Train them and they WON’T leave! Why upskilling retains employees

February 7, 2022
June 26, 2023
Upskilling And Reskilling

There’s no doubt that you’ll have seen this clichéd quote at least once before:

“What happens if we train our people and they leave?”

“What happens if we don’t, and they stay!”

Those greeting-card style slogans can rarely capture the whole picture, but the surrounding debate always seems to lack crucial context: what are we teaching people, and how, where or why are we doing it?

Why it’s time to rebrand the issue with an upskilling perspective

A lot of time, when people do stick around for a while, they end up receiving training that’s scarcely related to their job. A course or event is picked to tick a management box for offering development while simultaneously doing very little to develop that employee.

Generic training that’s disconnected from where people work and happens once each year is more commonly being phased out in favour of upskilling. The concept of giving people the skills to perform their current role and future ones more effectively through more personalised learning. The worry for some is whether those new skills take people to opportunities elsewhere…

That brings us nicely to the 2.0 version of this famous question: If we upskill our people, will they leverage those talents and credentials to find a ‘better job’ somewhere new?

New skills and career progress actually help people stick around longer

Another overlooked aspect of the debate is around correlation and causation: maybe upskilled people are leaving, but another reason is driving them towards the exit door!

From toxic cultures to negative managers, people leave jobs for a whole host of reasons. Being given opportunities to upskill, develop and progress, however, does not seem to be one.

Research shows that 70% of employees would be somewhat likely to leave their current organisation for one known to invest in employee development and learning, while 34% who left their previous job were driven to do so by a search for career development opportunities.

LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report 2021 hits the nail firmly on the head. The findings revealed that employees at high internal mobility companies stay for twice as long as their low mobility counterparts: 5.4 years versus 2.9 years.

What our first assumption (new skills sending people to pastures new) tells us is that many companies don’t really understand why employees leave their company. Are they conducting exit interviews and surveying their departing staff, asking questions around their motivation? If they are, they should be using that data and, if not, they should start collecting it.

Even if it was true, wouldn’t upskilling mean better performance in the short term?

Let’s travel back to the Amazon warehouses of 2017, the year in which the Bezos-led behemoth announced they’d essentially help people train for jobs at other companies.

As the Founder explained when announcing the Amazon Career Choice program:

“For hourly associates with more than one year of tenure, we pre-pay 95 percent of tuition, fees, and textbooks (up to $12,000) for certificates and associate degrees in high-demand occupations.”

Those high-demand occupations fell into four categories: Health care, IT and computer science, transportation, and mechanical and skilled trades.

Amazon had essentially accepted that people in lower-skilled positions would want to build talents that could take them into new roles. And it created this outlook that before people go on to reach their career prime, they should at least be happy fulfilling the Prime orders of Amazon’s customers.

As Inc. explained in their summary of the announcement:

“Amazon has a lot of lower-wage, warehouse-type jobs that have higher turnover rates than much higher paying tech roles. Amazon effectively embraces this reality and figures: Why not make these important laborers as happy as they can be in the time they are going to give to Amazon?”

The Richard Branson effect: It’s what you do with training and upskilling that matters

Another quote that often gets wheeled out in this discussion comes from The Virgin Group Founder. In 2014, Branson proclaimed that we should “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don’t want to.”

Treating people well doesn’t just mean a friendly smile or pat on the back, it’s about how valued we make them feel. And that’s where we can create a new narrative around Branson’s quote because upskilling people in line with the company goals goes a long way to making them feel valued.

People want purpose in their work, almost as much as they want opportunities to progress – so we should find ways to give them both!

Upskilling offers that opportunity – when we do it right. If we establish our company goals and work out which skills we need to get there, we can give people those talents and really connect them to the company’s vision and mission.

This also increases the likelihood that you’ll deliver training or learning that can be applied, given how relevant it is to what’s happening at the company. Something we haven’t discussed is the idea that you might give people new knowledge and not enough opportunities to apply it – which could lead them to start job searching.

However, aligning skill building with the company goals ensures learning is relevant and provides a sense of purpose.

Train people well enough so that they can leave, give them enough purpose and opportunity to apply that training, and everyone wins.

How to protect yourself against the worst-case scenario: when skilled people do leave!

Sometimes, your best talent departs for new shores. We can do all the good things we discussed so far to reduce the frequency, but it’s inevitable that it’ll happen at times.

The better question is, how do we prepare ourselves for those sad goodbyes and limit the amount of lost talent and knowledge?

Too often, knowledge is siloed. One person on the team has a wealth of experience and contextual wisdom, built up through years in the company, but it’s not shared. Meaning that when they head out the door, all that knowledge goes with them!

You can protect yourself against lost knowledge by encouraging people to share it with each other! Social learning is a great tool for giving people new skills, and we’ll show you the perfect tool for doing it right.

Book a demo today, and we’ll show you HowNow’s upskilling and knowledge sharing powers.