Professional Development Is Key to Retaining Talent

Employees have made clear their desire to keep learning and growing within and beyond their current roles, according to a new report from The Conference Board.  The report highlights some keys for retaining employees. Frank Scarpelli of HireWerx; Craig Sweeney of WilsonHCG; Martin Lorigan of Sainty, Hird & Partners; Kenneth Roldan of WB&B Executive Search; Jenna Scheinfeld of Prais + Barnette; and Pete Petrella of TalentRISE also weigh in!

July 27, 2022 – As talent shortages persist, a new survey reveals that professional development opportunities are one tool for retaining employees. Indeed, 58 percent of those surveyed in a new report by The Conference Board say they are likely to leave their company without professional development—or continuing education and career training to help develop new skills, stay up to date on current trends, and drive career advancement. This likelihood to leave holds especially true among women, people of color, and Millennials.

But for people of color, there may be a gap in access to these opportunities. The survey reveals that more people of color report a lack of opportunities and resources for professional development than do their white counterparts.

The latest workforce survey from The Conference Board included more than 1,200 individuals—predominantly professional/office workers. Respondents weighed in on the importance, access, reasons, and barriers to professional development.

Among the study’s key findings:

Development opportunities are key to retaining employees—especially women, people of color, and Millennials.

Women, people of color, and Millennials are more likely to leave their organization if they don’t receive development opportunities. Overall, 58 percent of workers are likely to leave their company if they don’t receive professional development opportunities, said the report.

“These survey results reveal that, in the midst of a talent shortage, providing and promoting opportunities for career and skills development can be a critical way to attract candidates,” said Rebecca Ray, executive vice president of human capital at The Conference Board. “In order to retain and grow the diversity of thought and experience within your organization, it is critical to ensure that all employees have access to rich professional development opportunities.”

Most employees highly value the opportunity to develop work-related skills.

Ninety-six percent of respondents say it is important or very important for them to continuously develop their work-related skills and more people of color say continuously developing skills is very important.

Despite the high value placed on professional development opportunities, people of color report a greater lack of access to these opportunities and resources.

Related: Post-COVID Recovery Sees the Rise of Revenge Hiring

More people of color report a lack of opportunities and resources for professional development than do their White counterparts.

A lack of time is the greatest barrier to developing skills overall.

The biggest barrier to developing skills is a lack of time, with nearly 80 percent saying that prevents them from doing so. Thirty-one percent said a lack of resources and 29 percent said a lack of opportunities were their greatest barriers.

Are there enough opportunities for development? The C-suite and individual contributors disagree.

Only 10 percent of CEOs and the C-suite consider a lack of opportunities a barrier, compared to 40 percent of individual contributors.

“Employees have made clear their desire to keep learning and growing both within and beyond their current roles,” said Jennifer Burnett, principal of human capital at The Conference Board. “It is in the best interest of employers to provide all employees across their business with learning and development opportunities related to business priorities and overall personal growth, whether it’s ensuring there are appropriate resources for front-line workers or highlighting the importance of empathy for managers in a hybrid world of work. Creating a culture of learning will not only help your employees flourish but will help your company stay ahead of the rapidly changing business environment.”

Search Experts Weigh In

One of the primary keys to retaining employees in 2022 and beyond is creating a culture of employee engagement,” said Frank Scarpelli, managing partner and chief executive officer of HireWerx. “There are many facets to accomplishing this: forward-thinking leadership, a clear vision for the company, mission, values, management style, and most importantly, employee development. Flexibility and well-being are critical drivers of employee engagement and thus relevant in ensuring employee engagement and development.”

Employers committed to employee engagement understand the benefits of investing in employee development, which results in increased productivity, enhanced efficiencies, greater innovation, and higher retention levels, according to Mr. Scarpelli. “Companies can start by investing in something as simple as reimbursing employees’ fees for a workshop, seminar, online course, or industry conference,” he said. “These are some of the most effective approaches to building a culture of inclusion, learning, and development and will ultimately not only attract employees to the company but will also ensure better retention. As a bonus, better retention leads to more employee referrals. That’s a win-win-win scenario.”

