The Importance of Employee Development

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There are two main reasons employers provide training and development for their workers. Firstly, to develop the skills base of their staff - enabling them to optimise performance - and secondly, to support professionals seeking to develop their careers.

Both parties stand to gain from employee development programmes, with employers benefiting from a more capable workforce, and employees honing the skills they need to move up the career ladder.

Employers recognise that, if they want to attract and retain top talent, they need to show a commitment to staff development. Training is important for ambitious individuals looking to move up the jobs ladder - unless they gain new skills and knowledge, how can they progress from their current role?

Phil Sheridan, managing director at Robert Half UK, commented that, in today's marketplace where skilled candidates are "such a precious commodity", employers need to look carefully at what they are offering their existing members of staff in terms of career development and training.

"Professionals can now afford to be selective in who they choose to work for and are looking for clear career progression opportunities, salary advance and job satisfaction," he stated. And they will look to move elsewhere if their current employer does not deliver Mr Sheridan added. This means there can be "no compromise" in terms of nurturing talent, he noted.

  • What types of skills are there?

Skills are typically categorised as being hard or soft - with hard skills being those which are teachable qualities, and soft skills relating more to personal attributes. As employers aim to boost productivity rates within their workforce and add value to their organisation, they ideally need to develop both. However, since hard skills are easier to quantify, these are often the focus of employers' training programmes.

Examples of hard skills include educational achievements, industry qualifications, foreign language fluency, typing speed and computer literacy. These skills are either evidenced by achievements listed on professionals' CVs, or can be quantified through testing. If employers want to benchmark individuals within their workforce, and see how their skills compare, they could ask everybody to perform the same test in a closed environment.

Soft skills are inherently much more subjective. Examples include confidence, communication, creativity, calmness under pressure, teamwork, patience and the ability to multi-task. Employees may think they have excellent soft skills, when in fact they simply do not measure up to those possessed by other members of the workforce. Yet it is difficult to objectively test soft skills, since they can exist in a variety of different forms. With soft skills typically being assessed by performance, it is important to remember they can be affected by outside influences - for instance fatigue, illness, pressure, resources and levels of motivation.

Increasingly, employers are seeking professionals who have strong commercial acumen, and an ability to see 'the bigger picture'. Such individuals understand how their role impacts the wider business, and where there are opportunities to positively affect the bottom line. The ability to communicate complex subjects to non-technical audiences is also valuable, particularly where professionals can convey its meaning within the context of particular employee roles.

  • Developing leadership skills

Employers are always on the lookout for individuals with leadership skills - those employees who have the potential to move on up their organisation and take on a more senior role. Typically, these are the employees who promise to add the greatest value in the long term. Future leaders typically have the insight, ambition and drive to achieve organisational growth, and also the people skills to encourage buy-in from the workforce.

Having successfully identified individuals who show leadership traits, organisations should look to harness these abilities - however fledgling they may be. Running leadership skills training sessions can give employees the confidence and courage in their convictions to seek a promotion and take on more responsibility. Training could potentially cover areas such as critical thinking, listening, motivation, discipline, delegation and collaboration.

Employers should also recognise the importance of development training for individuals who are already working in leadership roles. They can benefit from refresher sessions, and through being informed about the latest theories and concepts. For those targeting higher roles - such as in the boardroom - training and development may be considered a valued employee benefit, and as such, a morale-booster.

  • Successfully identifying candidate skills

Employers need to understand how training programmes contribute to skills development, and recognise the value this can offer their teams. But they also need to think about skills during the hiring process, and seek to hire individuals who are already practically capable in a wide range of areas. Poor skills matches can easily lead to failed hires for organisations - and all the associated costs.

When considering candidates for a new job, it is important for the hiring manager to have a clear idea of what they are looking for. It is not simply a case of recycling the job description used the last time an appointment was made, as the role may have changed. It is vital that hiring managers consult with executives and managers on the skills required for the job in question - they may have specific insight and a clearer idea of what is needed. This helps create a detailed list of essential and desirable qualities for the job criteria in the application pack, which can help dissuade unsuitable candidates and save time during the recruitment process.

Hiring managers should be aware that candidates' skills are not limited to functional abilities. As such, it is important to look for the intangibles. For instance, is there any evidence that an individual applicant thrives in a collaborative environment? And have they demonstrated a capacity to lead other people? These soft skills may end up offering great value to the organisation in the long run - more so than somebody who is better qualified but less socially capable. Often it is the hidden talents possessed by individuals - or at least those not immediately apparent by looking at their CV - which make them so valuable to their employer.

  • How recruiters can help

Working with recruitment agencies can help hiring managers appoint people with the skills needed for particular roles. Recruiters have a wealth of industry experience to draw upon, and understand the qualities needed for individuals to perform. They also know where to find talented professionals, having established strong working relationships with job candidates throughout their career lifecycle, as well as clients.

As an effective middle-man, agencies can bring employers together with talented professionals, including those who fit the job description but are not actively looking for a new role. The insight offered by the recruiters enables employers to target individuals who look like a perfect fit for the job description, which can be important if the job ad has yielded few suitable candidates.