The ultimate guide to career plans and professional development

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Do you want to gain new skills that will help you further your career? We all do, right? Professional development is crucial for success, not only as an individual but in the workplace as well. While it sounds tricky, it need not be if you follow our tips and advice on how to incorporate professional development into your career. 

Read on to see just why professional development is so important, as well as how to set the best goals that will help you climb the corporate ladder. 

What is professional development?

Professional development refers to the gaining of new skills or mastering those that you already possess through continued or consistent education and training. Be it classes, workshops, conferences or online training certification, professional development can be done via many platforms and educational opportunities that seek to improve the skills of the individual or employee. This sounds rather technical, though, doesn’t it? Let’s make it a bit easier to understand. 

Professional development focuses on training and guidance to help you improve your current skills as a way to achieve the career goals you have set for yourself. It has the ability to motivate you to perform better at your job and can also help increase your productivity and efficiency in your workplace and industry. 

Career plans vs. professional development: Is there a difference?

This is a question that comes up time and again, and many do not know the difference between the terms “career plan” and “professional development.” Let’s put this subject to rest once and for all as we point out the key differences in these equally important aspects of any career. 

A career plan is focused on your career as a whole. It is based on meeting certain goals and are essentially long-term plans that you will work on for the duration of your career. 

Professional development, however, refers to the resources (such as training, conferences, workshops and more) that will help you grow as you focus on your career plan and work on improving your skills. 

A successful career plan is one that includes professional development and allows you to make use of the resources available through professional development to meet your long-term career goals. 

The benefits of professional development

There are many benefits of professional development, as we have already highlighted above. 

Here are a few more benefits that you can enjoy when you focus on your professional development as an individual or for your organization:

  • Better use of resources to meet career-specific goals
  • Increased productivity
  • Continuous improvement of skills
  • New insights and knowledge
  • Continued growth and understanding of industry changes
  • An increase in job satisfaction and motivation

It is quite clear that professional development is a crucial tool for not only the organization but employees as well, because it allows growth and insight into what is needed to meet career goals as laid out in the career plan. 

The value of a good personal development training plan

The right training plan does exist, but it might not look the same for everyone. Considering individual needs, skills, personality and goals, a good personal development training plan should form part of an employee’s career plan as goals and targets are set according to furthering the individual’s career or skillset.

Like a career plan, a professional development plan forms an essential part of every person’s career path. Combining the two is the only way to ensure your career success and growth while allowing you to be a valuable member of any team. 

Choosing a development training plan that brings value to your personal career plan as well as the industry in which you operate is key, and so too are setting the right goals. Read on to find out more about setting goals as we identify and analyze two of the best methods of setting realistic and achievable goals that will benefit both the employee and the organization. 

How to set professional development goals

Setting clear and realistic goals to help you guide your career is key and lets you identify the focal areas of your development. There are various ways of setting goals, but here are the best tips on what you should really focus on when setting your career plan and professional development goals.

Professional development specialists typically use one of the following goal-setting strategies to ensure that goals are in line with the corporate mission and industry it is focused on:

  • The S.M.A.R.T Framework
  • The OKR Framework

The S.M.A.R.T framework

Developed by George Dorian, Arthur Miller and James Cunningham in 1981, the SMART framework has been used for many years by organizations across the world and is one of the most popular methods of setting goals as it bases goal setting on the following framework:

S is for specific

Is your goal clearly outlined with no room for ambiguity? Goals should be specific, with no details spared when outlining what your goal is. 

M is for measurable

How can you measure your progress in terms of reaching your goal? Keeping your goal in mind, identify how you will track or measure your progress or the outcome. Many companies focus on their own strategies when measuring success, but all have one thing in common: ensuring that the goals drive growth and productivity in the organization with the corporate mission in mind. 

A is for achievable

Is your goal realistic, or have you set a goal that is far out of reach? Choose goals that are not only realistic but can also be achieved with the resources you have available to you. Do your due diligence and identify these resources beforehand, making mention of them in your career plan or professional development strategy. Proper planning can go a long way in helping you achieve your goals. 

R is for relevant

Does your goal line up with your career plan? Your goals should be relevant to your current career path or objectives. It is no use setting goals that are either out of reach or will not help you to further your career, so choose wisely and only set goals that will help you climb the corporate ladder in your chosen industry. 

T is for timely

When would you like to achieve your goal? Set yourself a deadline or timeline to help you work towards your goal and prioritize them according to importance. A timeline or deadline is also crucial for accountability and adds a sense of urgency, ensuring that time is spent wisely in an effort to meet the goal. 

The OKR framework

Developed by Andrew Grove for Intel in the 70s, this framework focuses on only two principles, namely, the objectives and the key results. While the SMART framework is more commonly used, the OKR framework has its own merits and has become a valuable tool for setting goals in any organization or industry and at an individual or personal level as well. 

Let’s look at what the OKR framework refers to in more detail. 


This refers to what you want to achieve. Goals should be specific and measurable. 

Key results

Key results refer to the metrics you will use to achieve your goals, as well as how you will track your progress during the process of reaching your goals. 

Research has shown that roughly 16% of modern companies are effective at goal setting, leaving room for error and the likelihood of the wrong goals being focused on. Use the above frameworks to help you set achievable and realistic goals and focus on developing your skills. 

