Talent retention concept cartoon showing a giant hand with a magnet trying to attract an employee flying out a door marked exit.
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Why upskilling is the answer to talent retention and so much more

15 Aug 2023

Employers should leverage learning and development opportunities to reduce staff turnover and improve business outcomes, argues HRLocker’s Adam Coleman.

“If you’ve ever left the cinema halfway through a bad film, given up on a long queue, or exited a slow-loading website, you’ll understand that we all need good reasons to stay in the same place. It applies to our jobs, too – because businesses that fail to provide development opportunities lose their best people,” says Adam Coleman.

Coleman is CEO of Co Clare-based HRLocker, a business that provides cloud-based HR software to help clients manage office-based, remote and distributed workforces. He has seen first-hand that people tend to leave employers if they aren’t given proper access to learning and development programmes.

Continuous development is beneficial for workers. It helps keep them motivated, particularly if they have been in the same company for a long time. As Coleman says, “Careers have peaks and troughs. You start a new job filled with curiosity. If the onboarding process is good, your enthusiasm builds. A few months down the line, you’re still feeling optimistic. You love the job, you’re fully engaged, and you know how to do it well.

“Then one day, you wake up, and the role you once loved no longer excites you. You’re clocking in, but mentally, you’ve checked out. Sooner or later, you start scrolling through job sites looking for pastures new before inevitably handing in your notice and starting again. You’re not alone. Almost one-third of Irish employees see no future in their current jobs.”

Plan carefully to get the best from L&D programmes

But Coleman is adamant that it doesn’t have to be like this. He argues that companies should not be wary of investing in learning and development plans, as this is a way they can retain the talent they already have on their books. “Adult development can do so much more for your business, especially when belts are tightening and there’s little room in the budget for recruitment,” he points out.

As with everything, there is a right way and a wrong way to approach learning and development. It’s important that employers don’t take any shortcuts as staff won’t reap the learning benefits fully and the money funnelled into upskilling initiatives will be wasted. Coleman warns against what he calls box-ticking exercises.

‘Adult development programmes don’t just teach your people new skills – they teach them what skills you value’

“Training can be in vain if development has no practical application or strategic purpose,” he says. Likewise, “Employees may rightly feel disregarded if their development efforts go unrecognised or unrewarded. Worse still, it could equip them with the necessary skills to secure employment elsewhere. So not only do you end up recruiting for roles you could have filled in-house with targeted training, you lose out on the capabilities and capacities of existing staff.”

He recommends planning learning and development programmes strategically rather than leaving people to their own devices. “Adult development programmes don’t just teach your people new skills – they teach them what skills you value. Suppose employees pick up new skills they know are prized by the business and have a positive impact on purpose. In that case, they’re more likely to feel their contributions are worthwhile. So, the message behind upskilling is just as important as the programme itself.” Self-directed learning might seem like the progressive choice but Coleman reckons workers need a little bit of guidance when it comes to upskilling. It helps them feel a sense of purpose, which is particularly important in light of the recent seismic shift in working culture since the pandemic.

“People want to feel purposeful and work for companies that have a purpose. But work has changed so dramatically over the past few years. Your employees may not feel the same connection to your company or that their role has as much merit as it once did. Consequently, they’re less likely to stick around for the long haul because employees and all stakeholders must deeply know, understand, and connect to a business’ purpose for it to benefit.

“What’s more, our sense of identity intrinsically links to the work we do, so we all seek recognition and reward from our bosses. When you support your people with developing new skills, you tell them, ‘I believe in you’. And as news about big tech layoffs continues to roll in, showing teams you’re invested in their future is also good for your business future.”

Technology’s place in upskilling

Talking of tech, where does Coleman think technology comes in to play in matters of upskilling? He believes tech is hugely beneficial to both workers and employers who want to gain new, useful skills. “Technology platforms and applications are the most significant enablers of learning. Two examples of essential technologies are learning management systems (LMS) and continuous professional development (CPD) solutions. These and other tech-enabled tools will help you plan, track, advertise and schedule development opportunities across your entire workforce,” says Coleman.

‘The message behind upskilling is just as important as the programme itself’

While he is an advocate for focused and purpose-based learning rather than entirely self-directed learning, he does see the potential for tech platforms to cater to flexible learning that workers can do in their own time. “Online courses delivered via learning experience platforms (LXPs) give you greater flexibility. Rather than generic presentations, content is available on-demand and in different formats. More interactive, dynamic learning experiences also mean workers are more willing and likely to engage in self-development.

“E-learning also helps your business to do more with less. Instead of rolling out courses to multiple individuals and groups of workers in different locations, you can purchase content once and share it widely. Similarly, rather than paying over and over again for specialist trainers or external experts, you can deliver the same lessons digitally for as long as they’re relevant. On-demand upskilling also frees up valuable work hours,” he points out, so it can suit both employers and employees alike, potentially.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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