Cabinet Conversations: The Retention and Upskilling of the Existing Labor Force

April 12, 2022

Cabinet Conversations: The retention and upskilling of the existing labor force

ellenflowersfields6861.jpgBy Ellen Flowers-Fields
Associate Vice President
Continuing Education and Workforce Development

Discussing the evolving needs of industry, emerging technologies, rapid advancements, and expanding customer expectations is a familiar conversation.  While we acknowledge these realities, we tend to act as if things will work out on their own.  Many industry and economic development associations have exchanged dire predictions of labor and talent shortages, yet many small businesses have not adopted solid recruitment and retention strategies. 

The old song by Johnnie Taylor states “it’s cheaper to keep her;” in other words, the cost benefit analysis supports that 80% of repeat business comes from existing customers.  The time, effort, and investment made in retaining and nurturing what you have will result in better outcomes than continually grasping for what is new.  Consider Peter Drucker’s indelible impact when he moved personnel expenses from a reported liability to a reported asset.  Assets are valuable, and should be cared for as investments. How is this demonstrated in the workplace today?  I’ll share with you a few points to consider.

The employer response to employee retention efforts must recognize the diverse needs of employees. How might you identify what’s important to them? Maybe employees want a mentor, specific training, or schedule flexibility.  Employers who have these conversations with employees are finding that salary isn’t always the issue.  When employers show interest and support for employees and their personal goals, it forms a commitment toward employees and companies growing together.  Fair is not the same; however, equity plays a considerable role in responding to employee needs.  While everyone can’t have every Friday off, a team commitment to rotating schedules or schedule adjustments creates a work-life balance for the entire team.  Further, creating a team that sees and values its inter-dependencies is critical to employee retention.  Such actions remove “I don’t know; that’s not my area” excuses and invites cooperation amongst staff members who see themselves as helping each other and the larger mission. 

Lastly, I can’t overstate the importance of training, training, and more training.  Training is an investment, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.  Keeping your staff abreast of new ideas and trends not only keeps them engaged, but nurtures the motivation for learning and development that sustains the competitiveness of the company.  Every staff member, in every role, should have a training plan that not only provides technical skills for their current role, but provides leadership development, interpersonal skills, critical thinking, and effective communication.  The College of Southern Maryland provides many training options: online, self-paced, hybrid, and face-to-face.  Certifications, micro-credentials, and digital badges that align with desired competencies can help fill or improve skills and knowledge gaps, as well as build a transcript toward other degrees and certificates. 

As American industrialist Henry Ford said, “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.” Simply put, your ability to grow your business has a direct correlation on your ability to retain and strategically grow your labor force. Your people are your greatest asset.

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