“In addition to employee retention initiatives, companies must think more broadly about talent attraction,” Mr. Scarpelli said. “Many factors attract candidates to an organization, including compensation, rewards and benefits, learning and development, succession, diversity, equity, and inclusion. All the aforementioned are part and parcel of an attractive corporate culture. People are looking for more than a paycheck. They are looking to continuously improve their skills, have opportunities for career growth, enjoy the camaraderie amongst teammates, and feel like they are contributing to a worthy mission or cause. Now, more than ever, employees want to work for socially responsible companies that care about people and the environment. At the end of the day, it’s all about purposefully building a company culture that attracts talent naturally. Happy people want their friends to enjoy the same experience they enjoy. Want to know if you have a strong company culture? Look at the employee referral metrics. The data says it all.”

“The desire to learn and develop has now become a key driver for many employees,” said Craig Sweeney, SVP of global strategic talent solutions at WilsonHCG. “Put simply, companies that don’t have comprehensive learning and development (L&D) programs will struggle to retain and attract talent. Learning and development must be built into onboarding programs and should be continuous. When it comes to the mechanics of an L&D program, peer-to-peer learning can be an effective way to educate employees.”

“Consider asking your employees to host training sessions as learners are typically more engaged when being taught by someone who is already in the role and can share real-life experiences,” he said. “Micro-learning is a great way to help employees fit training into their schedules as they can learn at a time that suits them. Virtual buddy systems provide informal development opportunities while giving employees the chance to network with people in the business that they might not otherwise interact with. Not only does L&D boost employee loyalty, but it also provides the future skills companies need to progress. ”

“Today’s candidates want the opportunity to learn and develop, to work flexibly (in all respects), to feel like they belong in the workplace, a healthy work-life balance with a company that cares, and they want to be able to positively impact society and make a real difference,” said Mr. Sweeny. “Organizations have been enhancing their benefits, employee well-being programs and are providing more opportunities for learning and development in a bid to attract new candidates. The opportunity to work remotely or via a hybrid approach is also something that companies are prioritizing, and unlimited PTO is growing in popularity, too. All these things can help companies to attract and retain talent; it’s about much more than just salary.”

Employers that take employee experience seriously to create an attractive employee value proposition will find it much easier to attract and retain talent compared with those that don’t, according to Mr. Sweeny. “Telling the story of the employee experience via a compelling employment brand will also act as a means of attracting new talent,” he said. “For example, organizations must promote the different career pathing opportunities available at their companies within their recruitment marketing materials to show potential candidates what their future career paths could look like. They must also empower employees to tell their own employment stories on the platforms they’re active on anyway.”

Some keys to retaining employees today are flexible working patterns, particularly time spent in the office vs. working from home,” said Martin Lorigan, partner with Sainty, Hird & Partners. “Support for professional development through formal internal, or external, programs. Corporate-level support for prevailing environmental, societal and governance themes with a particular focus on working cultures that develop and nurture DE&I. The main drivers to move have not changed. Career progression remains the primary motivator. Compensation is also a factor, with moving being seen as a means of improving compensation. Cultural cues, such as candidates choosing firms which they believe to be more aligned with their own values, particularly around ESG topics.  In addition, most candidates will expect a degree of hybrid working in any new role.”

Mr. Lorigan also points to a talent shortage. In those markets where there is currently high demand (i.e., ESG, particularly ESG risk and compliance and ESG data),” he said. “Technology, where there is a fierce competition for talent across all sectors and industry particularly data management and strategy, and digitization. There is also a ‘talent war’ for junior across all segments of financial services resulting in significant wage inflation.”

