Learning & Growth: Why you need your own development budget

Every time I’ve been in a role with an individual budget for learning & development (L&D), I’ve loved it. And every time that benefit has been limited, and withdrawn, I’ve left pretty sharpish. I’ve realised I value having an individual L&D budget above all other employer benefits. (Employee assistance programmes nearly tie, but, for me, at an extremely close second place.)

I’m so grateful for all the training, conferences, and other formal learning experiences I’ve had. They’ve made a huge material difference to my life.

And, simultaneously, as much as I value all of that (and I really do); it’s no comparison to setting my own learning & development budget.

People supporting each other to learn and grow together.
The joy of having an individual L&D budget

But what if I can’t afford it?

You don’t have to spend money on learning. Many folks aren’t in a position to. I haven’t always been able to either.

This whole post is about spending money on learning, because that’s my current reality. But it wasn’t always.

I only started spending money on formal learning in the last couple of years. Before that I was consuming a huge amount of free learning in various places. And I still do that too.

You can explore more about that in things I’ve written before about Liberating Structures and Agile & Scrum Mastery. I’m happy to share more about accessing free learning. Tweet me if you’d like that.

In the meantime, these are some of my favourite free learning resources:

Some others include: FutureLearn, Eventbrite (mix of free & paid), podcasts, books in libraries, articles, and I could do on.

Give yourself your own learning budget

But why?

Reach beyond ineffective team budgets

Early in my career, I worked for employers who had team L&D budgets. For example, I worked for a charity that decided to give the whole team group training one year. Which was pretty good for many of us, but some team members had already had that training, so they didn’t get any training that year!

This group approach to training really short-changed individuals. It doesn’t recognise the unique needs, desires, strengths and challenges people have.

But it was all I knew then. And, in my experience, charities always have a scarcity mindset, so it seemed like that would be Just The Way Things Are.

Incidentally, there’s so much value in experiencing training as a team, when it’s the right solution for them. But it shouldn’t be the only option.

Make the most of individual budgets

The first time I was given an individual L&D budget I was blown away because I’d never even heard of that before, never mind experienced it. And I embraced it.

I’ve only ever experienced individualised L&D budgets at private companies, incidentally, never at nonprofits or charities.

When I learned that most people don’t use their L&D budgets I was shocked.

Spend far more on L&D than employers ever do

I spend far more of my own money on L&D than employers will.

This year, I’ve spent £2900 of my own personal budget.

Last year, I spent £2700 of my employer’s budget.

And, bear in mind that we’re only 4 months into this year. If I carry on at this rate — which I’m not planning to! — I’ll have spent £10.8K by the end of the year. Which is 4 times as much.

Also, I’m talking about L&D for professional growth and development here, not learning purely for fun. I budget for that too, but separately.

Perhaps I’ll look at how much I’ve spent on that another time. Classes in art, botany, music, writing and other hobbies & interests…

Persuade yourself alone & be autonomous

I’ve had managers of many different types. Some who value learning, some who don’t. Some who genuinely care about me, some who don’t.

Even the most caring managers, and those who prize learning above all else, are never going to value my learning as much as I do.

I do find it useful to write business cases for learning, because then I articulate:

  • why I want to do a course 
  • what I expect to get from it
  • how I intend to turn that into business value

And I rarely create these for myself. So, there is some benefit to justifying my choices to someone else.

But still, I dislike seeking approval for decisions related to my learning. It irks me! And I love the freedom to pursue my curiosity wherever it leads without constraints.

Best case, set your own agenda and spend your own money – if you can. If you can have other folks fund your learning without diverting you off course, great. But if not, at least you can revel in your autonomy.

So, continuing on to the next adventure!

And, that concludes my daily blogging challenge for April. 30 blog posts! 30 drawings! Excited for, and curious about, what comes next. What will I choose? 🤔