Training prevents SME employees alighting at the next station

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

By Jeanette Wheeler, below, Chief HR Officer, MHR

When it comes to hiring, it’s no secret that businesses are feeling the strain of a shortage of skilled employees. Last year, a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce found that firms are facing the highest level of recruitment challenges on record. This creates immense difficulties for SMEs in particular, where the contribution of each and every employee is absolutely critical to day-to-day operations.

But while hiring new talent will continue to be a focus for these companies, it must not be at the expense of the existing workforce, who need to be kept engaged, involved and satisfied. Not only does retention help to eliminate the cost and time needed to train a new hire, but high turnover can also make it even harder to attract new talent and, importantly, preserve company culture.

So, what steps can SMEs take to keep their employees as part of the business? The key lies in nurturing and investing in people, making sure to offer the training and development that meets both the goals and ambitions of team members.

Understanding why employees jump ship 

Today, employees are more likely to move on to pastures new than ever before, with Gen Z and millennial workers famed for their preference to ‘job-hop’ compared to their parents This can be a particular problem for SMEs, as employees may take advantage of opportunities for greater responsibility and visibility to rise through the ranks quickly, and then move to larger, more established firms.

It’s easy to assume that the response to these challenges comes in the form of offering pay rises to entice individuals to stay, but for SMEs this is not always possible. Amidst a flurry of economic difficulties, including rising costs and interest rates, smaller companies often simply don’t have the headroom to increase salaries and compete with larger businesses that can often entice people away with competitive wages.

There’s more to life than money…

However, data shows that it’s not just salaries that employees consider when it comes to remaining loyal or jumping ship. Research from Gartner shows that 94% of employees would stay longer at a company if it invested in helping them learn, with learning and development particularly a priority for Gen Z when it comes to choosing a new role.

This provides a new opportunity for SMEs to compete where they might have struggled to retain employees previously. These companies can be fantastic places for ambitious employees to work as they often offer more opportunity to learn from senior people and take on new responsibilities. Businesses which take this one step further by placing an emphasis on training will be able to offer their employees greater stimulation and development, allowing them to carve out new challenges and opportunities for progression within their current company.

Train to retain?

Businesses need a dynamic approach to nurturing and upskilling key talent, in which employees and managers work together to identify shifting skills and needs to offer the appropriate training resources and opportunities. For example, MHR’s Learning Management System has been developed to work collaboratively with organisations to deliver standard or bespoke, scalable training solutions.

As employees themselves often have a unique sense of how required skillsets within their job role are evolving, autonomy should be a crucial part of the learning and development process. Using a learning management system can allow employees to personalise their learning journey with modules, and can even leverage AI to tag, search and analyse the learning library to source content which is most specific for them. Allowing employees to choose the training they take on will also ensure that they are engaged, focussing on the skills they want to develop and taking proactive steps to meeting the requirements of their dream role.

Likewise, learning management systems permit managers to monitor development through viewing and tracking training from a single dashboard, granting visibility over a team’s changing skillsets throughout the upskilling journey. Talent check-ins can also boost retention through opening a dialogue between managers and employees, and show a company’s genuine commitment to helping their people reach their full potential.

In addition to the development of ‘hard’ skills, workplace learning and development can also deliver mental health awareness training, to help employees to reduce stress levels and improve that vital work-life balance. Although many employees find SME roles to be exciting due to their varied and fast-paced nature, this can also lead to increased stress without proper workplace support. Mental health support is particularly valued by the current generation of employees, with 86% of employees being more likely to leave a job if it did not support their wellbeing. As such, learning and development centred around techniques such as mindfulness, or time management, can go a long way to creating a positive company culture, reducing burnout and boosting employee retention.

Ultimately, when employees have the means to develop and grow, in a manner that they are able to have an element of control over, they will see a road to progression and development, and how they can overcome any future challenges that lie ahead. If SMEs are to compete successfully in the war for talent against larger firms, they must make sure to provide these avenues to learning. Those that do will surely reap the rewards of increased retention, productivity and a better company culture.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024