded from their budget, they’ll need to approve your time away from your main tasks.
Plus, if you win them over, your manager should be able to support you in your approach to HR – or will even take this step on your behalf.
Sow the Seeds
We mentioned earlier that it isn’t the best approach to go straight in with a list of training options. Instead, broach the conversation around development first in a more general way.
If it falls at the right time, your annual review meeting is the perfect opportunity to approach the topic. This meeting should include a section on your development and training needs, so you can easily bring up areas where you would like to expand your skills and discuss them with your manager.
However, you don’t need to wait for this meeting if it is a long way off. You can also use your regular one-to-ones to start sowing some seeds for a more in-depth discussion.
For example, you might start by bringing up an issue that is slowing down the team or preventing you from working at your best. Suggest that you’d like to explore ways to improve this issue and ask for permission to research some options and present them at your next 1:1.
Instead of putting your manager on the spot and making them say yes or no to your plan straight away, this opens the door to further conversations.
Put Costs and Benefits in Writing
Once you’ve brought up the topic of development with your manager verbally, you can follow up in writing with the results of your research. Refer to your previous conversation and remember to present a couple of different options, including the cost, time commitment, learning outcomes, and benefits to the company.
Be clear that you aren’t expecting an answer right away but put a meeting in the calendar to discuss it further – or use one of your usual one-to-ones. This gives your manager time to consider your proposal and perhaps do some research of their own.
Similarly, if you are requesting new tools or resources, be sure to clearly present your options, including the price, features, and how it will help you overcome an issue or improve your work. Make sure your manager can see that you have done thorough research, so they take this as seriously as you do.
Your follow-up email can also start to anticipate and answer likely objections that your manager may have – and you should also go into a meeting prepared to respond to these.
For example, some common objections include budget availability, the time commitment, or the concern that you are seeking development simply to improve your resume for job hunting.
Some objections your manager may state outright, some they may not articulate to you directly. As much as possible, try to address the unstated qualms as well as the stated ones.
If budget is a concern, provide different options at different price points and make sure it is clear how the training will benefit the company’s bottom line overall.
If time is the main challenge, come armed with some suggestions for how to manage the development time and show how you plan to continue to meet your work commitments. If taking on additional learning will mean you need to temporarily drop some tasks, be upfront about this and suggest ways to mitigate the impact.
Be clear on how developing your skills will help you work more effectively and manage your workload better. You may also need to emphasize that your desire for development is not because you do not have a full workload.
As for concerns about retention, your relationship with your manager will determine whether you tackle these outright or not. If you have a good relationship, or they state this worry out loud, you can take the opportunity to reassure them that you want to grow and develop within the company.
Otherwise, you can simply focus on how developing your skills and knowledge will benefit the company – the unspoken message being that you will be around to provide that benefit.
Seeking professional development and training is a sign that you care about your career and can provide benefits for both you and your company. By building a compelling case and approaching your manager in the right way, you are more likely to get the approval you need.