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Purposeful Talent Development: Why Credit Unions Should Offer Continuing Education for Employees

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By Pam Cohen

5 minutes

The credit union mantra of ‘people helping people’ applies.

The credit union movement is founded on the principle of people helping people. This relates to how credit union professionals work to improve the financial well-being of their organizations’ members and help those members reach their financial dreams, regardless of channel. The principle also rings true when it comes to leadership at a financial institution, which can provide support and motivation for employees by encouraging continuous growth and development.

It is critical for all credit unions to offer continuing education opportunities for all employees. While it is incumbent upon the employee to take advantage of the opportunities, it is our promise and commitment to our staff to provide learning and growth programs for them. The continuing education we offer can include such things as internal and external seminars and conferences, partnerships with local colleges and universities for associate degrees, tuition reimbursement for bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as educational opportunities provided by our own learning and development team and their external partners.

I believe that all employees gain from educational opportunities. By learning and growing, employees can present the best version of themselves at work and be proud of their own knowledge and accomplishments. The post-pandemic world offers so many opportunities to learn new skills, which can translate into better relationships with each other and our members.

What We Offer to Our Staff

At Affinity Federal Credit Union in New Jersey, we invest a lot of time and effort in our continued education programs because our entire organization values the benefits of learning. We have three tiers of offerings for our employees:

  • Internal program. We have a structured digital learning initiative that focuses on the 10 core competencies we want every employee to possess, including business and financial acumen. Affinity FCU started a “competency of the month” club, asking each employee to take part in different activities, including reading an in-depth article on a subject matter or completing an assessment. This year, we kicked off a program encouraging staff to nominate a peer who best embodies a specific competency we desire as a credit union. CUES membership has been a wonderful resource to help us build learning exercises surrounding our 10 competencies. In addition, CUES provides us with great leadership courses to help us develop our current leaders, as well as our future leaders.
  • Educational seminars. Our internal learning and development team also partners with Franklin Covey to provide employees with specific professional training and learning opportunities. In addition, we partner with various colleges and universities to provide two-hour to half-day sessions on various computer and human skills. These are offered virtually and in person.
  • External higher education partnerships. Our institution established partnerships with several universities and colleges for undergraduate and graduate programs for our employees. Affinity FCU also permits employees to go to any college or university to seek a certificate program. We are also in the process of partnering with a local college or university to offer employees the chance to complete an associate degree program.

At Affinity FCU, we’ve measured our success through lower-than-average turnover rates, more success with hiring and promotions, and seeing employees broadening their skills.

Why I’m So Passionate About Continuing Education

I want to help others achieve success through education. I started my career as a receptionist and, while I loved the job, I wanted to do more. One day, I spoke with my company’s CEO, asking if I could take on a larger role if I went back to school for accounting. When I learned that accounting wasn’t my passion, I switched to studying psychology. Then I was fortunate to be hired into Affinity FCU’s HR team.

My own career path has shown that sometimes you have to take charge of your own career. While organizations must provide opportunities for growth and development to staff members, it’s also important for employees to communicate what they want and not be afraid to say what they’d like to do in the future.

Two years after being hired as VP/HR at Affinity FCU, I let my leader know I wanted to broaden my role so that I could make a larger impact on the organization and membership. I explained what I was thinking, and over time, it happened. Now I not only work and continue to learn about HR, but I’ve also gotten to learn and work in risk, administration and finance.

I think that it’s important for employees and managers to have career development discussions regularly. It’s key to keep in mind that sometimes the path isn’t always a straight line. By sharing my story so publicly as to write an article about it, I’m hoping that our employees feel comfortable coming to me and talking about their own career paths and educational opportunities.

Don’t Take Continuing Education for Granted

Unemployment remains near historic lows and, as a result, the labor market has been very favorable to professionals seeking a new job. So, I have a message for those considering changing companies: While it may seem like an easy decision, it’s important for everyone to take a step back and look at the big picture first. Remember, your employee experience is not just about your salary. Be informed about what else your employer offers besides pay—such as continuing education. If you were to leave a role at a credit union that offered tuition reimbursement for another institution that does not, you could be passing up a major opportunity and a motivating factor to grow your career.

CUES member Pam Cohen is SVP/people, culture and administration at $3.8 billion Affinity Federal Credit Union based in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, with 20 branches in the New York tri-state area. With more than 30 years of experience in human resources, Cohen is viewed by her peers as a dynamic, purpose-driven leader who specializes in developing comprehensive human capital management strategies aimed at delivering transformational company performance. She is a firm believer that a company’s people, culture and administration teams are the drivers of creating positive change within an organization.

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