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Employers: Eight Great Ways to Develop Your Employees

Across the country, an aging labour force, early retirement and a declining birth rate are contributing to a shortage of workers. Alberta’s strong economy has created job growth in some industries and rising labour shortages in others. In all industries, newly created jobs are often skilled jobs requiring some form of post-secondary training or experience. Close to 60% of small- and medium-sized businesses in Alberta report problems with a shortage of labour and predict that this trend will continue.

As an Alberta employer or hiring manager, you’re competing globally for skilled workers. An investment in staff training and development can help alleviate skill shortages, either by providing training for new hires or by helping your current staff handle increased responsibilities or new technology.

The business case for skills development

Skills or employee development is a strategy that organizes activities to build the skills and knowledge of workers.

Can you afford to put time and money into skills development? The real question is, can you afford not to? Some of the measurable, bottom-line benefits of skills training include:

  • better margins
  • increased productivity
  • increased customer satisfaction
  • stronger sales performance and/or competitive edge
  • fewer accidents
  • fewer grievances
  • fewer errors or defects
  • improved morale, increased loyalty and lower turnover (resulting in lower recruitment costs)
  • ability to expand and grow the business
  • more freedom for the employer (since competent employees will be better able to manage the daily business).

Training may sound expensive, but turnover can be devastating. Recruiting, hiring and training one new employee can cost you between 70 and 200% of that person’s annual salary! With this in mind, take a look at the following eight great ways to develop your employees.

Eight great ways to employee development

  1. Training
    • A well-designed training program that maximizes learning before, during and after instruction translates into positive, lasting changes on the job.
    • Effective programs can include orientation, on-the-job training and classroom instruction.
    • Internet-based learning is an increasingly attractive option that allows employees to learn at their own pace and on their own schedule (on weekends or evenings) with access to the material at any time.

  2. Self-directed learning
    • This approach puts individual employees in control of their own learning, allowing for personal differences in learning styles and encouraging ownership of the learning process.
    • When using this approach, many employers work with employees to develop a learning contract or personal development plan. The contract or plan, which is signed by both parties, outlines clear learning goals.

  3. Coaching and mentoring
    • Demonstrated benefits of these approaches include improved quality and quantity of work, transfer of learning and, for employees, improved communication and problem-solving skills.
    • Effective coaching and mentoring programs depend on the skills and personality of the mentor or coach, adequate time for coaching and mentoring sessions and established timelines and goals.

  4. Employee promotion
    • Promoting someone to a position of greater responsibility is a traditional way of rewarding good performance, developing employee skills and retaining valued employees.
    • Effective promotion involves careful consideration of many details, including identifying gaps in skills and experience and providing support through training, coaching or mentoring.

  5. Job enrichment
    • Job enrichment increases the employee’s authority or responsibility within their current position. Examples include committee work, special assignments or serving on cross-functional teams.
    • This approach increases interest and motivation by allowing employees to try new skills, build new relationships and explore new areas of specialization.

  6. Job rotation and cross-training
    • Job rotation moves an employee through one or more different positions. The rotation can last several hours, several months or even a year or two. Cross-training is a specific type of job rotation where an employee learns the skills of a different position.
    • These approaches can effectively add diversity and interest, prepare individuals for promotion, rejuvenate work units and improve communication.

  7. Lateral moves
    • In a lateral move, an employee moves to a different position with similar status, pay and responsibility. A lateral move may offer new challenges or encourage the development of different skills for an employee who may not necessarily want increased responsibility.
    • This approach increases flexibility and communication among work units and, in small businesses with few opportunities for advancement, helps to retain valuable employees who might otherwise leave.

  8. Job aids
    • Job aids include checklists, tip sheets, wallet cards, posters, pictures, code lists, flow charts and diagrams—anything that offers on-the-spot practical help or reminders. Job aids can reduce the amount of information employees need to recall by providing easily accessible facts.
    • Well-designed job aids are concise, written in plain language and make good use of white space and graphics for easy interpretation.

Employee support for skills development

Your skills development strategy is more likely to be successful if your employees understand and support it. Set the stage for a positive response by:

  • communicating with your employees about why you’re creating a skills development program
  • asking your employees about the knowledge and skills they need to do their jobs and how they prefer to receive that training
  • ensuring that the program is based on adult learning principles, including:
    • actively involving participants
    • connecting learning to relevant life experiences and knowledge
    • using a variety of learning styles
    • making sure learning is goal oriented.

With effective skills development strategies in place, you’ll be better able to meet a range of business challenges from labour shortages to staff retention. Skills development will help you generate the kind of performance that will carry your business—and your employees—forward with confidence.

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