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‘A rising tide lifts all boats’: Why the threat of poaching shouldn’t get in the way of employee upskilling

By Nick Wilson | |6 minute read

Some employers might hold off on training and development out of fear it might make it harder to hold onto employees – but what if the opposite is the case?

Employers who invest in skill building are often more attractive to existing and prospective employees. That said, employees who take advantage of skill-building opportunities also enjoy greater marketability – often raising the threat of their being poached by competitors.

“That’s probably the number one barrier to reskilling some employees,” said Gareth Jones, leadership talent succession practice leader at Mercer.

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Too often, he said, employers get carried away wondering: “‘If I reskill too many individuals to too high a level, will they get poached by our competitors?’”

“I think the right HR leader doesn’t think that way. [The right HR leaders] say ‘this is a better way to make sure our organisation is skilled up to provide the best result for both ourselves and the shareholders,” said Mr Jones.

Mr Jones shared his thoughts on employee upskilling in the latest episode of The HR Leader – let’s unpack the discussion.

A rising tide

Often, said Mr Jones, the decision not to upskill for fear of an employee being poached by a competitor is a subconscious one. This kind of thinking is a mistake. Instead, employers should be taking a broader, industry-level view. Organisations and the leaders within them should aim to move their industries forward.

“If you’re in an industry with a better and more skilled workforce, losing individuals to competitors doesn’t matter,” said Mr Jones. “With that mindset, the right HR leaders are the ones that really do promote building skill sets [across] their industries.”

Industry-level thinking can also work in the opposite direction. By understanding industry trends, business leaders can craft a skills development strategy that aligns with system-wide opportunities and threats.

“If you’ve gone [in] one certain direction that needs a certain type of skill set that doesn’t exist in your organisation, clearly there needs to be some training in order to lift the skills of the workforce,” said Mr Jones.

Upskilling as a retention strategy

Moreover, just as employees may leave on account of their greater employability after upskilling, they might also leave due to a lack of development opportunities in their current roles.

John Hall wrote for Forbes: “Many managers believe talent walks out the door because of money. Although they’re not necessarily wrong about that, low pay isn’t the only contributing factor.

“A lack of career growth is one of the main drivers of turnover in organisations, regardless of industry. Employees don’t want to feel stuck in a dead-end job. They want to be challenged, take on stretch assignments and advance in their careers.”

Learning opportunities often increase job satisfaction and boost productivity – both of which can make it easier to retain top talent.

New skills are constantly coming into fashion, while older ones fade away in irrelevancy. Reskilling – the practice of retraining existing staff to meet new challenges and demands – can often make more business sense than layoffs, redundancies, and hiring new candidates.

“Staff members who hear rumours of downsizing are more likely to jump ship,” said Mr Hall. “Those who stay may grow increasingly dissatisfied as their roles lose meaning, making it challenging for the business to remain competitive.”

On the other hand, those employers who invest in reskilling to meet coming challenges can avoid layoffs, minimise morale damage, reduce voluntary departures and maintain productivity among remaining employees, said Mr Hall.

Research suggests that employees want more upskilling opportunities. According to Robert Half, 49 per cent of Australian employers have been approached by employees about upskilling, while 47 per cent have been approached for reskilling opportunities.

“Helping people maintain relevancy in a changing market, investing in skill building makes every employer more attractive to both current and prospective employees,” reiterated Mr Jones.

The best people leaders, said Mr Jones, are “really talking to the individuals that work in their businesses at all levels”.

“People have not just life goals, but working goals as well. Having open and honest conversations is going to be really important for people in leadership right down to entry-level individuals.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Gareth Jones, click below:

RELATED TERMS

Redundancy

When a company can no longer support a certain job within the organisation, it redundancies that employee.

Training

Training is the process of enhancing a worker's knowledge and abilities to do a certain profession. It aims to enhance trainees' work behaviour and performance on the job.

Turnover

Turnover in human resources refers to the process of replacing an employee with a new hire. Termination, retirement, death, interagency transfers, and resignations are just a few examples of how organisations and workers may part ways.

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