Kenneth Roldan, chief executive officer of WB&B Executive Search, notes that a employee centered culture is critical to retaining employees. This boosts employee engagement and destresses the work environment and encourage employee feedback. “Education and training – continuously offer comprehensive, individualized training to employees ensuring they have tools to succeed and climb the corporate ladder,” he said. “Also professional development is important. Offer employees services that include creating and implementing a professional development track.”

“Indeed, there is a talent shortage as the war for talent remains strong,” said Mr. Roldan. “This hiring challenge is due in large part to the high demand for and low supply of skilled professionals needed in these tech-enabled, knowledge-intensive industries. There are several factors that can affect talent availability and employment including: 1) baby boomers leaving the workforce, 2) Millennials not ready to assume leadership roles, and 3) changing needs and expectations.”

“There are a few big areas of focus that top the list in terms of employee retention—flexible work environments, a focus on mental health, and compensation benchmarking are at the top of most lists,” said Jenna Scheinfeld, managing partner of Prais + Barnette. “But I think the most important thing employers can do right now to support employee retention is to set up a framework for active listening. In today’s market, it’s about meeting employees where they are today; and there is no ‘one size fits all’ program or solution that solves for the complex—and dynamic—needs of a diverse workforce. Some individuals crave development. Others prioritize self-care. The only real, consistent truth is that if their need isn’t met, they will leave. Establishing a framework for active listening—and making sure that there is action in response to it—will allow you to focus on the programs, policies, and benefits that are most likely to best support the unique needs of your employee base.”

“Even with market uncertainty that has slowed down hiring in some sectors, we are still seeing a high volume of roles that clients need help with,” said Ms. Scheinfeld. “After the pandemic, hiring came to a halt everywhere for two to three quarters, and there were consequences that few people grasped at the time that we haven’t really overcome yet in terms of the talent market. First, the amount of work piling up after layoffs and hiring freezes over that period was huge. Second, the heavier workload for people that remained in the workforce ended up causing mass burnout that led to many people rethinking live-work balance and, in a lot of cases, opting out of the corporate world entirely. Third, when you factor in the record amount of household savings accumulated while all this was going on and then the tidal wave of demand that followed as a result, companies were in a major bind to staff back up enough to fully capitalize. Finally, you throw in the post-pandemic need to accelerate digital transformation, along with thoroughly disrupted supply chains, and it’s a perfect talent storm that we are nowhere near out of.”

“Companies that are considering hiring freezes or layoffs amid recession fears would be smart to think about the longer-term value of having people in place to capitalize in a rebound vs. the shorter-term value of preserving a point or two of EBITDA during a downturn,” said Ms. Scheinfeld. “And the next time the herd all storms back into the talent market at the same time, it will be worse than it was the last 18 months.”

“It’s much more efficient and less costly to be proactive and retain a quality employee than reactive and have to replace an employee that quits,” said Pete Petrella as executive search practice leader at TalentRISE. “Compensation plays a role in employee retention—but it is not the only reason employees leave. Employee retention relies on a combination of factors and below are some keys to retaining your workers: Ensure your employees feel engaged and valued. Employee surveys are a great way to solicit input from your workforce and evaluate the performance of management teams; be early to identify career path options within your organization and provide your employees with opportunities for professional training and development; provide a hybrid work model which gives employees many benefits such as an improved work-life balance, flexibility in childcare, more time for daily exercise, and cost savings; and have an open policy to encourage regular communication. Set aside dedicated time each week for one-on-one meetings with your direct reports. Managers need to be approachable and empathetic. Training programs and coaching should be utilized to provide your managers with the tools, insights, and skills needed to become successful.”

“Today candidates receive multiple job offers so they have more bargaining power,” said Mr. Petrella. “To stand out among your competitors, it’s important to have an effective employee value proposition (EVP) to attract, engage, motivate, and retain employees toward peak productivity and brand advocacy. You should also define and communicate a career path—even during the hiring process. Candidates are looking for growth opportunities. In addition, demonstrate and communicate a positive work environment and company culture, one that focuses on community engagement and sustainability.”

Related: What Candidates are Really Looking for In New Jobs 

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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