No organization can thrive without a highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce, so it makes sense for every organization to have an education function built into the core of its business. In the same way that sales targets and customer service satisfaction levels are universally customary, businesses that put in place similar targets for employee knowledge development and growth are giving themselves the best chance of gaining true competitive advantage and commercial success.
The starting point in building an effective education function within a business is to identify where the skills and knowledge gaps lie, both in individual employees and across teams. Professional tools are available to help determine these gaps – the best ones are built on firm psychological foundations, operate within International Test Commission guidelines, and are utilized regularly by employees as part of an ongoing learning strategy. Once the gaps have been pinpointed, a business is in the powerful position of being able to put in place an accurate and directed plan of action to address the gaps. Creating both individual development plans and education/training pathways for teams will yield the best results, establishing a joined up overall vision for education that enables employees to feel valued, trusted, and nurtured.
Placing a firm and open focus on staff development also has the proven benefit of increasing staff retainment. During an industry-wide skills shortage, attempting to recruit suitably qualified and experienced staff is a challenging and costly task, not only at the point of recruitment, but also on an ongoing basis. The most experienced (and therefore desirable) staff require ever increasing salaries to entice them to ‘jump ship’ from their current roles; this poaching of staff is unsustainable and contraindicative in building a stronger future for the digital infrastructure industry, and could be quashed by fostering staff loyalty, reinforced through this focus on staff development. Individuals who feel that their employers are genuinely invested in seeing them succeed, spend time nurturing them and are dedicated to helping them grow, will inherently be more loyal and less likely to be lured away by the offer of a better salary/benefits package.
The benefits of staff retention, and the subsequent lower attrition rates, spread far wider than a decrease in the spend on recruitment campaigns, instigating a ripple of positive knock-on effects that can be seen throughout the business.
Retaining more experienced staff within your workforce opens the possibility of giving them the opportunity to coach and mentor less experienced employees – a valuable proposition when attracting new entrants. Mentoring also has widely proven benefits for the mentors themselves, as they reap the rewards of developing communication and leadership skills, sharing knowledge, helping others to progress, and leaving a lasting positive impact on someone’s life. Alongside this, mentees directly benefit from exposure to new and different perspectives, increased self-confidence, industry awareness and enhanced engagement in their development (both personally and professionally).
This positive ripple progresses unwaveringly to the customer, with confidence rising in the organization’s capacity to deliver high quality workmanship, evidenced by staff holding recognized certifications and qualifications that are in demand across the industry, and reassurance that work is carried out in adherence with industry standards and compliant with regulations. As customer satisfaction levels rise so too can sales figures, bringing a wave of tangible benefits across the entire business.
Implementing a formal education function and creating ongoing development plans can also empower companies to accurately track employee growth, measure cross-business benefits and, importantly, evidence wider return on investment – vital in any commercial activity.
Where demand for qualified staff is outstripping supply, the culture of a company is vital in creating competitive advantage; it plays an increasingly important role in attracting the best talent in an industry where new staff are increasingly cherry picking their roles and demand a certain level of flexibility and other benefits in their working lives. Firmly planting education in the core of your business strategy, and consequently in the culture of your business, is a sure-fire way to realize cross-business benefits and yield competitive advantage. Organizations who do not implement a similar education focus simply cannot compete like for like – they will not be able to evidence the skill and competence of their teams, nor make confident claims about their quality of service and workmanship.
Ultimately, investing in the development of your workforce has powerful transformative effects on your business, including gaining an edge in terms of competitive advantage. Evidence is categorical that companies who prioritise building education into their business strategies, and who proactively work to provide continuing professional development opportunities for employees, are rewarded with cross-business benefits that are directly proportionate to the amount of effort put in.
Andrew Stevens is CNet Training’s President and CEO. CNet Training is a global leader in technical education for the digital infrastructure industry. Organizations following the Global Digital Infrastructure Education Framework (originated by CNet) to align employee knowledge deliverables with business strategy can leverage a powerful advantage over competitors.