3 Steps to Connect Your Professional Development & Social Impact Initiatives to Improve Employee Engagement

Offering employees meaningful opportunities to use & expand their professional skills through social good positively impacts job performance and satisfaction.

The tight labor market and competitive global economy make it a worker’s market with talented individuals having a lot of choice in their employers. For many, especially coveted millennial and gen x workers, pay isn’t the simple solution it once was to retain the best people. Employees want jobs at companies which align with their lifestyles, speak to their personal values, and – above all – give them opportunities to learn and grow while working on meaningful projects.

How can employers stand out in a sea of options? There isn’t a simple answer. One way to rise to the surface is to embrace and encourage professional learning and development. As the skill sets needed to stay professionally relevant evolve, consider every aspect of your business a skill-building opportunity, including social impact initiatives that give employees purpose and meaning and build their professional skills.

Being a good corporate citizen is still viewed by many organizations as a “check the box” marketing or PR tactic, but a strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) partner provides opportunities for your employees to make a difference in the community while also developing skills that enhance their career and prepare them for the future of work. 94 percent of employees say that they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. 70% of millennial employees also believe companies should make a difference in local and global communities, with a company’s engagement in the community influencing their decision to work there.

Creating purpose-driven, lifelong learning experiences on the job for your employees is a compelling reason to find ways of connecting your organization’s social impact and professional development, however, many companies aren’t engaging their employees with programs connecting these two initiatives – are you?

Here are three ways you can assess your existing and prospective social impact programs to ensure you create partnerships that improve the communities where you work while investing in your employees’ professional development.

1. Assess your corporate values and identify partnerships that enable you to successfully live up to them.

It is key to select social impact partners that align to and build upon core values held by the corporation. Causes you choose to champion have a major influence on your culture and should align to the values that originally attracted your employees. Evaluate what your organization stands for; survey your employees and identify what broad social issues resonate strongest with them. Resources like the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are a good starting point to identify broad social issues facing our world that align back to your organization’s business and values. For example, if education is an important value, define what that means to your organization. It may mean partnering with an online education platform or offering stipends to staff to encourage lifelong learning. Or, it could mean encouraging tutoring and mentoring in the communities where your employees live and work.2. 

GM mentor works with families participating in Iridescent’s AI Family Challenge.

2. Offer professional development opportunities that are purpose-driven and prepare employees for the future of work.

Employees want opportunities to make a difference in communities where they live and work. According to a recent Blackbaud study, nearly half of millennials and gen x surveyed donate their time to make an impact in causes they care about. Even more have participated in sponsored events like a run or walk. Giving time is an increasingly important way younger generations with less disposable income choose to support causes. But giving back can do more. In addition to improving communities and the emotional wellness of employees, it can also positively impact their skills. Soft skills like creativity, communication, and collaboration are becoming increasingly important as automation shifts the future of work. Employees who have volunteered for Iridescent’s global technology and engineering education programs reported being 83% more creative at work and 70% surveyed said the opportunity improved their relationship with their company.  

3. Provide and promote employee benefits beyond money.

Pay is only one of several factors affecting overall job satisfaction and employee engagement. Employees rarely stay based on money alone. Money is often ranked behind career and skill advancement opportunities and recognition and respect in the workplace. Be sure to emphasize benefits other than pay – like skills-based volunteering where your employees learn and grow. Or, spotlight extraordinary employees in your organization that make a difference in the community and show how it’s also benefiting their professional development. And, don’t forget to carve out time for employees to give back and grow.

Identifying and partnering with nonprofit organizations that align to your company’s corporate values and provide purpose-driven experiences for your employees that enhance their skill sets are just some of the ways that you can increase job satisfaction and long-term retention at your organization.

Technology and engineering education nonprofit, Iridescent regularly partners with organizations around the world including Google, NVIDIA, GM, Salesforce, and Adobe to connect professionals building the newest technology with educators, parents, and kids curious to learn them. Visit iridescentlearning.org to learn more about how your organization can engage its employees through mentorship opportunities that use and build their professional skills while also inspiring others to be innovators and leaders.

Partnering with Libraries

Happy National Library Week! We love libraries and working with them, and thought we’d take the chance to celebrate some by talking about some of our partnerships with libraries.

