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Who is responsible for professional development? Ask HR

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.
Your professional development is your responsibility.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human-resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest HR professional society.

The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.

Question: What do you do when upper management shows no interest in sending employees to training programs, continuing education or conferences or in providing opportunities for advancement? They seem too busy to want to do anything that helps make their employees better or prepares them for a higher level of work.  – Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: Brace yourself for my answer because it may not be popular: Your professional development is your responsibility.

My mother always reminded me that knowledge, once acquired, is something no one can take from you. The truth of the matter is, given that employees today switch jobs every three to four years, employees – not employers – stand to benefit the most from career development investment.

With that said, many employers choose to pay for training and career development programs as a way to recruit and retain talented workers. In fact, when we asked HR professionals about recruiting for hard-to-fill positions, more than half said providing training opportunities for employees was the most effective strategy.

So, start by asking your manager specifically what training and development opportunities are available and how you can be considered for them. Be prepared to do some homework in advance so you can offer cost-effective solutions that will benefit you and the company. Keep in mind there are many options, including technology seminars, continuing education classes, community college courses and industry-specific training.

Given that employees today switch jobs every three to four years, employees – not employers – stand to benefit the most from career development investment.

Most people want opportunities for professional development and advancement. Unfortunately, two-thirds of employees are not very satisfied with their employer’s commitment to their development. The result? When employees are discontented, they often leave and find an employer who does care.

Workplaces that make an investment in their people are investing in the company and the company’s future. I believe it is critical.

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Finally, keep in mind that some employers might refuse to honor your request for legitimate financial reasons. Outside opportunities such as seminars and conferences might be too costly for the company at the time you ask. If this is the case with your employer, consider internal training opportunities and online classes that can be less costly and just as effective. And who knows, your manager might even offer to mentor you, which would be amazing!

At the end of the day, if professional development is not available or supported, you have choices, including:

• Looking for an employer that does believe in and is committed to professional development; or

• Developing your own plan at your expense and asking your manager for time away from the office to attend.

Remember, this is about your career, your development and what's right for you.

Q: A company requires employees to wear personal protection equipment – aprons, gloves, hairnets, etc. It charges each employee $6 a week for the laundry of aprons. I thought OSHA guidelines said maintenance of personal protection equipment is to be paid by the company. Is the $24-a-month laundry charge to employees legal? – Patrick

Taylor: Generally, it would be illegal for an employer to require an employee to pay for the maintenance of personal protection equipment (PPE). But before assuming the employer is mishandling this situation, three questions must be answered.

First, is the apron, for example, really PPE?

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an item is PPE if it protects employees from job-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities – and if it meets OSHA standards.

A rubber apron that protects an employee from chemical spills would be considered PPE, for example. But an apron used solely for keeping clothes clean would not.

If an apron qualifies as PPE, an employer is required to provide it, cover the cost and maintain it. Additionally, an employer is responsible for replacing worn or damaged items and training workers on how to care for them.

Second, what does the laundry expense entail? Regular, basic care and cleaning of PPE – such as machine washing and drying an apron – usually can be the employee’s responsibility. But when care and cleaning require greater attention and expense, such as professional dry cleaning, the extra cost and care fall to the employer.

Finally, is the fee a required charge or a service provided as a convenience? If the employer is providing a service for employees to have their aprons cleaned voluntarily (often at a discount from a business vendor), it is usually acceptable for an employer to collect a regular fee, but not to mandate one.

When dealing with PPE, businesses must consider state law requirements in addition to federal guidelines.

Some employers cover the reasonable costs of maintaining PPE as an employee benefit, especially when the item is required. This ensures the equipment is being treated properly and shows the employer’s commitment to cleanliness and safety standards.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who is responsible for professional development? Ask HR