Types of professional development training 

There are three main types of professional development training available. They are:

  • Active learning development plans
  • Passive learning development plans
  • Self-learning development plans

Let’s now take a look at these in more detail as we focus on what they entail and typical examples of each. 

Active learning development training

Active learning is more structured than the other types of development plans and is often assessed by writing an examination or turning in an assessment or practical on the subject. This type of training involves participation and interaction, with those attending the training able to ask questions, take part in discussions, do problem-solving activities, and practice their newly learned or honed skills that follow a set curriculum or schedule. 

Active learning development training can be conducted both in-house or through an outside agency that focuses on skill-building to improve efficiency or productivity. A few examples of active learning development include workshops, conferences, training sessions, seminars or lectures, and online courses.

Some of the great benefits you can look forward to when choosing active learning development training include higher engagement, great collaboration opportunities, increased motivation to learn, and a fun learning atmosphere.

Passive learning development training

Passive learning is great for large groups and can be used to train new employees or help existing employees to learn a new procedure. Passive learning follows a more “relaxed” approach to training as it is essentially done passively, with the individual doing training alone, with no engagement or discussion taking place. 

This training takes place via online lectures or podcasts, reviewing case studies and other industry-focused reading materials on professional development, and viewing presentations.

Some of the benefits you can expect when you choose passive learning include organized presentation and use of all training materials, course or training materials being re-used or shared with others, and independent thinking and decision-making.

Self-learning development training

Self-learning development training is excellent for those who are passionate about their careers and want to use their personal time to further their goals and climb the corporate ladder. Self-learning is solely up to the individual and is the ideal training type for those who want to reach their personal professional goals and objectives. With no set structure or curriculum to follow, all learning is done at your own pace, and information can be gathered from a great many sources to further goals.

This type of development training is largely informal and can take on the form of self-directed study materials or personal skill certification materials or courses.

Some of the benefits of self-learning training methods include allowing you to choose when you want to study, boosting problem-solving skills, improving time-management skills, and increasing motivation as you reach goals.

A few notes on personal development training

No one training plan is better or worse than the next and depends more on the needs, goals, and availability of the individual. 

For employers or organizations, the training would need to fit into busy work schedules that often see employees battling to up their productivity while having to attend mandatory training or development sessions. These are all critical factors that should be considered when choosing a development training plan, ensuring that it does not in any way become overwhelming or add to an already-busy schedule or work day. 

Choose a development plan that will suit your needs, time, and your life, in general, to avoid it becoming a drain on your resources and mental capacity rather than something you will enjoy doing. 

How you can get involved in professional development social work

If you are passionate about social work professional development, there are a great many courses that can help you get started. From Harvard to Florida State University’s College of Social Work, starting a career in professional development and social work need not be a daunting task. 

Additional resources you can use to get your career in professional development are online or in-person courses, mentorship programs, other development-based programs, and in-house training and development opportunities.

As a professional development social worker, you can help employees and organizations focus on training programs and resources that will build on their current skill set while learning new skills to help them achieve their career goals. 

Social workers for professional development also perform the following tasks:

  • Coach, mentor, and consult with individuals and organizations on their learning needs.
  • Provide, secure, and refer necessary resources to help meet career goals
  • Become an advocate for clients who want to implement their own professional development strategy
  • Assist individuals with their continuous learning and growth
  • Help with career training and education within an organization

Focusing on your professional development career plan

If you want to take your professional development plan to the next level, you should focus on the 5 Ps of professional development. They are:


Approach each goal you set for yourself as a possibility for career growth and professional development. Think of all the doors new skills will open for you as you make your way up the corporate ladder and use this to motivate you as you work on reaching those goals. 


Be both present and engaged when working on your professional development. Immerse yourself fully in the professional development journey and engage with others who will help you on your way to success. 


Professional development is a team effort. Learn from those around you and take note of the advice you are given when working on reaching the goals you have set for yourself in your career plan. 


Open your mind to new perspectives as you take note of the advice you are given while on your professional development journey. Who knows, the best insights and advice might come from the person or resource you least expect them to. 


Persevere, persevere, persevere. Use the SMART or OKR frameworks to help you set realistic goals and work on achieving them. If at any time your goals seem too far out of reach, go back to the drawing board and find new ways of reaching them. 

Setting your own goals

Professional development – not to be confused with the long-term goals of your career plan – is a crucial part of any career plan and can help you learn new skills, hone any existing skills, and challenge yourself to be the very best asset to your industry. Taking on many forms, professional development is considered by many professionals as the cornerstone of education as it forms the basis of any career plan. 

Goal-setting is a key element of the professional development plan, and using either the OKR or SMART frameworks when setting career goals is imperative. Ask yourself the following questions when you are setting your career goals:

  • Are my goals realistic?
  • Can I measure the progress of my goals?
  • Can I achieve my goals with the resources available?
  • Are my goals in line with my career plan?
  • How much time can I realistically set aside to achieve my goals?

Your career path need not be hampered by a lack of skills or growth, so take charge of your career plan, follow the advice and tips we have shared in this article, and climb your way to the top of the corporate ladder.

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