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Retaining employees increasingly important in today’s competitive market, panellists highlight

Don Procter
Retaining employees increasingly important in today’s competitive market, panellists highlight
DON PROCTER — Panellists Adrian Sluga, a vice-president of strategic development with Pomerleau; Shauna McKenzie, manager of employer partnerships and services with The Career Foundation; and Greg Herman, in human resources with Engineering Link, recently spoke about how to retain employees when everyone is fighting for workers in the industry.

As important as innovative hiring strategies can be to a company’s success at finding skilled people in the dwindling resource pool, also vital is a focus on employee retention.

“You can’t ignore the pressure of certain levels of staff leaving for $10,000 more or being included in a bonus program,” said Adrian Sluga, a vice-president of strategic development with Pomerleau.

The issue there, however, is that high wages can set a precedent for incoming staff with less experience and the move can result in “over-promoting,” Sluga said at a panel session on addressing labour shortages at the Buildings Show in Toronto recently.

A report conducted by McKinsey and Company found many employers overlook key reasons for why employees leave such as feeling undervalued, Agnes Watkinson, co-founder of NextGen Professional, said.

Watkinson, who moderated the seminar, pointed out other factors determining employee satisfaction levels include the potential for advancement and kinship with colleagues.

The question is whether employers are listening enough to know this about their workers.

Panellist Greg Herman, in human resources with Engineering Link, told the seminar audience three-month check-ins with employees help the company identify issues.

In the 15-minute check-ins management will ask if the worker is being challenged enough and if they feel a sense of belonging.

Sluga said doing “pulse checks” of employees working remotely was difficult but the company has been fortunate because most of its workers wanted to return to the office for three or more days a week after the pandemic.

He said sometimes the best way of dealing with an employee on the brink of quitting is to find them different responsibilities or a new job because replacements can be so difficult to find.

Watkinson told the seminar audience that NextGen focusses on employee retention through coaching initiatives aimed at helping workers “grow their skillsets. We recognize it is unsustainable to continue recruiting in the way we have been recruiting.”

According to a recent report published by HR Magazine, Watkinson said when employers spend $1,500 per employee annually on training, they see an average of 24 per cent more profit than companies that spend less to upgrade the skills of their employees.

At Pomerleau in-house staff training and development initiatives exceed 20,000 hours annually.

The big builder sends high-performing employees from across Canada to “dedicated training” sessions at the company’s facilities in Quebec.

“It fosters a sense of belonging,” said Sluga.

Sometimes letting a worker go is necessary, he added, noting employees who continually spread negativity creating a toxic work environment are examples.

Panellist Shauna McKenzie, manager of employer partnerships and services with The Career Foundation, added companies need to recognize why an employee’s production is down. In some cases a long-time employee who has helped the company grow reaches a stagnant period — an issue the company may be able to address through leadership training.

One effective means of finding labour for some companies is through employee referral initiatives in which workers direct their employer to potential job candidates.

Watkinson said one construction products company hired about half of the 74 referrals it received over a two-month span.

The initiative was conducted through internal social media marketing and the program offered employees a financial bonus for successful referrals.

“It was quite successful so they doubled the bonus six months into the program,” she said.

At employee-owned EllisDon, core values of referral are built into the workplace culture, Watkinson said, noting it has resulted in 30 per cent of hires from internal referrals.

At Engineering Link, a junior employee was rewarded with a $500 gift card for referring two “very high quality people,” one of whom was hired in the company’s co-op program, Herman told the seminar audience.

He said even if a referral doesn’t work out, the company’s leadership team recognizes the worker’s effort to be “looking out for us.”

McKenzie noted employers shouldn’t overlook a growing pool of newcomers for staffing needs. Settlement packages require newcomers to register with one of the hundreds of employment service providers in Ontario such as The Career Foundation.

Employers can find valuable workers through these agencies “before they get into having to take a survival job to pay their bills,” she said. “They may come to you years later but it is with warehouse experience and they are that much further behind.”

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