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6 Reasons Employees Aren’t Taking Professional Development

  • 4 Min Read

Here are six reasons employees aren’t taking professional development opportunities and how you can promote adoption within your team.


As a leader, you have a pretty good idea of the skills gap on your team. While it may seem easier to bring on new employees to address the skills gap, hiring can be a challenge. It’s important consider your current team members as the possible solution to your skill needs.

Traditionally, departments underspend on professional development. Why not put that budget to good use? To promote development within your team, it’s important to first understand why your employees may be hesitating to continue their education and to grow their skill base.

Here are some common barriers to professional development that may deter employees.

1. Paying for Professional Development Courses

In our whitepaper, Upskilling at Scale, we found that the biggest barrier preventing employees from pursuing professional development was financial. More than 40% of those surveyed said the cost was the main reason they didn’t pursue these opportunities. 

A typical American household has an account balance of around $5,300. That means even a smaller, unscheduled expense can throw off their finances. 

Some companies offer to pay for some or all of an employee’s professional development courses, but often that means reimbursement upon completion. Until then, the employee has to shoulder the cost, and for longer courses, that could mean months before they’re actually paid back. 

Remove the financial barrier by using a professional development platform that enables employees to have their employer contribution deducted from their balance before they even pay. 

2. Having Organizational Support

While most companies have a professional development budget, it’s often unclear to employees what’s eligible for reimbursement. Employees may not know if a course they’re interested in taking would be covered until they make the request.

As a leader, you should help your employees understand that professional development is a priority. Let them know that learning is an employee benefit that you encourage them to take. That can help alleviate the fear they feel when making a request.

3. Understanding the Company’s Needs

Even though you may be aware of the skills gap on your team, your employees may not be.

By communicating the long-term needs of the department, you can help spark your team members’ interest in professional development. As a bonus, including employees in long-term planning to achieve the company’s goals will help better connect them to projects, increasing engagement and retention.

4. Going Back to School as an Adult

Going back to school as a working professional can be scary. That’s especially true for employees who have been out of school for some time. When they’re not immersed in the world of education, it more quickly becomes a faded memory. Putting themselves out there and reentering the world of academics can be an intimidating experience for many.

Sharing stories from colleagues who have successfully made that leap can go a long way in giving hesitant employees the confidence they need to invest in professional development.

5. Making Time for Professional Development

Work is busy. Life is busy. 

Trying to carve out a few hours every week to do coursework may seem like an overwhelming obstacle. More than a third of US and Canadian employees said they don’t take professional development courses because they feel like they’re too busy at home or at work. 

To overcome these fears, your company can consider providing dedicated time each week for employees to use for skill building and professional development. You could also offer more flexible working hours, so employees feel supported in their goals. 

And regardless of what time you provide, celebrating and supporting an employee’s efforts in pursuing professional development is key.

6. Having Job Security

Some team members may be afraid to rock the boat. They worry that by requesting or asking to continue their development journey, their manager may take that as a sign of dissatisfaction with their current role. Even if that is the case, it’s crucial to remember that providing career development opportunities to support internal mobility can help keep employees engaged within the organization and reduce turnover in the long run.

Your team will constantly need fresh skills to remain competitive. But it can be significantly more cost effective to build the skills you need with the talent you already have. Demystify the professional development process and begin an open dialogue with your team about the department’s needs and your wish for them to be part of organizational growth.

The best way to understand why an employee isn’t taking advantage of professional development activities is to ask them. You may be surprised at what you’ll learn.

Interested in simplifying how employees access professional development activities that align to your departmental needs? Check out D2L Wave. As a free-to-use upskilling education platform, employers only pay for the courses their employees take. D2L Wave streamlines how employees search, request, register, and pay for professional development activities.

Try D2L Wave Today to transform your workforce with upskilling education

Written by:

Jacki Ross
Jacki Ross

Jacki Ross is D2L Wave’s Product Marketing Manager, specializing in product launch and go-to-market strategies for new and emerging technologies. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Guelph and a Business Administration – Marketing Diploma from Conestoga College.

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Table of Contents
  1. 1. Paying for Professional Development Courses
  2. 2. Having Organizational Support
  3. 3. Understanding the Company’s Needs
  4. 4. Going Back to School as an Adult
  5. 5. Making Time for Professional Development
  6. 6. Having Job Security