Offering professional development opportunities to employees can be difficult for small businesses. Often small businesses only have a few positions and limited hierarchy, which can create challenges when it comes to creating clear career paths. Just because your company doesn’t have a traditional career ladder, it doesn’t mean you can’t help employees understand potential career opportunities.

According to research by Gallup, only 30% of employees said they feel their company is invested in their development. This is likely the reason why an overwhelming majority of employees (91%) say the last time they switched jobs, they left their employer for more development options. Offering development opportunities and clearly communicating career paths to employees is a great way to differentiate yourself as an employer and keep your very best employees on board and engaged, rather than losing them to your competition.

As with all employee engagement initiatives, communication is the key to success. One-on-one meetings between leaders and employees provide great opportunities for career path and professional development conversations.

Here are some ideas we have seen work well in the small business environment”

Cross Training

Cross training employees can have many benefits for the organization and for individual employees. Employees will be excited to engage in new activities and mix up their daily routines to learn something new. If your company struggles with departments operating in silos, cross training can help break down barriers and eliminate the “us versus them” mentality. You may also discover that particular employees have an aptitude for an area you didn’t expect. This can allow you to move employees into roles that best fit their interests, skills and abilities, increasing their engagement level.

Lunch and Learns

Lunch and learns have become popular ways for individuals to learn new skills. There are a couple different ways these can be structured. We have seen some organizations use this time to allow employees to teach each other skills (work related or not). For example, if you have an employee who is an expert in Microsoft Excel (or any other software), they may be able to share some of their best tips and tricks. Or if an employee is passionate about hiking, they could share some of their favorite hiking places and tips for first-time hikers.

You could also bring in experts in areas of interest, such as a yoga instructor who can demonstrate relaxation and stretching techniques that can be done at work. The possibilities are endless, and the cost can be very low or next to nothing. You can encourage employees to bring their own lunch and simply provide space for the shared learning to occur.

Book Club

There are many great personal and professional development books available. Many can be found online at great prices and others may be available at your local library. If books aren’t interesting to your employees, consider a podcast or video series that might draw their attention. TED talks can also generate a robust discussion, and most are 15 minutes or less.

Online Learning

There are many online learning resources available for little to no cost. Websites such as Lynda, Udemy and Coursera offer courses on a large variety of topics. Some are available for free, while others are offered for a fee. If employees are willing to put in the time and effort to complete the learning, an online learning program can offer a great return on investment. Perhaps you have an employee who would like to learn another language or improve their skills within a certain piece of software. There are likely online resources available to help support this development. There may even be industry-specific resources available. Look around and see what you can find.

If promotions are scarce, it is even more important to provide employees with opportunities to grow and develop in different ways. To know for sure that they will work for you, ask your employees if they would be interested in these types of programs.