Improving Skills and Better Retention

Improving Skills and Better Retention: What HR Leaders Are Really Looking For

Change comes fast in the 21st Century and that’s as true for HR and talent management as it is for everything else. Want proof? Here’s what we learned from two HR conferences held in the same city just two months apart. 

Back in March, at the 2022 HR Transform conference in Las Vegas, the big buzz word was empathy. It was still being discussed at Unleash America in late May, but not quite as much. 

At the Unleash America conference in May, HR and talent management pros were talking more about things like internal mobility, skills, skill spectrum, reskilling, flexibility, and agility 

In just two months, the buzz had shifted. And the biggest buzz words of all from Unleash are near and dear to everyone at Fuel50 – employee experience. 

Worries about The Great Resignation 

You might wonder why the HR event buzz words changed in just two months, and beyond the fact that these are two different HR and talent management events, it may also reflect that many organizations are struggling with the effects of “The Great Resignation” and the staffing challenges that are flowing out of that. 

In fact, a recent article in Forbes described it like this: 

Fueled by numerous factors and catalyzed by the pandemic’s impact, people left their jobs in droves during the Great Resignation. The trend redefined the meaning of job satisfaction and made people rethink their employment options. 

And it is not a (tempest) in a teacup: The impact of this phenomenon continues to drive rising wages, breaking 20-year-old records. Wage stagnation has plagued workers for decades, but early in the pandemic, it seemed amid mass layoffs that we would return to an employer’s market. Yet the opposite happened—and with it, wage hikes. This has incentivized skilled labor to find new employers who will pay better.

It won’t come as a surprise that HR professionals are worrying about members of their workforce, who as Forbes put it, are starting to “rethink their employment options,” and as a result want to talk to their peers about how they are dealing with the challenges of “The Great Resignation.” 

It’s those kinds of dilemmas, and how people cope with them, that fuels the buzz at a conference. 

Skills and retention are the real concern 

All the key terms that were heard so frequently at Unleash America were centered around retention, because that has become a critical matter for talent managers everywhere. Whether it is reskilling, upskilling, flexibility, internal talent mobility or employee experience, they are all focused on internal processes that are essential to unlocking better retention. 

For example, the Day 1 keynote speaker at Unleash was Mark Blyth, the William R. Rhodes Professor of International Economics at Brown University. He talked a lot about the how the last two years of lockdowns have changed how organizations look at retention – and skills – as part of their overall talent management process. 

“Value comes from talent acquisition and retention in smaller pools with more specific skills,” Blyth said, and helping employees to keep developing those specific skills through both reskilling and upskilling is critical as organizations work towards a post-pandemic balance.  

Skills popped up again in the presentation by Day 2 keynote speaker Peter Hinssen, the Co-Founder and Partner at nexxworks. “The No. 1 challenge today is reskilling,” he noted. “The skill spectrum needs to become broader and broader in companies.” 

Amy Wright, the managing Partner for Talent Transformation at IBM, may have had the most pragmatic insight into the importance of helping employees improve their skills when she tied it to the ability of organizations to be nimble and agile as the needs of the company change. 

“If you don’t have a skills strategy,” she said, “short term projects just sit.” She added that “the ability to develop skills for the future” is already becoming more important for employees today and will be even more so for the workforce of tomorrow.  

Improving Skills and Better Retention

Credit Karma: “Everyone … believes in talent mobility now.”  

One of the real-life examples of the importance of helping your workforce to develop more skills came in a presentation by talent management leaders Ashleigh Anderson and Mary Sharp at Credit Karma, a company that provides financial recommendations for the more than 120 million consumers it works with. 

They were forced to scramble when the global lockdown hit, and rather than resort to layoffs, employees agreed to a 15 percent pay cut instead. Beyond all of that, the challenge was that they couldn’t hire anyone new but still had positions that needed to be filled – and senior management said that 10 percent of the workforce would need to move into those jobs. 

So, what did they do? Anderson and Sharp decided to let Credit Karma employees test jobs that needed to be filled to see if they were right for them. This led them to go to a skills-based focus, and they found themselves asking, “where can we find them (employees willing to shift jobs) their next spot?” 

As Ashleigh Anderson noted, “Everyone at Credit Karma believes in talent mobility now.” Today, when they have a position to fill, they identify possible internal hires first, and they have a monthly internal mobility newsletter that goes to all employees.  

Building out skills, and embracing internal talent mobility, have helped Credit Karma not only get through the challenges of the global lockdown but have built a more flexible and engaged workforce.  

There were many more stories that came out of the Unleash America conference, but speakers and attendees kept coming back to the same principles – better retention that is driven by investing in building and broadening the skills of employees, making the organization a lot more flexible because they have better internal mobility to move people up and into new jobs.

That, in turn, helps workers build a better career path that improves engagement and the overall employee experience.