How to upskill existing employees and sharpen retention

In their Resourcing and Talent Planning Survey 2017 of over 1,000 HR professionals, the CIPD and Hays examined a range of issues including external climate, recruitment budgets and costs, resourcing and talent management practice and employee retention. In her third article on the results, Claire McCartney focuses on what organisations can do to develop and upskill existing employees and how they can sharpen their focus on retention.

As the mismatch between the skills available in the labour market and those required by organisations grows, businesses need to get better at building and developing their existing employees to meet current and future needs.

As well as reducing reliance on the external labour market and associated recruitment costs, organisations can tailor their development to meet the specific skill requirements of their organisations and anticipate the skills needed as roles continue to evolve and change.

This year’s findings suggest an increased focus on talent management in general, with over half of CEOs prioritising it and talent management budgets set to increase more than recruitment budgets. A quarter of organisations are already developing existing staff following the UK’s decision to leave the EU and the possible anticipated reduction in labour mobility.

The top plan for organisations trying to overcome recruitment difficulties going forward is to upskill existing employees to fill hard-to-recruit-for positions. Few employers agree that the current education system is meeting their skill requirement to any great extent. Many are responding with approaches to develop skills and access younger workers through apprenticeships, intern schemes, post-A-level entry routes and sponsoring students through university.

Retention practices

Organisations need to sharpen their focus on retention in the light of increased recruitment difficulties and competition for talent. Labour turnover has increased again in this survey and sits at a median figure of 16.5% up from 14% in 2015. Despite this increase, very few organisations measure labour turnover so are unaware of the true cost to their business.

More than four-fifths of organisations had challenges retaining one or more category of staff in 2016, and this represents an increase from previous years; however, just two-fifths of organisations undertook specific initiatives to improve staff retention in 2016. Private sector organisations were more likely to do so than public and not-for-profit organisations.

Of those organisations that had undertaken an initiative to improve staff retention, the most popular step was through increasing learning and development opportunities (57%), followed by improved induction process (56%) and improved benefits (50%). This contrasts to some extent with strategies adopted in 2015, where more organisations made efforts to retain staff through improving pay, increasing learning and development opportunities, and improving line manager people skills.

Private sector organisations were more likely to have taken steps to improve benefits than the other sectors. Manufacturing and production organisations, however, were least likely to have taken steps to implement coaching/mentoring/buddy systems than the other sectors (and these were also more likely to be implemented in larger organisations). Finally, not-for-profit organisations were more likely than the other sectors to have taken steps to redesign jobs to make them more satisfying.

The three methods most commonly used to address retention – increased learning and development opportunities, improved induction process and improved benefits – are also those considered most effective, in the top six strategies chosen. However, top of the least effective methods is also an improved induction process, suggesting for some organisations this alone, is not curing their retention woes.

Sharpening your approach

Ways in which organisations can sharpen their approaches to upskilling and retention include:

For upskilling:

  • Tailor learning and development programmes to meet the specific skill requirements of your organisation;
  • Develop skills and access younger workers through apprenticeships, intern schemes, post-A-level entry routes and sponsoring students through university;
  • Ensure that you are developing talent of all ages – think about ways of encouraging participation across age groups and strategies to support lifelong learning;
  • Consider whether any of your employees who might feel over-qualified and under-utilised for their roles, would benefit from more stretch and challenge to help motivate and develop them.

For retention:

  • Ensure that new recruits have a realistic understanding of what their roles entail and the values of the organisation to avoid early loss, based on unmatched expectations;
  • Create a proper induction process for new recruits supported by either a buddy system or helpful colleagues throughout the business;
  • Gather and act, where possible, on information about the things that matter most to employees (through focus group work/ pulse surveys, or both);
  • Create a culture of supportive line managers that hold regular one to ones with their team members and have an open door policy when it comes to issues of concern and development discussions;
  • Help employees to feel like they are working towards a common aim and recognise and value their contribution towards that organisation aim;
  • Measure and evaluate recruitment and retention practices and implement any improvements that can be made.
Claire McCartney

About Claire McCartney

Claire McCartney is associate research adviser at the CIPD.

One Response to How to upskill existing employees and sharpen retention

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    William Ryan 9 Sep 2017 at 10:05 pm #

    All good points but to be successful the organization needs to be actively engaged in developing career paths needed for business success. Use competencies and align job skills within then use learning/training/education as tools that target employees to the path that will lead to new roles and performance success. When engaged the retention will be addressed and the talent pipeline will fill from within. I would also suggest an extended and integrated onboarding model for all levels and a mentoring program to guide employees from all areas to clearly defined career options and skills that can be addressed in the learning pathway.

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