Professional Development

What does professional development mean?

When nonprofits consider training and capacity building, it is generally in relation to their clients needs. Refugees however, are not the only ones who may benefit from skills training! You should consider professional development as one of the keys to your mission’s success and actively encourage this among your staff.

Professional development refers to the acquisition of skills and knowledge to benefit a person’s career. Promoting professional development essentially means facilitating learning opportunities. It may include externally or internally organized trainings and capacity-building on different aspects of NGO management, legal aid or refugee law, but it also encompasses the process of taking on more complex roles and tasks and greater responsibility in the course of your career. Reflective learning, mentoring and academic study also fall under professional development.

Workshops and courses may present a useful opportunity to network for the benefit of your NGO, as well as improving the skills of those who attend. Allowing employees a certain amount of time off per year, or providing a certain budget for such activities is highly recommended.

In addition to retaining and maintaining engaged, enthusiastic and motivated staff, and honing their skills for the benefit of your organization and clients, staying on top of developments in law, refugee policy and other related humanitarian debates is essential to deliver quality services to refugees and asylum seekers. In the fast-moving world of jurisprudence and migration politics, continued learning will facilitate the strategizing and innovation needed to make a difference in refugees’ realities.

How to facilitate professional development?

As well as running targeted training sessions with your staff, or sending them on such courses, as set out in the following sub-sections, there are various actions you can take to foster a colleague’s growth in the course of normal working activities.

  • Encouraging employees to hire and manage an intern or assistant (if funds permit) builds their people-managing and planning skills.
  • Sending a colleague to represent your organization at external meetings can improve communications, negotiations and decision-making skills.
  • Setting up a shadowing scheme for interested individuals between departments in your organization can broaden everyone’s skill-set and promote empathy with team members once they have an increased understanding of the duties of their colleagues.
  • Allowing workers to take a set number of hours per month for professional development activities.
  • Setting aside a ‘professional development grant’ for each employee to be used as they see fit: for books, course fees, etc.
  • Circulating distance and in-person courses on relevant subjects and encouraging employees to apply to specific trainings that would fill a skills gap in your organization.
  • Setting up a ‘Google calendar’ with the dates and locations of training courses or conferences which employees can consult at their will.
  • Procuring access to academic journals on forced migration studies, human rights law and similar, and circulating log-in details among colleagues enables them to feed their initial interest in the field, reflect critically, and contextualize their work within the wider world of refugee response professionals.
  • Supporting staff proposals to academic journals by reviewing abstracts and brainstorming together may help your employee get published. This could be an important milestone for your colleague, and may draw attention to your work.
  • Identify expertise within your workforce that could be spread among other colleagues e.g. IT skills or interviewing techniques.
  • Identify the knowledge and skills gaps within your organization and actively search for opportunities to train – whether via distance learning, self-taught guides or at training events. Consult colleagues on their professional goals and interests in order to tailor your professional development program to appeal to them.
  • You may wish to incentivize professional development by rewarding (financially or otherwise) those who take continued learning courses or participate in workshops on top of their regular duties.
  • Encourage colleagues who attend trainings, capacity building events or courses to share their notes and materials for the benefit of other colleagues.

Further resources: