Professional Development Programs Need Your Support


It's year-end planning time again at many companies, and there is a good chance either you or the department heads at your company are hard at work on 2009 budgets and revenue plans. Inevitably, the challenges of balancing headcount and employee-benefit expenses against projected income leads to the need to make difficult choices. I doubt any of us has ever said, "We could run this company much better if we just had fewer employees." Especially when it comes to research and development, we can almost never have too many players on the team, and, in most cases, we are desperately trying to succeed with way too few people who are being asked to work much longer hours than they should. Does working 14 hours a day really produce more creative thinking and productivity than 8 or 10 hours? I have my opinions, but they may be best left to another editorial.

Meanwhile, another important consideration often gets overlooked in the process: continuing professional training and education. According to the U.S. Department of Education, less than 30% of adults (26.9% actually) took part in career-related education in 2004 and 2005 (the latest period for which data has been released). Of those who did further their education, less than one-third of them took more than one course. I find this extremely disappointing. The single most valuable asset to any company is a team member who is up to date on the latest advances in their chosen field. If that field is a technical one, keeping up to date is a constant challenge made harder by the long hours demanded of all of us. Display technology is no different. That is why I am taking this opportunity to argue in favor of greater emphasis on continuing education for all employees.

Promoting professional development of employees requires a commitment to three important things:

(1) Accommodation for the time required for course work.

(2) Financial assistance in some form.

(3) Recognition of academic achievement and rewards for professional development.

All educational endeavors require a time commitment, and those with the most value usually require the most time in the form of preparation, participation, and implementation. However, even when well-meaning companies implement all of these things, employees often do not take enough advantage of them. The most frequent response I hear when I ask why people do not continue their education is that they do not have the time. That's an honest answer. Time for education usually has to be made, margined out of lifestyle and work-schedule adjustments. It usually requires tough decisions and rarely is easy to maintain. How many of us, myself included, have started down a degree path and have had to put it on pause because of work and family? A colleague of mine is working at a company near Boston while also completing his Doctorate at a downtown university. With a family and a suburban home, he was spending literally several hours commuting between work, classes, and home. His solution was to sell his house, move into a condominium within walking distance of his university, and reverse commute out of Boston every morning for work. Not only did he save countless hours every week, he now has time to eat dinner at home many evenings and still complete his coursework.

While selling one's house is a bit extreme, other similar adjustments are often necessary in order to achieve the level of career and professional growth most of us desire. Like most things, you need to want them bad enough to make sacrifices.

It's hard to overemphasize the value of advanced education to both the employee and the employer. Complex problems can be solved faster, up-to-date business and technology know-how can be implemented, and unknown problems often are avoided at inception because of the higher level of knowledge being applied to the business. Employees who make the commitment to pursue an advanced-degree program, or even those who just want to stay current, are making a serious commitment usually well above their company's expectations. It is crucial that we, as managers, recognize this and provide all three necessary accommodations to the fullest extent we can. Everyone benefits including the industry we all love. So, as you pour over those budgets and have those challenging conversations in preparation for 2009, please do not forget the bigger picture and allocate some resources to employee professional development. If you are one of the lucky ones whose company already has a comprehensive professional-development program, USE IT! Take advantage of it in every way you can and invest in your future for the benefit of all of us.

I am really excited this month to welcome our Guest Editor Jyrki Kimmel from the Nokia Research Center in Finland. Jyrki has been a long time supporter of SID, having contributed numerous articles and papers, as well as working on the Symposium Program Committee and serving as past European Region Vice President. Jyrki has an amazing depth of knowledge and experience in the mobile-devices marketplace and his perspective goes way beyond just the displays. This month, he has brought to us three articles that each look at separate but important aspects of mobile-device development. You can read their introductions as well as his thoughts on the next technology challenges facing mobile devices in his guest editorial (see page 4).

One issue that he highlights is the same one I am particularly interested in – head-worn displays (i.e., glasses or goggles). Like Jyrki, I am convinced we are reaching a critical limit in terms of the amount of information we want to put on handheld screens versus the workable size of the screens. If we make the screens any larger, the devices will not fit in our pockets and hands. If we make the pixels and hence the content smaller, people like me cannot read them comfortably. Yet the rush to implement Web browsing, videos, advanced gaming, word processing, and even HD television is irreversible, but unless we find a new paradigm these new high-bandwidth innovations could stall because of the limitations of the displays. I am sure a new generation of lightweight and ergonomically attractive head-worn displays is coming – I just do not know yet what form they will take. This is a segment that has seen many ideas but very limited market penetration in the past decade. The difference today appears to be that content is now in enough hands that the displays are now more necessary then ever for a completely rewarding user experience.

We'll keep our eyes open here at Information Display for you.

Stephen P. Atwood