Talent Acquisition and Retention – Critical for a successful business

By Ben Gilhespy, Operations Director at Engineering & Manufacturing Network.

We hear a tremendous amount of positivity in the press around low unemployment figures and in reality, its true. Whilst the North East is currently seeing slightly higher unemployment than the national average we are still at very low levels, and recognise that it’s impossible to go much lower as some don’t need to work, some won’t work, and some can’t work. 

This actually does create a problem however as it’s a little like house sales in which we frequently refer to a ‘buyers’ market. Today we are in a market where employees are in such high demand that this can create issues with retention, with a good number of opportunities for advancement being found throughout the area and beyond. 

There are many factors which must be considered when planning business development, growth or diversification but retaining and acquiring good people must be one of these.  

EMN work with a great number of businesses many of which have a strong leader and excellent operations team but are weak at a senior management level. This presents serious issues with planned growth and succession planning as no investor will seriously consider a company which would falter if its current owner left. That raises a question as to how this can be addressed, and at what cost. 

For small companies looking to grow or prosper one key obstacle in regard to talent is its cost. Buying in new talent is expensive as they will generally need to be lured away from an existing employer, possibly come with agency fees, potentially relocation and of course questions over loyalty alongside being met with apprehension from existing staff.  If this is the route chosen, then it has to be managed very carefully where expectations from both sides are clearly outlined and existing staff are engaged with the process to alleviate concerns. Acquisitions at a higher level should be viewed as strategic and planned accordingly, viewed as an investment with expectations on ROI which again should be defined and agreed.  

Home grown talent is always the easiest option as it comes with least cost, engages current staff showing routes of progression and has inbuilt loyalty which will only be bolstered by such an appointment or promotion. Utilising such people usually follows years of service over which you have seen them grow and also know their strengths and weaknesses, like an extended interview for the needed position. 

Either option will require ongoing development and as such a strong relationship with providers who can increase operational and managerial skills. The North East is rich with organisations who can help with this from tailored solutions to recognised qualifications through our colleges and universities, engagement and a subsequent relationship with these should be part of any business strategy. We have learned through experience that working with the best of these can provide levels of training that meet very specific business requirements, even addressing those outside of traditional education. Ongoing training programmes also help support retention as it shows the value placed on employee’s own development and can ease concerns if there is a downturn in workload. The current funding climate can also support this and with the exception of recognised qualifications it has been very rare that a business has come to EMN and asked for help in finding training on a specific topic that couldn’t be fully funded. 

This isn’t all about higher appointments within a business as the road to retention begins as soon as a person is employed. Whether 16 or 60 they will recognize a business that values its people very quickly and either engage with its ethos or look elsewhere. A continuous personal development plan for employees at every age and level is all part of being a good and smart employer, will retain staff and attract new staff in equal measure. 

Ongoing training should also include mentoring whether that be in direct relation to a task or a role. This is the assignation of a mentor to a person who will help them with their development and be a person to turn to for advice on daily aspects of work. Ultimately the purpose may be for a line of succession, where the mentored becomes the mentor, this is critical for ensuring that all roles within a business remain filled and should an unexpected letter of resignation land or ‘hit by a bus moment’ happens then impact is mimimised as far as possible.  

A robust mentor programme would also include ‘sign off’ when an employee reaches a standard or achieves a competency and can then be allowed reasonable autonomy with the task. Certain tasks may only take weeks to learn but a register of what can and can’t be done also helps to identify shortfalls in skills and therefore gaps that need to be filled by training or new talent. 

The business world moves at a rapid pace, irrespective of the sector in which you operate, the same movement must be evident within your business to ensure you aren’t left behind or passed by.  

Employees want to stay with progressive companies and good people want to join them. 

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