I recently spoke with a group of printing company owners about hiring and retention. In my presentation I quoted a recent study about women in print, highlighting the fact that one of the top five reasons respondents said they stayed with a company was opportunities for career advancement. Furthermore, a 2016 study by ClearCompany revealed that opportunities for career growth are one of the top three non-financial motivators and 76% of respondents desire these opportunities. Also, 87% of millennials surveyed said that professional development or career growth opportunities are very important.
Sending employees to conferences, events, or for further training are all ways to provide career advancement opportunities, but these costly options are more realistic for larger companies in our industry; not necessarily the smaller businesses that dominate the North American printing landscape. However, offering meaningful career advancement opportunities doesn’t have to cost a lot, including these three ideas directly from small business owners: cross-training, mentorship, and participating in community events.
Providing employees with opportunities to sit in on and/or work with other departments can benefit your company in a variety of ways. First, by allowing employees to learn about other departments they better understand how their primary role contributes to the whole. This newly established sense of purpose has been shown to boost morale and improve employee engagement. Cross-training also helps diversify an employee’s skill set, which can help improve their day-to-day work or set them up for future roles in your company. For example, if a CSR shows interest in learning what the graphics department does, these new-found skills (such as understanding file size and file format) can assist them checking customer files as front-line employees, mitigating issues later on. Cross-training may also help combat mental fatigue, career burnout, and plain old boredom that can set in after doing the same tasks for a long time. Variety is the spice of life, after all, and showing your employees that you understand the need for change can go a long way to building rapport and respect.
The second idea discussed was the power of mentorship to show employees you’re committed to their professional development. Something as simple as letting a more junior employee sit in on meetings with clients or management is an excellent way to show you’re committed to their growth. Mentorship relationships can be formal or informal, but they work best if a mentee is paired with a mentor who currently holds a role that they aspire to have one day. Furthermore, mentorship is a two-way street and it should be mutually-beneficial, therefore think about pairing people up who can learn from one another. For example, a mentor can share their experiences managing people, while the mentee can share their experiences managing social media platforms. Lastly, a mentorship relationship doesn’t always come naturally to even the best-intentioned people, so providing resources and guidance about their newfound roles can help everyone succeed.
Finally, the third idea relates to employees’ desires to continually improve their professional selves, as well as their personal selves through community involvement. Many for-profit companies align themselves with not-for-profit organizations to create meaningful change in their communities. Consider allowing your employees to become involved in community projects aligned with your business, such as offering workshops about branding, design, or file preparation to local entrepreneurs, led by members of your team. Participating in local community runs and other fundraising events can act as both as leadership opportunities and team building exercises to unite your staff.
The reality is that today’s workforce is hungry for ways to continuously improve themselves and advance both personally and professionally. Today’s workforce is also more transient than ever before and most employees don’t work for the same company for their entire careers (the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that salaried workers stay with a single company for an average of 4.6 years). Although employees won’t realistically be with your company forever, that doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t offer them opportunities to grow. Providing them with growth opportunities will strengthen respect and trust while they work for you, and it will help them improve themselves for whatever lies ahead.