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Teach your workers well

Don't ignore the skills shortage

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Canadian employers have been sounding the alarm about skills shortages for some time. The gaps span across industry sectors and affect every province. A recent report estimated one in 10 jobs will go unfilled by 2020. The other challenge is that 10 per cent of the worker supply is predicted to consist of "low-skilled" workers who are not ready for the jobs that will be created.

Governments, both provincial and federal, continue to scramble to create programs and put new investments in place to help alleviate the situation. At the same time, the situation is being studied across the world and creative alternatives such as a global mobility strategy are being proposed. With respect to mobility, a recent guest commentator in a national human resource journal commented that steps should be taken to improve the mobility of all Canadians so they can work and practise their profession wherever they wish to.

I believe the individual was referring to the credential challenges some professionals and trades people experience when attempting to work in another province. I agree barriers such as equivalency of credentials prevent worker mobility. However, I also believe the issue is linked much more closely to personal motivators that is realized. In my experience, it's an individual's need for geographic stability and security that drives the initiative to move or stay put.

I've found that individuals motivated by geographic identification and stability are deeply rooted in their community. They do not want to move for a new job. They have family and supports in the community and their friends are close to home.

Geography is such as a strong factor in job selection I've seen a candidate refused to accept a more senior position because it required driving from one side of our city to another. If you don't believe me, conduct your own little survey. Ask friends and family if they would move to another city, province or country. You'll be surprised at the number of negative responses.

Governments and corporations can put all the mobility policies and incentives in place that they want, but the number of individuals who will move to a new job in another province will not be sufficient to solve our skills shortage.

What can we do to change the situation? There's no easy solution, however, I believe organizations can take more responsibility for mitigating skills shortages. I would like to see much more of an emphasis on internal training and development. Employee training and internal mobility initiatives can overcome skill shortages and also increase employee engagement and retention.

Research shows internal mobility strategies are effective in leveraging an employee base and reducing recruitment and orientation time, and costs. Mobility initiatives provide career opportunities and help to ensure leadership roles are full. It's amazing how many individuals can be underemployed in an organization. Their skills will come to light when they are given different opportunities. As well, productivity increases and the loss of competitive intelligence is reduced.

Studies on training and development demonstrate the cost effectiveness and efficiency of internal programming. A recent study on a British retail bank showed thousands of dollars of savings were achieved by developing and implementing a new leadership training program.

The bank's four-month modular program combined theory with practical knowledge. Candidates were nominated and screened. Program quality and regular reviews were conducted. The return on investment far exceeded the financial expectations and the learner engagement. Personal performance, productivity and engagement increased significantly and many workers were quickly promoted. There was an increase in leadership capability as workers were willing to take on more demanding roles.

Despite research that internal training has such value, I have been disheartened to hear from at least three small business leaders who said they have no training budget. I was told their choice is between training employees and "keeping the lights on." This is a sad state of affairs. Ideally, two per cent of an organizational budget should be dedicated to training.

What will these organizations do when their baby boomer employees retire? What will they do when productivity declines to such an extent that customer service and profitability suffer?

As I've written many times, training employees is not just a perk, it's a critical investment that needs in-depth planning to ensure the right skills are being developed. While there are many different success strategies for both employee mobility as well as training and development, the following five at a minimum should be considered.

Determine skill commonalities -- Determine skill commonalities between jobs and prepare to cross-train employees so they transition between several jobs. This creates opportunities for employees to learn new skills and talents, while at the same time, providing an organization with overall employment flexibility.

Apply a career-progression strategy -- Employees are more committed to an employer that offers a future. Take steps to provide a career-management program to help individuals identify their skills, motivators, needs and wants and then help them to match their personal goals with corporate goals.

Create integrated training programs -- Design and develop customized training programs that use a variety of learning methodologies and real-life studies. Incorporate internal apprenticeships in different departments, create full-time or part-time temporary assignments, encourage participation in special projects, and/or learning opportunities on cross-functional teams.

Train internal trainers -- Internal trainers have practical knowledge and can also act as mentors. Being an internal trainer itself is a developmental opportunity. It is another way to increase personal and professional self-esteem while providing overall training consistency.

Train managers to be coaches -- This is a cost-effective means to institute employee mentoring and should be part of the performance management process. Managers need to know how to have effective conversations with employees so they can boost employee competencies, personal engagement and retention.

Skills shortages are a tough challenge. Yet, I believe waiting for government assistance is not the answer. Instead, leaders must look at employee training and mobility strategies as investment opportunities.

Source: A Look at the Growing Skills Gap and importance of employee mobility, guest commentator, Stephen Cryne, HR Reporter, March 10, 2014; Effective Talent Management Scheme Cuts Recruitment Costs, 2014 Trend Report, Impact International.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed. is president of Legacy Bowes Group and Career partners International, Manitoba. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 5, 2014 H1

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