Navigating economic downturns through staff development

Author: Rhesa Hernandez

April 3, 2023

Every year, organisations spend thousands of dollars to acquire the right talent to fill vacant positions. Companies invest in headhunters and recruitment strategies to acquire the “right” talent to achieve its goals and objectives. Whilst, talent is a natural or intrinsic endowment of a person, it must be refined through skill development.

Behavioural, technical skills and abilities are what organisations rely on to execute roles and responsibilities.

Human talent has been deemed as a competitive advantage for many industries and by extension on a national level. The search for great talent is now highly competitive as evident on the global front with the Great Resignation and most recent the “Great Regret”. The COVID-19 pandemic and the current economic downturn are causing many employers to rethink and reshape the world of work through increased digitalisation.

Additionally, artificial intelligence is now being showcased as an option for the future of work. However, your human talents are equally instrumental in navigating the tough times. Are we leveraging our human talent as a competitive advantage or to increase business efficiencies? In the management of the prolonged uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations must deep dive to explore creative solutions to remain viable and sustainable.

Many companies experienced severe cost cutting to keep its doors open, whilst being creative and flexible in its response to the changing customers’ behaviour and needs.

In implementing austerity measures a common mistake made by many leaders is to slash training and staff development budgets. We are calling on leaders to reconsider this approach.

According to Ahluwalia, 2016, organisations who boost their career development including training and development efforts during a downturn, are perceived more favourably by its employees. Morale is higher and attraction of top talent is higher.

Therefore, it is prudent for training and development to be factored in as an investment strategy. Also, ensuring these developmental activities are aligned to the company’s strategic initiatives to achieve greater efficiencies.

Hhiring replacements for lost “top talent” can be arduous and very costly tasks. Separation of “top talent” means a deduction in institutional knowledge, experience and an overall obstruction in business continuity.

Believe it or not, staff development increases engagement and can be cheaper than the cost for a new hire. We must reconsider traditional training via face–to–face meetings and explore technological interactive solutions that promotes learning and development. In-house cross functional project teams are adept to collaboratively solve complex organisational problems and challenge institutional learnings and skill development.

Many leaders’ primary concern is whether employees will leave after being trained. My question to you, “What if your employees stay?” How equipped are your employees to respond to digital transformation and the changing customer needs? How agile is your organisation in data capturing, research and analytics? Upskilling can create a platform for your organisation to remain competitive by closing skill gaps in the midst of changing market conditions. To avoid your employees retiring on the job invest in harnessing key skillsets.

We must shift the stigma of training days treated as just a relaxed day with lunch/snacks.

Learning organisations are those enterprises that are continuously experientially learning, adaptive to their external environment.

These organisations are able to create an environment that encourages new ideas, learning, shared vision, innovation, improved processes and “think tanks” in the midst of transition. as demonstrated by the health industry in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Harvard Business Review article Building a Learning Organisation ( July – August 1993), in the absence of learning, companies – and individuals – simply repeat old practices. Change remains cosmetic, and improvements are either fortuitous or short-lived.

In crisis there are opportunities, reskilling and upskilling can be beneficial for both the organisations and its employees.

Whilst, employees are given the opportunity for development, organisations can benefit by saving the cost for new hires which includes recruiting to onboarding/induction.

Consequently, new diverse skills can readily be transferred to the job to solve complex organisational problems, improve productivity and customer service. On the flip side, we are saying employees are also required to take ownership for their career development and not leave it solely to the organisation.

Thereby, increasing their employability in times of layoffs, restructures etc.

Finally, in uncertainty, opportunities for investing in staff development can guarantee a return on investment if done correctly and improve your staff retention strategy.

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