Guest Column | October 24, 2019

Invest In Your Staff Now Or Pay The Price Later

By Mark Matthews

Field Service Recruitment And Retention

Small business owners must continuously invest in their staff, if they don't want to keep losing them? But if I train my staff I will have to pay them more …

Unfortunately, this is how I used to think 20 years ago. I have, since then, definitively changed my outlook but, unfortunately, I know that other small business owners still think the same way, and this is why I have written this piece in the hope to change, or at least challenge, this belief.

When I started in business in the late 80’s most of my team were IT engineers. Something that all engineers need is to be competent in whatever they are employed to do, and this requires constant training to keep up with the ever-changing world of IT. This is where I made one of the biggest mistakes I have ever made as a business owner.

At the time as an owner, I just wanted my employees to come to work, do the work they were paid to do, not give me any problems and then go home when finished. Sounded easy to me, after all that’s what I did, so why shouldn’t they do the same? All IT engineers seemed to ever want was to go on Microsoft Training courses - not the cheap home based, in-their-own-time courses, but the most expensive Microsoft courses that were in a classroom, in working hours.

Now I was working 70 hours a week, I did my learning and keeping up with the industry in my own time, so why couldn’t they? After all I was paying them well enough and they were all professionals. Why couldn’t they just study after work in their own time and then take just the exam in a classroom, which also was the cheapest way? But NO, that wasn’t for them.

So, for me, unless we 100 percent needed to do the course for a business reason, we didn’t do any employee training.

The next issue which raised its head just as soon as the engineer was now skilled and accredited in whatever course they took – a course that I had paid for – was that I now had to pay them more money! Because they were now more qualified and therefore more attractive to other potential employers, without increasing their wages I would lose them. And all this because I had trained them!

This just didn’t make sense to me back then so, what did I do? Well, unless I really had too, I wouldn’t pay for employee training. In my mind it was a lose- lose situation for me and for the business.

I feel stupid now, but never once did I think about all the positive reasons for training employees, only ever the direct costs involved.

One of the reasons I am writing about this today is that I was recently reminded how I used to feel about training employees while I was on a 10-day course with 9 other people that were from all different types of industries.

I was shocked to hear that virtually all the other course participants were looking to leave their current job as soon as they could for something that they considered better.

Most of the issues and reasons for wanting to leave seemed to lie with how they were treated at work, whether it was the hours they were expected to work, even though they weren’t paid for this extra time, or how they felt held back due to lack of training or career development, the stress placed on them by the boss to work, quicker, better, cheaper.

I felt sad and upset for them as they were obviously so unhappy - they were working every day to pay their bills in a job where they felt un-valued and un-recognised. Even though they were all good and talented people, wanting to do a great job for their employers, they saw the only option for happiness was for them to move jobs to somewhere else.

I am sure over the years that’s how many of my previous employees have felt and have left me for an employer who valued them for their knowledge and skills and recognised, rewarded and developed them accordingly.

I wish I had realised that in investing in your employees and having a trained workforce can bring so many benefits to your business, and to you and your employees personally. Not all the benefits are the most obvious either!

There are the obvious business benefits:

Better skilled staff means better quality work; Better customer service; Greater competence; Greater profitability; New skills and ideas that can improve production; reduction in production costs and mistakes; Cut time spent in creation of your product or service

And the ones that may not, at first glance, be that apparent but that are much more meaningful:

A Happy and motivated workforce; fosters loyalty and confidence; a better and more productive working environment; great PR and reputation; improved staff retention and team bonding; improved employee engagement and of course, when everyone gets better, everyone gets better.

An investment in your employees’ knowledge and skillsets is an investment in your company.

It’s unbelievably expensive to employ a replacement member of staff and the more highly skilled the more 000’s you can add. You have recruitment costs which can be as high as 20 percent + of salary, time, potential pay increases and never mind the money lost through disruption between the existing employee leaving and the replacement starting and of course at least 3 to 6 months for the new person to “bed-in”. Imagine if we spent some of this money on training, and retaining, our employees.

You don’t have any budget to spend on training?

That’s Ok - it doesn’t have to cost a fortune and some things that are highly valued can be very cheap. Offer to buy any personal development type books, job related or position based, as long as your employee agrees to read it and write a short piece about what they learnt from it. You can offer 1-2 hours a week in work-time to improve skills and personal development through online learning (try Future Learn) again with an element of summarising that learning and sharing their experience with the rest of the team. Set up mentoring and coaching programmes where employees learn from and support each other. The options are only as limited as your creativity!

As I type this, I am reminded of an Old GPO Busby advert from many years ago, the advert said something along the lines of, instead of looking for new customers, why don’t you look after your existing customers better?

Just like you should with your staff.

About The Author

Mark Matthews is a family man, business leader, and visionary (Dad taxi). He has been running a multi-award-winning IT MSP, based in Bromsgrove, England, since 1989. For the last five years he has been a changed man as his philosophy is now “It’s my fault, so I’ll get out of the way and let my team do its job,” which is serving him well after the last 30 years, now enabling him to empower his people to be the best that they can be.