Survey: Professional Development Is Key to Retaining Talent, But People of Color Report Less Access

As talent shortages persist, a new survey reveals that professional development opportunities are one tool for retaining employees. Indeed, 58 percent say they are likely to leave their company without professional development—or continuing education and career training to help develop new skills, stay up to date on current trends, and drive career advancement. This likelihood to leave holds especially true among women, people of color, and Millennials.

But for people of color, there may be a gap in access to these opportunities. Conducted by The Conference Board, the survey reveals that more people of color report a lack of opportunities and resources for professional development than do their White counterparts.

The latest workforce survey from The Conference Board captured the thoughts of more than 1,200 individuals—predominantly professional/office workers—from May 16-31. Respondents weighed in on the importance, access, reasons, and barriers to professional development.

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Key findings include:

Development opportunities are key to retaining employees—especially women, people of color, and Millennials.
How likely are you to leave your company for another if you do not receive the development opportunities you believe you need?

  • Women, people of color, and Millennials are more likely to leave their organization if they don’t receive development opportunities.
    • Gender:
      • Women: 61 percent would leave
      • Men: 55 percent
    • Race:
      • Black: 68 percent
      • Hispanic and Latino: 70 percent
      • Asian: 80 percent
      • White: 53 percent
    • Generation:
      • Millennials: 66 percent
      • Gen X: 63 percent
      • Baby Boomers: 47 percent
  • The disparities are even more striking among women of color:
      • Black women: 71 percent
      • Hispanic women: 70 percent
      • Asian women: 70 percent
      • White women: 56 percent
  • Overall, 58 percent of workers are likely to leave their company if they don’t receive professional development opportunities.

“These survey results reveal that, in the midst of a talent shortage, providing and promoting opportunities for career and skills development can be a critical way to attract candidates,” said Rebecca Ray, Executive Vice President of Human Capital, The Conference Board. “In order to retain and grow the diversity of thought and experience within your organization, it is critical to ensure that all employees have access to rich professional development opportunities.”

Most employees highly value the opportunity to develop work-related skills.
How important is it to you to continuously develop your work-related skills?

  • 96 percent of respondents say it is important or very important for them to continuously develop their work-related skills.
  • More people of color say continuously developing skills is very important:
    • Black: 87 percent
    • Hispanic and Latino: 86 percent
    • Asian: 78 percent
    • White: 73 percent
  • More women say it is very important than men:
    • Women: 80 percent
    • Men: 70 percent

Despite the high value placed on professional development opportunities, people of color report a greater lack of access to these opportunities and resources.
What barriers/challenges do you experience in developing your skills?

  • More people of color report a lack of opportunities and resources for professional development than do their White counterparts.
    • Lack of resources:
      • Black: 38 percent
      • Hispanic and Latino: 35 percent
      • Asian: 40 percent
      • White: 28 percent
    • Lack of opportunities:
      • Black: 37 percent
      • Hispanic and Latino: 37 percent
      • Asian: 36 percent
      • White: 27 percent

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A lack of time is the greatest barrier to developing skills overall.
What barriers/challenges do you experience in developing your skills?

  • The biggest barrier to developing skills is a lack of time, with nearly 80 percent saying that prevents them from doing so.
  • 31 percent said a lack of resources and 29 percent said a lack of opportunities were their greatest barriers.
  • Time off for training and development (54 percent) and improved access to career development opportunities (54 percent) were the top two ways that employees feel their employers can support their development.
  • Less than a quarter (22 percent) thought that an internal career center/job board for job openings and opportunities would be helpful.

Are there enough opportunities for development? The C-suite and individual contributors disagree.
What barriers/challenges do you experience in developing your skills?

  • Only 10 percent of CEOs and the C-suite consider a lack of opportunities a barrier, compared to 40 percent of individual contributors.

One in ten worry their skills won’t keep up.
How confident are you that you have the skills you need to perform well in your job now? For the next 1-2 years?

  • More than one in ten (13 percent) are not confident they have the skills to continue to perform well in their current role for the next 1-2 years.
  • 97 percent of survey respondents are confident that they have the skills needed to perform well in their current jobs, but fewer (87 percent) are confident they have the skills to perform well in the next 1-2 years.
  • Baby Boomers are more confident in their skills than younger generations:
    • Millennials: 72 percent are very/quite confident they have the needed skills
    • Gen X: 76 percent
    • Baby Boomers: 85 percent

Personal growth is the top driver of developing work-related skills.
What are the top reasons why you want to develop your work-related skills?

  • Workers want to develop their work-related skills to expand their personal growth and development (70 percent) and to perform at a higher level in their current role (60 percent).
  • Only 31 percent wanted to do so to get a promotion.

Many employees take their learning and development into their own hands.
How do you communicate your need to develop skills and capabilities with your current employer?

  • While managers still play a key role in development for employees (58 percent share their development needs with their manager), 57 percent of employees design their own learning and development plans.
  • Only 20 percent update an online employee profile and development plan.

Employees are learning from free online resources.
What resources do you use most often to develop work-related knowledge and skills? Which are most effective?

  • Free external resources (TED Talks, YouTube, LinkedIn Learning) are used most often (65 percent), but only 44 percent of respondents find them effective.
  • 58 percent use employer provided training resources (courses, simulations, materials), but only 46 percent find them effective.
  • Less than a quarter (23 percent) use employer-provided experiential development (gigs, projects, rotations), but 35 percent find them effective.

Senior-level staff are less likely to use employer-provided resources, and less likely to find them effective.
What resources do you use most often to develop work-related knowledge and skills? Which are most effective?

  • The higher you are in an organization, the less likely you are to use employer-provided resources.
    • Individual contributors: 66 percent use employer-provided resources
    • CEOs: 30 percent
  • The perceived effectiveness of employer-provided resources decreases dramatically as you move up in the organization:
    • Individual contributors: 56 percent find employer-provided resources effective
    • CEOs: 17 percent

Employees think leadership, critical thinking, and adaptability will be the most important skills for the future.
Which of the following non-technical, personal skills will be important for your future job opportunities and career success?

  • Top three skills overall:
    • Leadership: 40 percent
    • Critical thinking: 36 percent
    • Adaptability and agility: 35 percent
  • Bottom 3 skills overall:
    • Empathy: 11 percent
    • Resilience: 12 percent
    • Global and cultural awareness: 15 percent
  • Women think adaptability and agility will be more important (39 percent) than do men (30 percent).

“Employees have made clear their desire to keep learning and growing both within and beyond their current roles,” said Jennifer Burnett, Principal of Human Capital, The Conference Board. “It is in the best interest of employers to provide all employees across their business with learning and development opportunities related to business priorities and overall personal growth, whether it’s ensuring there are appropriate resources for front-line workers or highlighting the importance of empathy for managers in a hybrid world of work. Creating a culture of learning will not only help your employees flourish but will help your company stay ahead of the rapidly changing business environment.”

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