Though we’re guessing that “having a job” and “being paid a living wage” remain the topmost professional concerns for working-age Canadians, a new study indicates professional development is up there too.

According to the Canadian arm of HR software developer Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP), 40 per cent of working Canadians are employed by a company that rarely or never provides them with opportunities for career development, while 39 per cent would leave their current job for a lower-paying position with better professional development opportunities.

Lest employers begin slavering over the apparent opportunity to pay their future workers a bit less, 23 per cent of respondents who said they would be willing to accept a pay cut said they would take a five per cent hit, while only 12 per cent said they would accept a 10 per cent cut. Only four and one per cent, respectively, said they would settle for up to, or more than, 15 per cent less pay.

In a March 15 statement, ADP Canada general manager of human resources business process outsourcing Sooky Lee called the divide between the much-vaunted “skills gap” and the number of workers who feel unchallenged at work a “growth gap,” and said that employers would ultimately be the ones paying the price.

“The paradox of a growth gap is that while many employers say they need workers to be increasingly adaptable to new tasks and responsibilities, many workers are saying they lack the development support to deliver on these expectations,” she said.

When asked to explain the reason they did not feel their job had enough opportunities for professional development, 33 per cent did not feel their company offered support to begin with, in such forms as skills development programs, technical training, career mapping, or mentoring. Nineteen per cent admitted to not asking for professional support, while nine per cent said their bosses didn’t have enough time to address their needs, and 14 per cent said they did not feel they aren’t senior enough to receive it.

ADP grouped its respondents who exemplified the “growth gap” into three categories (percentages don’t add up to 100 due to category overlap):

  • The Ready: These are the 65 per cent of workers ready for professional development who feel their company is selling them short and should do better. Employers should strive to identify these workers immediately, ADP warns, as their restlessness indicates engagement and a desire to contribute and advance through the organization – otherwise, they’ll go elsewhere, even if the pay is less.
  • The Resigned: 53 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that professional development would be nice, but had resigned themselves to the fact that they’re unlikely to receive it from their current employer. ADP noted that this group often potential stars who may not have the confidence to ask for career support, but in the right situation – or the right competitor – could truly shine.
  • The Relaxed: That said, 21 per cent of respondents were inclined to agree that professional development simply isn’t important to them and that work is “just a job.”

“Whether the under-developed employees in your organization are ready, resigned or relaxed, this study should be a wake-up call for any employer that cares about employee retention and productivity,” Lee said in the March 15 statement.

For the many, many employers who may be creating a growth gap for their employees and unaware of it, ADP offered three suggestions:

  • Think ahead: Compare the skills your workforce possesses now with the skills they will need in the next five years, and plan accordingly. In addition to arranging for skills development programs, technical training, or mentoring, regularly pause and measure your participants’ skills.
  • Make training and development the norm, not the exception: Too many companies (and employees) view training and development as disruptive, expensive, and/or aggravating ADP says, but there are ways to mitigate these: For example, by setting aside company time for learning, or inviting workers to enroll in online training programs such as massive open online courses (MOOCs).
  • Empower management to empower employees: Whether your employees naturally want to learn new skills or need to be nudged, they need resources to help them grow and develop, with ADP noting that many respondents said their employers simply don’t have time for employee development. Cloud-based software – such as ADP’s – represents one possible solution, potentially providing employees with access to on-demand learning resources or automating time-consuming tasks such as payroll and benefits administration so that HR managers have more time to develop and execute professional development programs.

ADT based its study on an online survey of 828 working Canadians, which it conducted between January 30 and February 2.

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