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Three quarters of today's workforce wants career growth opportunities. In fact, 68 percent of workers believe that policies around training and development are the most vital ones at their companies. And millennials are particularly passionate about growth—87 percent of them report that professional development opportunities are very important to them.

But it's virtually impossible for HR teams or L&D professionals to offer the meaningful professional development opportunities that workers crave without buy-in from the C-suite. It's up to organizational leaders to establish professional development strategies and career growth opportunities as fundamental to their organizations, particularly in today's competitive atmosphere, where unemployment is at a two-decade record low and two-thirds of workers have changed jobs in the last year because of lacking development and learning opportunities.

What can leaders do to grasp the significance of growth opportunities and make them a priority at their company? The following are three professional development strategies that every leader should know.

1) Gain an Awareness of Employee Ambitions

Disconnected leaders won't be in tune with their employees' appetite for growth, or with the areas of business that can benefit from these ambitious workers. To get in the loop, leaders should develop an understanding of what workers want to gain out of their time with the company, and how leadership can help them get there. They'll also want to maintain an open conversation with managers about any professional development opportunities on their teams that growth-hungry workers may want to explore.

"Employers must shift their mindset from helping employees succeed within their company, to helping employees succeed, period. If employers approach employees from the perspective of 'Your work here will make you more successful at this company, and elsewhere,' employees will recognize the commitment to development, feel more appreciated and understand that their employer invested in them," Rick Devine, CEO of TalentSky, says in Forbes.

2) Assess the Skills Required For Growth

Before organizational leaders can make growth and professional development a company-wide priority, they need to get a grasp on any skill gaps that exist across the board, and work with HR or L&D teams to help workers overcome these gaps.

Sixty-two percent of executives believe they will need to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce between now and 2023, and this skills gap can't be resolved by  simply sending everyone back to school, says Darren Shimkus, president of Udemy for Business. "Even if you hire for today's must-have skills, that's no guarantee you'll have the right talent for tomorrow's," he explains in TLNT.

Once organizational leaders become aware of the gaps that exist at their organization (a Learning Management System can help track and identify any gaps that exist based on employee feedback and engagement with learning materials), they'll be more willing to invest in learning platforms and learning content development, which will, in the long run, help with employee growth.

3) Engage in Tough Conversations About Growth

Armed with an understanding of employees' goals and the skills workers will need to attain them, leaders need to start participating in regular meetings with employees about their growth and development. Depending on the roles of individual executives, they may not have a lot of time to spare, so these meetings can be held in groups, if needed.

Leaders need to prepare for these to be tough conversations—after all, employees may feel stifled or bored in their current positions or might even be planning to quit. That's why leaders should come into the meetings ready to turn the conversation around and offer growth options.

"For employees to sense opportunities for growth and development, keep talking about development plans and succession planning. Maintain communication about advancement opportunities on an organization-wide level, and also through personal development meetings where the question is asked, 'Where do you see yourself in this company five years from now?' and 'How can we help you get there?'" says Charles Rogel, VP of product development at DecisionWise.

By investing in career growth and implementing smart professional development strategies, organizational leaders will be contributing to their employees' success, and ensuring that their talent is satisfied with their roles within the company. With the support of their HR team or L&D department, leaders can truly make growth and development an organizational priority and demonstrate to workers that they are invested in their future.

Photo: Creative Commons