Expert column | Creating career pathways because it’s “incumbent” upon us

By: Shawn Avery
Inside Business, September 16, 2016

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In an increasingly digital world, employers are demanding greater skills and more certifications to outpace competitors.

Growing industry clusters in Hampton Roads — such as information technology, analytics and security; advanced manufacturing; life sciences and health care; maritime logistics and supply chain; and business and financial services — require a highly skilled and educated workforce equipped to meet the advanced needs of the 21st century.

Many businesses are responding to this shift by placing greater emphasis on recruitment efforts. While it is true hiring and recruiting are critical to cultivating talent and ensuring a vibrant economy, employers should also consider harnessing the power of their existing workforce and invest in training and professional development programs that will amplify individual strengths and identify opportunities for improvement.

By elevating and upgrading the skills of incumbent workers who have demonstrated company commitment, employers are able to garner significant benefits — retention, compliance and productivity — that will ultimately impact the company’s bottom line.

EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT AND RETENTION

According to a recent statistic cited at Recruitment.com, 40 percent of employees who receive poor job training resign from their positions within the first year. This is especially true for millennials who are shaping today’s workforce and economy.

Gallup’s latest report, How Millennials Want to Work and Live, reveals 59 percent of those in the demographic value positions that offer opportunities to learn and grow. Employers should empower their current employees through training courses, tuition reimbursement and other professional development activities. Further, it’s no secret retaining an employee is much more cost effective than working to recruit another.

COMPLIANCE AND THE COMPETITIVE EDGE

As businesses are mandated to comply with federal, state, and industry-specific regulations, employees are tasked with ensuring compliance to avoid penalties and restrictions. Technology advances have made this process cumbersome for many corporations, as they must modify existing practices to meet new 21st-century regulatory requirements.

Facilitating compliance with stringent and ever-changing regulations in a workplace environment with the constant onboarding of new talent can make it challenging for businesses to maintain their competitive edge in the market.

INCREASED PRODUCTIVITY

Routine training and professional development equips employees with greater tools that can increase work performance. Training on new strategies, IT platforms and systems increases efficiency and productivity, which drive company revenue and growth.

While the development of career pathways offers a myriad of benefits, the costs associated with training are often steep. Small businesses, in particular, are struggling to ensure employees remain current with skill sets necessary to effectively perform their jobs, and as a result require highly credentialed talent.

But resources do exist. To support small businesses at the state and local levels, Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently announced a $1 million program to assist with efforts to improve the occupational and technical skills of workers through workforce credentials that drive business growth.

Training funded by the new program, provided through the Workforce and Innovation and Opportunity Act, will target the fields for which employers are demanding skills development and certifications, to include manufacturing, energy, information technology, cybersecurity, health care, transportation and logistics.

In June, Opportunity Inc., in partnership with Tidewater Community College, was one of seven regional Workforce Development Boards in the Commonwealth awarded a grant to work with small businesses, community colleges and other partners in their regions to provide workforce training and credentialing for incumbent workers.

The $150,000 in incumbent worker training funds will be used to support Hampton Roads businesses with 250 employees or fewer by contributing a percentage of the training and certification assessment costs that lead to a certification or occupational license. Allfirst LLC, an industrial general contractor based in Suffolk, was awarded the first grant to improve the welding skills of eight of its employees.

The future is promising for businesses that engage in career pathway planning. As the old adage goes … your greatest asset might be standing right in front of you. Leveraging support from workforce development stakeholders, such as Opportunity Inc., many businesses will have the resources to develop the talent required to meet their demand and compete in our increasingly globalized economy.

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Shawn Avery is president and CEO of Opportunity Inc.