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Engaging Young Professionals through Learning and Development

January 28, 2020

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Paige Winn

Learning and Development Specialist
FHI 360

Think back to your days as a young professional: What tools were available to help you succeed in your career? What resources do you wish you had? What were your peak learning experiences? Chances are, they didn’t happen via a PowerPoint presentation but through social collaboration or applying new skills.

For me, mentors and practical experiences were the catalysts that took me from junior staff member to emerging leader. That’s why I was excited when a recent FHI 360 Young Professionals (YP) town hall led to recommendations for addressing gaps in their professional development. With support from FHI 360’s executive team, my Learning and Development (L+D) colleagues and I started by surveying FHI 360’s global YP staff on content needs and obstacles to learning. Over 60 staff responded, and top constraints will sound familiar to those in the development sector: Time, funding, technology access and managerial support—plus the ever-present allowability question (aka, LOE coverage). Top content needs included:

  • Management competencies
  • Project tools and resource sharing
  • Project management and grants management
  • Interpersonal and communication skills
  • Data visualization and analysis
  • Facilitation skills

Other requests included more certifications and in-person learning events, along with resources to support work-life balance and values alignment.

To address some of these needs, we created a Proactive Professional Development workshop where learners first completed a personal assessment and explored how their creative types enhance their roles and FHI 360 projects. Next, they participated in a SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) exercise before identifying learning experiences to support them. We then focused on the 70-20-10 model to ensure that formal, social and experiential elements all align with and build on each other. The model inspires effective learning outside formal training and eLearning courses and is great to reference when you’re developing L+D interventions. Keep in mind, the model is not prescriptive, and FHI 360’s L+D team finds it effective for exploring alternatives to formal instruction. Look to this model (or Jane Hart’s Modern Workplace Learning) when you’re curating and creating collaborative experiences. Here’s a look at a few of the strategies our YPs will be experiencing over the next year:

  • Write a report for a manager or other leader
  • Take on a leadership role in an employee resource group (ERG)
  • Facilitate a Brown Bag, coffee talk, or panel of SMEs
  • Enroll in FHI 360’s Mentoring Program (as a mentor or mentee)
  • Enroll in eCornell certificate programs
  • Lead a company social event or plan an offsite meeting
  • Volunteer in a conference support role (like OpEx 2020!)
  • Co-present a conference session with a mentor
  • Seek a board position for a CBO
  • Create or monitor a budget
  • Sit with a colleague as you learn a new technology tool or system
  • Create a YouTube video or podcast on an area of expertise
  • Dive into research about a country or subject matter for the project you’re supporting
  • Assess social networks; identify at least one new relationship to cultivate

The L+D team’s next steps are to offer CliftonStrengths coaching with a focus on YPs, invite a panel of managers to speak about professional development at the next YP townhall, and engage more young professionals in the field. What are your organizations doing to support young professionals learning and development?

Learn more: If you’re like us, it’s Annual Goal Setting and Professional Development Planning season! Here are some of our favorite articles around the topic:

Plan Your Professional Development for the Year (HBR)

How to ask your boss for time to learn new things (HBR)

Making the case for professional development (The Economist)

13 Strategies to get your boss to support professional development (Forbes)