To Do or Not to Do: Professional Development

Note: I completely support professional development for museum staff. The sole intent of this commentary is to start a conversation.

Throughout my career, I fortunately had supervisors who not only encouraged professional development, they specifically dedicated portions of the annual budget to it.

When I started on my career path, attending professional development conferences and workshops was both enjoyable and beneficial. I learned new skills, built a network of colleagues, and brought useful ideas back to my institution.

As a mid-career professional, attending conferences and workshops allows me to share my experience and support the field of work I love. What’s most rewarding is how conferences and workshops invigorate my work. They give me the energy to work harder and implement the best practices.

But do these reasons justify the expense? With today’s economic climate, small museums often can’t afford professional development. Should the institution pay for professional development? Or should we rely on individuals to pay their own way? Or is there some way they can share the expense?

If institutions commit to funding professional development, should everyone on staff have the opportunity? Or just senior staff?

I recently told my staff of six that our museum would cover the registration expense (within reason) for one professional development conference/workshop per year per employee. But as the museum’s development officer, I need to find a way to cover these costs.

Is it worth it?

How have you handled this situation?

3 Responses to “To Do or Not to Do: Professional Development”

  1. January 25, 2013 at 9:17 am, Amanda said:

    There are different ways for an institution to support professional development.

    At the most basic level, encouraging it is a form of support: distributing interesting free webinar opportunities, allowing an hour or two off to visit another museum and see the new exhibition techniques they have on display, setting up a regular book club for museum studies books, and providing opportunities for growth within a position are all basically free and can do wonders for both morale and professional development.

    I would argue for institutions to go a step beyond and offer partial financial support, however. Whether that’s a particular amount of money that each employee can apply as they see fit – whether to a fee for a graduate course, travel expenses to a free workshop, or conference attendance fee – or a specific conference each year, offering some level of financial support seems both fair and reasonable to me. None of us is in this field for the money, and acknowledging that our salaries don’t always stretch to expensive out of state trips is honest and would go a long way for me to appreciate an employer.

    If nothing else, allowing the time off without forcing an employee to use up personal or vacation time can be a low-cost, low-impact way to encourage professional development as well.

    I’ve worked at institutions that have covered 100% of the expenses associated with professional development but applied the permission for that in such an arbitrary way that it grew to be equally as frustrating as it was beneficial. To that end, I don’t think professional development money should only be available to senior staff. That only encourages bitterness among younger professionals who are trying to break into a difficult field. A steadily increasing scale based on years of service in the organization might make sense.


  2. January 26, 2013 at 10:57 am, Sarah Brophy said:

    I am a huge fan of professional development for all the justifications one can muster and the ones that surprise you but you only discover once you participate. As an employee I was lucky to have the costs covered and the practice encouraged; as a consultant I have to pay full freight, but it’s a responsibility and a pleasure that keeps me good at what I do.

    I do get impatient with employees who think it is the sole responsibility of their employer to keep the employee current. I think we share that responsibility – employee and employer. It has a lot to do with self-reliance. Both the museum and the employee should commit to supporting continued professional training as much as they are able. It’s how both parties keep themselves valuable to the field and the community. I’ve always hoped we would set up a chit system where museums around the country would issue two or three chits to their employees to trade with colleagues at other museums for a day on their job as a shadow. It’s an inexpensive way to learn a lot and build networks.

    However your do it your calendar of training will vary: books, webinars, visits to colleagues, conferences and workshops. What’s important is that you make a point to keep on learning, and to learn with a purpose from the best sources you can afford at the time.


  3. October 10, 2013 at 4:59 pm, Happy Birthday, Small Museums Online Community! | Blogs (News & views) said:

    […] Kristie Sheppard’s spirited defense of professional development […]


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