We’ve been working with the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) for some years now, and in the past year we’ve also started working more regularly with both the Chicago Public Library and Orlando Public Library to share the Curiosity Machine with local communities. In Chicago we began with a summer-long pilot program last year, and just last week we finished up the first round of Curious Sessions run by teen volunteers from Afterschool Matters!

After School Matters Volunteer hosting a Curiosity Course

This is all very exciting—and if you caught some of the articles from this week about the enduring popularity of libraries (or regularly frequent your own local library), this diversity of library programming likely won’t be a surprise.

In particular, we’ve been continually impressed by the LAPL’s investment in presenting STEM content to their patrons, so when they invited us to share the Curiosity Machine as part of their “Full STEAM ahead grant” we happily accepted. We were asked to run a couple of Curiosity Courses as well as offer a Professional Development session for their librarians, and this February, we had the pleasure of hosting 40 librarians from all over Los Angeles in our studio.

Our goals were to introduce the librarians to the Curiosity Machine, the learning philosophy behind it, and how to use it at their local branches. We started with a brief presentation about Iridescent and the Curiosity Machine and how our learning philosophy guides our work and then moved into hands-on design challenges, so that librarians would get to experience these challenges and the Engineering Design Processes for themselves.

But we were also experimenting…
We talk the talk of curiosity, creativity, persistence, and imagination when sharing the Curiosity Machine with partners, but we also make sure to apply that to our own work…so for this PD session we tested out two ways of facilitating use of the Curiosity Machine. For the first Design Challenge, we asked the group to jump in and start building. We didn’t expose them to the Engineering Design Process, Fixed versus Growth Mindsets, and Divergent versus Convergent questions (the cornerstone of our learning philosophy)—we just explained the challenge and asked them to leap into it.

Our session facilitator, Ben, invited the librarians to ask questions they thought they might ask a child during the building process. By and large, the questions they provided were very convergent—or conceptual.

Additionally, the group kept requesting descriptions of the scientific concepts being addressed in the task—expressing frustration and self-doubt about ability to teach concepts without being an expert in the subject area.

We took this comment seriously—both as a point of evaluation of the information we provide on the Curiosity Machine and to those we train to use it, and as a key point in that day’s session. At this point in the session we explained that while concepts are important, facilitators of the Curiosity Machine did not need an extensive science or engineering background. And then we demonstrated how, by introducing the Engineering Design Process (multiple iterations, curiosity, creativity and persistence), fixed versus growth mindsets, and the difference between divergent and convergent questions. As the librarians understood that the aim of building was in large part to encourage children to develop a growth mindset, they really embraced the challenge of developing divergent questions to ask during the process, as well as the Engineering Design Process.

We then ran a second Design Challenge, and guided the librarians through an “asking good questions” worksheet, directly addressing the need to develop divergent questions and facilitate a growth mindset.

As previously noted, with this in mind, and coupled with an understanding of the Engineering Design Process, the librarians embraced the challenge. In a post-survey, most librarians had very positive things to say and indicated interest in presenting a CM activity at their site (we also provided every librarian with a Curiosity Machine starter-kit and log-in info, to make this as easy as possible).

It was a successful event, and it was great to see participants so invested and to see them come around to the challenges with the additional information about mindsets, divergent questions, and the aims of the Engineering Design Process. It was a pleasure—and it taught us a few lessons about how to present the Curiosity Machine to future partners and families. We’re considering the best way to present information on the new version of the Curiosity Machine site—and how much information to provide to inspire confidence in users. Science is intimidating, and including more complete descriptions of the concepts being addressed might help partners overcome trepidations about using the Curiosity Machine. People love our programs when we run them, but in encouraging people to present the material and use the platform on their own, we need to address their requests for more support (in the form of concept and content information), and figure out the best ways to provide that. This session was valuable in bringing that to the forefront of our thoughts about further PD sessions and Curiosity Machine use and showing us ways to improve what we’re sharing and how we share it.

…on a final note, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that one of the suggestions the LA librarians provided and requested was a reading list. Of course. It is a great idea, and in the meantime, there are suggestions for further reading (at various reading levels) in both of our Making Machines Books.