June 7, 2005--Nearly 84% or two-thirds of human resource professionals do not use structured employee development programs. Instead, they rely on informal and generic training processes in their organizations, according to a survey released yesterday by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Catalyst, a research and advisory organization.

The survey showed that about half of the 248 HR professionals surveyed think their organizations effectively identify which employees need to improve competencies but lack structured training programs to help them achieve that. About 84% of HR professionals surveyed used generic training, in the areas of customer service and/or diversity.

Most professionals relied on these generic programs instead of formal learning programs like career mentoring, high-visibility assignments and succession planning, which focus on the individual, according to the survey.

Eighty percent of HR professionals surveyed used cross-functional training, while 71% used leadership training and 70% used developmental planning programs. Just about 25% of the organizations used formal career mentoring programs.

In smaller organizations, those with 99 or fewer employees, only 50% of the HR professionals surveyed said they provided leadership training, as compared with medium (100-499 employees) and large (500 or more employees) companies, of which 81% and 88% offered leadership training, respectively. The percentage of small companies offering developmental training fell far behind medium and large companies, as well. Only 57% of small companies offered this type of training, while medium and large companies weighed in at 76% and 79%, respectively.

"Much of an employee's development is probably determined in an ad hoc fashion at the discretion of an employee's supervisor or at the employee's request to work on specific projects," wrote co-authors Jessica Collison and Evren Esen in their report discussing the findings, the Employee Development Survey Report.

The survey defined employee development as "improving employee competencies and skills over the long term through a variety of methods such as mentoring, coaching and succession planning."

Structured employee development programs are essential because they help create workplaces that promote excellence and help build world-class companies, said Kevin Joyce, researcher and author on workplace and organizational performance and founder of consulting company, The Quantum Group, LLC.

"Our research shows that one of the things that distinguishes companies in the Fortune 100 list is the greater usage of formal employee development programs," Joyce said.

Employee development programs are also important because many HR professionals believe that a labor shortage is looming as baby boomers retire at the end of the decade, said the report.

While diversity in the workplace continues to be a hot button issue for companies, only 38% of HR professionals surveyed said their companies had any type of formal diversity or inclusion program in place. Only 23% of small companies and 35% of medium-size companies have programs in place, compared to 62% of large companies.

Though formal diversity programs might be lacking, 83% of those surveyed said racial and ethnic minorities in their organizations receive the same development opportunities as other employees.

The survey also revealed that 78% of the respondents felt that they think women in their organizations receive the same development opportunities as men. However, women continue to have lower representation in top management. Women in top executive and managerial positions were more often found in the non-profit and public sectors (47% and 37%, respectively) as compared with the private sector (26%).

The report is based on a survey conducted in September 2004. Among the respondents, 42% were at organizations with one to 99 employees, 34% had 100 to 499 employees, and 25% had 500 or more employees.