Training the key to workforce stability

Stabilise a workforce through quality training and an organisation will be at the forefront of its industry. *Warren Willson writes.

Teaser: we’ve all heard the typical reasons why mining companies in particular are reluctant to train their workers beyond the immediate needs of the company; we’ll train them and they’ll leave, they’ll demand more money or they’ll be less productive because they’ll feel they are above the hands-on work.

Those are just some of the excuses I’ve heard in the last 15 years working in and around the coal industry.

An experienced trainer or human resource professional will tell you that viewpoint seriously undervalues the employee who is the company’s most crucial asset.

If the current round of skills shortages has done nothing else they should have made that fact crystal clear.

So what is the business case for training as the key strategy for overcoming skills shortages?

In other words, why is quality training worth taking the risk of losing a newly skilled and trained worker?

At the most fundamental level, the reason for the skills shortages in the mining industry is the lack of experienced, qualified people to keep up with the resources boom. It’s the economic rationale that demand has outstripped supply. Human resources aren’t scarce, but trained and experienced ones most certainly are.

Some organisations have resorted to buying skills. That is at best a bandaid solution, as many have found out to their detriment.

We should all know that if an employee is motivated solely by money to change their employer, then they have not seriously been encouraged by that employer to move upward in the motivational hierarchy.

In the current circumstances, employers need to know more than ever what motivates their workforce to remain both productive and loyal. It’s a lesson the late Sir Reginald Ansett learned early on in his journey to success.

He didn’t pay his employees more than his competitors; he often paid them less. He was competing with the government-owned carrier TAA and their comparatively limitless financial resources. Despite that, it was not uncommon to see the lights burning in Ansett offices long after employees at TAA had gone home. Sir Reginald had found the secret of encouraging discretionary inputs from his employees. Those are a key indicator of employee motivation and loyalty. How did he do it?

Sir Reginald had discovered that money alone can neither motivate nor build loyalty. In fact it can be counter-productive to those aims.

Employees who are stressed and work long hours, especially in dangerous occupations, are quite naturally insecure.

More money is likely to be seen only as a means to the end of early retirement or a complete lifestyle change, especially in a highly paid industry. In that way, paying more money actually contributes to any skills shortage.

Sir Reginald’s solution was to recognise the true value of his employees, especially fostering their sense of well-being and self-worth through treating each as an individual, and encouraging their health, welfare and personal growth. So what does that have to do with training?

To answer the question about why strategic training is so important we need first to consider Hertzberg’s motivational theory and Adam’s equity theory in combination with Maslow’s theory (1).

While salary, location, conditions of employment and future opportunities are fundamental to the stability of the motivational scales, they are NOT motivators in and of themselves. If they are eroded or lost, motivation disappears, but their presence alone does not motivate.

Of all of the motivators, those up to and including reputation are what is known as deficiency motivators — if they aren’t there then acquiring them governs the individual’s efforts.

On the other hand, every need from knowledge on is a growth motivator.

An individual can survive without them, but when they become available they are powerful forces for individual growth, productivity or change.

That is where training enters the scene.

Employer training strategies can be purely self-serving — give them just enough knowledge and skill to do their job — or they can be the first essential step toward the long-term loyalty and retention of quality staff. They can be used to squeeze the last ounce of productive value out of the employee’s wage, or they can be used to develop employees whose productivity and value far exceed their salary alone.

Quality training can be the tap that turns on a flood of discretionary inputs, but withheld it can be the stopper that locks them firmly inside the employee’s protective shell. I promised you a business case for using strategic training initiatives to resolve skills shortages.

Consider these figures from a report on the subject by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research .

Most employees understand the significant initial cost in providing quality training.

Employers who make that investment are seen as demonstrating loyalty to and confidence in the employee.

Loyalty and confidence begets loyalty and confidence. It is a fundamental tenet of conflict resolution that you need to give before you will receive.

Putting that in a business context, you need to invest before you will see a return.

Stabilise your workforce through quality training and your organisation will be at the forefront of your industry.

Benefits will include increased productivity through the release of discretionary inputs, staff and skill set retention and reduced exposure to certain business risks, which will produce lower insurance premiums and reduce lost time through injury.

The next step is to discover what a quality training program really is, but for that you’ll have to give me a call.

* Warren is well known within the Hunter coal industry, has over 20 years experience as a trainer in vocational education, and 35 years experience in management. He holds a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and a Certificate IV in Business (Frontline Management).

Warren Willson

Training Coordinator, NSW

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