A post-pandemic strategy to improve employee retention

Turbulence in today’s business climate is too frequently blamed on what has become the modern-day boogeyman: COVID-19. Inflation, fuel prices, rising business costs and supply chain woes are some of the most obvious and frequently regurgitated examples. But is it fair for businesses to point squarely at a virus as the sole reason for workforce stagnation?

It seems too easy, and a bit convenient, for large and small companies alike to deflect responsibility on external forces and not look inward. Regardless of the reason, many business leaders report an omnipresent feeling of frustration in this post-COVID landscape.

Common frustrations in the post-COVID landscape

May 2022 survey from the National Federation of Independent Business reflects how bleak the landscape has felt for business owners. In total, 51% of respondents reported that job openings could not be filled, which is up from 47% just a month prior. A whopping 92% of hiring businesses reported “few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill.”

Reports from the employee side paint a similarly frustrating picture. The Pew Research Center reports “no opportunities for advancement” was tied with “low pay” as the number one reason employees quit a job in 2021. Moreover, proactive employees have been reported as more likely to leave a company out of frustration with “office politics, lack of resources, red tape, unclear work roles and other workplace hindrances.”

Reasons to invest in upskilling your workforce

So, how can companies restore stability to their workforce and retain staff members who have not yet left? And how can they do so swiftly and in a manner that makes employees want to stay? By upskilling their workforce, of course.

Specific educational programs are leading the way for businesses that are ready to offer tangible, near-term advancement pathways for employees. These accredited programs offer online or in-person education to help grow employee skills in ways that are mutually beneficial for staff and business owners alike. All of it is tailor-made for each specific company.

One such program, Carlow University’s Center for 21st Century Innovation and Workforce Development, which is led by Howard Stern, Ph.D., head of the university’s Masters in Business Administration program, offers bespoke educational solutions to meet the need of each individual partner. Training and course design is led by Carlow University faculty experts who provide flexible delivery methods to meet the unique needs of the employer. Several leading Pittsburgh businesses have already taken the initiative to better educate their staff through this method.

“The vision is to meet the needs of employees and employers and to design, promote and upskill the workforce,” said Stern. “That’s done flexibly through online or in-person classes. We can even go to the employer’s worksite to educate and ‘credentialize’ in a seamless method for both staff and business owners.”

It’s a simple concept. Employees receive formal, credentialed education and training that will advance their career at a specific company. Businesses receive a more skilled workforce and the ability to retain employees who wish to advance within the company. And all of it happens in tandem with day-to-day operations to optimize ROI.

But it also bears mentioning that this effort, which can provide “stackable” credentials to achieve bachelor’s and master’s degrees, can also lead to other indirect benefits for both staff and leadership.

“Because the employee is receiving education that culminates in a certificate or degree they can take with them, it’s not a far cry to say they would feel supported by their employer,” said Mollie Cecere, MBA, vice president of enrollment management and corporate partnerships. “Such a connection could undoubtedly forge a longer lasting relationship between employee and company.”

The side-effect of this employee investment is a greater forged connection with a workplace. The ramifications of this can go a long way in employee tenure, which continues to fall. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that for all employees 25 years and over, the median years of tenure with a current employer has fallen from 3.1 years in January 2010 to just 2.8 in January 2020.

It’s time for business leaders to reexamine what makes an employee feel valued and connected to their workplace. Next time the instinct arises to pin workforce woes on COVID, I encourage you to hesitate. Perhaps it’s time to invest in your current workforce.

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