Employers Need To Freshen Up Their Playbook In The Fight To Attract and Retain Talent As employees get more picky about where they work, education is a crucial weapon in keeping them happy

By Kristen Griffin

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Back when I was looking for my first job, the onus was all on me to woo prospective employers and convince them that I was the candidate they wanted.

That dynamic has to a large extent been flipped on its head in today's job market. Today it's employers who increasingly have to play the role of suitor, convincing the new generation of workers that they will be valued, have flexibility, work-life balance and be given opportunities to develop their skills.

Behind this shift is an intensifying war for talent and an increasing willingness by employees to walk away from jobs that aren't giving them what they want.

Employees are on the move

The number of U.S. workers who voluntarily left their jobs rose by 2 million in a year to over 42 million in 2019, according to the Work Institute's latest annual Retention Report, with career development, work-life balance and manager behavior topping the reasons for quitting.

Another survey found that 1 in 3 millennial workers plan to quit their jobs after the pandemic, in large part due to unhappiness over corporate culture and their company's handling of the pandemic's remote-working challenges.

Related: What To Do About The Skilled Labor Shortage

It's clear that hiring alone won't be enough to win the battle for talent and avoid the drag on business created by high turnover. Employers need to find ways to challenge their workers intellectually and create learning pathways to better, higher-paid positions.

Education is one of the most powerful retention tools that employers have but may be the hardest to get right.

To start out, it's crucial for companies to have a clear idea of the skills they want and how those skills will create the job performance needed to achieve their overall goals. Perhaps the biggest education challenge employers face today is imparting "soft skills" such as leadership, communication, collaboration and change management that employees need to move into management positions.

Assess what employees want

The other side of the equation is to understand what employees themselves want and to balance that against the business's objectives. There's a big difference in terms of employee morale between being told what to do and being incentivized to achieve agreed upon goals.

I think of effective education programs as moving employees through three phases. Employees may start off in a state of unconscious incompetence - not knowing what they don't know. Employers should be aiming to bring them into conscious incompetence - where they realize what their skills gaps are - and finally into unconscious competence, where they have mastered the skills and perform at high levels.

Related: Businesses Need Employee Learning Programs To Grow

Where employers often go wrong is in starting a learning development program without a clear idea of how it will be scalable and how it will speak to the wide diversity of skill levels within the organization.

Employers should be aiming to build common skill sets and competencies within the organization, while also allowing for the inevitable variety of natural abilities and ambitions of their workforce.

Companies should be getting to know their employees individually at an early stage, identifying those who are able and willing to advance to more senior positions and setting out a plan for them to learn the core skills they will need to get there.

Adopt a multi-faceted training approach

There are a variety of approaches to education that may provide the best fit, including formal in-house training programs, cross-functional training, job shadowing, and paying for third-party tuition assistance for in-demand skills.

Education isn't only about teaching skills; it should also encompass practicing the skills at work, resulting in a more seamless transition to higher levels of performance.

The education journey within a company doesn't have to be thought of as a linear path. Building cross-skill sets as they learn about other aspects of the business can help employees get a better understanding of the company and make them more effective managers in the long run.

The pandemic-driven shift to remote working has created another challenge for education and retention, but this can also be viewed as an opportunity.

Remote working has created an environment where employees have to be more autonomous, entrepreneurial and accountable to get their jobs done. What better environment in which to nurture the soft skills that are so much in demand?

Through an intelligent mix of coaching and education, employers can help employees come to their own answers and help shape them into tomorrow's leaders.

Kristen Griffin

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Vice President

Kristen Griffin is vice president of student services at University of Phoenix who ensures working-adult students have the services they need to juggle school and life. As a leader she coaches from the heart, inspiring people to ditch mediocrity, attain their goals, and transform their lives.

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