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How to choose career training that will do the most for you

By Nicole Pokorney

Large group of women posing with their raft and paddles, holding sign that reads "G Adventures"Wouldn’t it be great if we told job interviewees that professional development would be required? Wouldn't it be great if organizations invested in funding exactly the right support for each employee at every stage of their career?

At the beginning of each year, many of us make a plan of work that includes professional development. Sometimes we choose a conference or a training for no better reason than its familiarity. Many times the knowledge and materials we gain just get filed away or even worse -- thrown away. That is not a sign of good professional development.

True professional development meets the needs of the employee in the context of their career stage and organization in which they work. For the employee, it takes time to reflect on your own passions and skills, your job position and the organization’s mission.

Rennekamp and Nall explained the problem. “Participation in professional development opportunities is seldom done to meet a specific need articulated in advance. The growth that occurs is often serendipitous and may or may not strengthen areas of real need." To address this problem, they defined a career stage approach to professional development. They identified four career stages and the motivators that guide professional development at each stage.

Entry stage

At the start of one's career, professional development focuses on developing foundational skills.

Colleague stage

In this stage, people focus on moving from interdepence to independence. It's also a good time to develop a specialty.

Counselor stage

People in this stage may already be leading committees or mentoring others. Professional development should focus on leadership.

Advisor stage

People at the tops of their organizations or even their industries can serve as strategic advisors to others, take risks and set direction for the organization. Their professional development should focus on how to "sponsor" people and programs and understanding complex relationships.

For nine days last spring, I participated in Global University in Costa Rica. It focused on teaching women in the outdoor industry about the future of recreation and well being. The curriculum was based on a book called Centered Leadership, by Joanna BarshIt blended entry-level outdoor skills building with advisor-level conversations and facilitation training. In other words, it was exactly what I needed.

This experience was one of the most rewarding I’ve ever had in my career. It gave me confidence in leading outdoor skills, which I do in my job. Nine months later, I am still using the concepts from Barsh’s Five Dimensions of Leadership and I have plans to develop a course for our staff. I have also gained the support and networking of 12 amazing peers who will help me to continue to grow.

How much effort do you put into researching and creating professional development opportunities that will foster relationships and grow your skills? What have your experiences been with professional development?

-- Nicole Pokorney, Extension educator

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  1. Hi Nicole. Thanks for this post. I love the idea of choosing what's right for you at your career stage. I think we need to be selfish with our professional development- rather picking the things we "should" do, instead we should pick opportunities that make us grow. Sometimes that means exploring something outside of our typical path. Do you agree?

  2. Completely agree! i choose professional development that challenge my skills and in that challenge, I grow. What I choose now is not at all the same opportunities that I went to early in my career. It has moved from information gathering to pushing me outside of my comfort zones in growing others.


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