Runaway skills?

Employers are expected to encourage transferable skills, but are they merely
helping the competition? Alison Thomas asks readers’ opinions

The days of a job for life are long gone; people today can expect to change
their sphere of activity and even their career several times in the course of
their working lives. This has significant implications for their skills base,
especially the ‘soft’ skills which equip them to embrace new disciplines and

Employers who encourage and support the development of ‘go anywhere’ skills
help workers to forge a successful career path and ensure their organisation
has a flexible, effective workforce.

But what happens when employees move on? Does the competition reap the

Wenda Marcus
HR manager, Maven Management

We recently invested heavily in the training of two people who left almost
immediately afterwards.

We thought long and hard and have decided to require staff to commit to the
company for six months, or reimburse part of the training costs. It will only
apply in the case of higher-level training which leads to a qualification or
adds significantly to an individual’s CV.

This seems reasonable to me, although I am concerned that the financial risk
might discourage some people from training in the first place.

On the other hand, six months is not a long time.

David Butcher
Director, general management programmes, Cranfield

It is to do with how the psychological contract has changed. People do
expect more, but if you fulfil their expectations, then you distinguish
yourself [from other employers].

This view is increasingly permeating the large organisations, and small
companies are beginning to appreciate the benefits too. They suffer more if
someone leaves, but by investing in your people there is a kind of moral
connection that inspires loyalty.

To minimise the risk, you must make a judgement about the individual
involved. If you make a mistake, it’s one way of finding out that you had the
wrong person anyway.

Richard Chiumento
CEO, Chiumento

As an employer, you must develop your staff to remain competitive. If you
don’t, the good people will leave and seek development opportunities elsewhere.

It is very much a retention requirement. By investing in your workforce, not
only do you benefit from individuals’ improved capabilities, you create a
climate where people want to learn and grow with you as a company.

Adrian Jones
E-learning manager, B&Q

I canvassed colleagues, and everyone agreed that all forms of development
are positive, whether the skills involved are transferable or not.

Our company has established clear links between the amount of training
people receive, how long they stay, and their level of productivity.

Many transferable skills relate to management. If we deprive our managers of
development, we deprive everyone, because those managers lead our teams.

The competitive nature of today’s labour market is also relevant. Serious
investment in training and development encourages people to join your company.

Gary Crouch
National HR director, Unilever UK

To attract and develop great people, you have to invest in their future,
whether that is with you or another employer.

Organisations that invest in people will be the winners in the long term.
Even for small companies, where it is more inconvenient and relatively
expensive when staff leave, what is the alternative?

What sort of employer do you want to be? An employer of choice? A magnet for
talent? A company that develops people other employers would love to have? Or
do you want mediocre people you can lock in forever?

Grahame Broadbent
Senior operations director, Common Purpose

I think all organisations have a responsibility to improve the capacity of
their people.

To shirk that on the grounds that the benefits will go to society in general
or to other companies is to take a very narrow view of the relationship between
your own organisation and the wider world.

With training budgets constantly under threat, employers may feel they have
a choice, but I don’t believe they do. It is a question of how they meet their
responsibilities, not whether they should or not.

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