Formulating a Professional Development Plan

In today's economy of tight budgets and limited travel dollars, professional development can suffer. But as employees, particularly at the management level, are asked to become more cost-effective and juggle many jobs requiring different skills, they must be offered learning opportunities.

To that end, the Environmental Industry Associations (EIA), Washington, D.C., provides many training opportunities and encourages waste companies to continually enhance employee skills.

Learning opportunities appear in many forms. Through general and annual meetings at the regional level, waste professionals can hear about the latest industry issues, interact with each other and share ideas. The EIA's annual technical conference on landfills takes place each winter, and a medical waste conference occurs each fall. Waste facility tours are offered to independent member company executives each spring. And the association provides ergonomics seminars and is working on an ergonomics E-learning course through an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Washington, D.C., grant.

Additionally, new workshops will be provided at WasteExpo 2002 in Las Vegas next May. Publications, such as a safety manual and an interactive training program for garbage truck drivers, also are available. And the EIA's Education Department has a listserv to post questions requesting direct input on professional development issues.

Key to professional development is understanding the types of training, skills needed for the job and considering the bottom line. All of this requires a professional development plan that begins with a careful analysis of company needs. This includes professional development program goals and details about the anticipated outcomes.

Professional development can enhance managerial leadership, reduce operating costs, increase sales and profits, empower employees, and improve communication. For example, if the goal is to have all drivers trained, the anticipated outcome would be a better safety record, fewer accidents and an improved bottom line because there would be fewer worker medical leave incidences and minimal vehicle repair costs.

The second step in the plan is examining the available training options to determine how they could best suit the goals. Training can consist of simple on-the-job learning, an orientation program or a more comprehensive approach.

On-the-job training often is the easiest way to conduct professional development. The company provides specific information about how it wants the job to be performed and the employee job function. This type of training typically is less expensive and the employee learns exactly what to do. The disadvantage, however, is that training often is less consistent because it focuses on the interaction between a specific employee and trainer.

In addition to on-the-job training, an orientation program traditionally includes organization policies, procedures and job function guidelines through an analysis of potential scenarios that an employee might face. This can enhance on-the-job training by providing more consistency and a method for resolving future problems. Training experts recommend an orientation program be used in conjunction with other methods to ensure that employees receive sufficient practical knowledge.

To improve an employee's skill base, more comprehensive training via workshops, seminars and online learning can be used. Seminars and workshops may be specific to the job function, such as how to operate a piece of equipment. Or training may be more generic, such as techniques for operating a modern landfill. Comprehensive training may be conducted in-house or out-sourced, which will affect program costs.

The third step is defining the necessary skills for a given job. Some skills are considered before an employee is hired, and then assessed in the interview process. An employee also may bring skills to the job that are not fully discovered until months or years later.

Necessary skills are built through an employee's interaction with a job over time. Often, a skill base must change with the job to meet company needs and a changing industry. The professional development plan must be flexible to capture these issues, making note of whether they are required, useful or optional for the job.

One of the most important functions of a trade association is providing opportunities for professional development for its members and the industry it represents. The EIA continues to make many training options available.

Stephen Miner is EIA's education manager; Alice Jacobsohn is EIA's manager of public affairs and industry research.