Developing Entry-Level Talent: How to Invest for Success
Imagine you’re a hard-working entry-level employee who’s been in your current position for less than a year. Your skills are solid, but they don’t help you stand out from other entry-level talent. You know which skills could help you advance, but you’re not sure what resources are available to you or how to get support for a growth plan. You don’t see a pathway to expand your skill set. You just feel stuck.
Sadly, this isn’t unusual. But scenarios like this can have serious consequences for employee morale, mobility, and retention across an organization. For example research says:
- A primary reason why employees quit is the sense that they do not feel valued. (McKinsey)
- A lack of learning and development opportunities also drives turnover. (McKinsey)
- Employees are twice as likely to leave when they don’t think their work is interesting or challenging. (Udemy)
It’s no surprise that people look elsewhere when they believe their skills aren’t seen, valued, and nurtured. But this doesn’t need to happen. As an employer, you can avoid losing entry-level employees by investing more effectively in their future with your organization.
Where Employee Development Fits In
A comprehensive professional development program is one way to demonstrate your commitment. Upskilling, reskilling, cross-training and continuous learning practices help employees keep existing skills fresh, develop new capabilities, and expand their career potential over time.
Future-minded employers know that developing entry-level talent is not just good for employee engagement and morale. It’s also a smart business strategy because it builds “bench depth.” By encouraging employees to embrace new responsibilities and growth opportunities, you can create a more diverse internal talent pipeline that will adapt with you as your business needs change.
A commitment to developing entry-level talent also sends a powerful message from the highest levels of your organization. It tells people that every member of your workforce is important, and you’re invested in their future success.
What’s at Stake for Employers
Organizations that invest in entry-level talent realize significant benefits:
1. Higher ROI
When you’re facing workforce skill gaps, recruiting qualified talent may seem like a faster, cheaper, easier solution than employee development. But this is a short-sighted approach that doesn’t necessarily lead to a stronger team. Bringing in new talent requires multiple costly, time-consuming steps, from recruiting to interviewing to hiring. And there’s no guarantee new hires will onboard successfully and become committed contributors.
Why bet on an uncertain outcome, when you already have a team in place that you’ve worked so hard to recruit and onboard? If you spend the same amount of time and money helping existing employees grow, you’re more likely to achieve a higher return on investment.
2. Less Brain Drain
The value of institutional knowledge is also important to consider. The lower your commitment to development, the higher your turnover rate is likely to be. And as employees leave, they’ll take away “insider” intelligence about how your organization gets things done. For example, you’ll lose insight into strategies, tactics and processes that worked, as well as those that didn’t. This kind of information can make or break operational efficiency, effectiveness, cohesion, and more.
By developing entry-level talent, you can equip employees with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in your environment. Along the way, you’ll build and reinforce institutional knowledge, rather than eroding it as disenchanted employees leave.
3. Stronger Employee Value Proposition
We know people are drawn to employers that emphasize continuous professional development and growth. If your loyal workforce sees you turning to new hires instead of investing in existing employees, what should you expect to happen? Morale will sink, the desire for professional growth will vanish, and skills will stagnate. Eventually, employees will look for growth opportunities outside your organization.
Instead, why not reinvigorate your team through learning? Focus on reskilling, upskilling, and cross-skilling. It’s a more sustainable way to strengthen employee satisfaction, commitment, retention, and performance. To get started with a successful entry-level employee development program, consider these five steps:
5 Ways to Develop Entry-Level Talent
1. Establish a Reasonable Budget
Start by defining the key elements of your employee growth plan. Identify the professional development topics and skills your program should address. Any development model will involve both direct and indirect costs, and these should align with market value.
However, expenses aren’t the only consideration. You’ll also want to estimate the value of potential benefits. For example, you may choose to establish a mentorship program that pairs new hires with veteran employees. This is a relatively low-cost way to support a culture of learning, but it can lead to significant tangible results.
2. Provide Time and Resources for Employee Participation
Simply put, employees need dedicated time and support to engage in professional development. Allocate a specific number of days for this purpose — perhaps even paid time away from the office, if possible.
A little workplace flexibility goes a long way in helping talent feel valued, and giving employees choice in managing their schedules encourages accountability and self-regulation.
3. Tap Into the Power of Work Relationships
Ask entry-level employees what kind of development support they feel would be helpful. Then ask managers to co-create a roadmap with their direct reports, based on the knowledge and skills they want to develop.
Managers are likely to know how to leverage connections among team members so they can learn from one another. Research shows that these relationships matter. For example, McKinsey found that 91% of people supported by mentors are satisfied with their jobs. In addition, cohort-based learning enhances workplace communication, overall.
4. Include Team-Building Opportunities
Besides mentorship programs, consider other ways for entry-level employees to learn from teammates. Cross-departmental collaboration, for example, is an underused resource. When employees work with others and learn from one another, they can sharpen both interpersonal and job-related skills. They’re also more likely to understand the company’s inner workings and see the value in individual workplace roles.
5. Showcase Progress
For any program that demands time and energy, employees and employers alike want to see results. To reinforce the benefits of participation, plan to demonstrate how development efforts lead to professional growth, improved performance, and team success. For instance, one study of U.K. reskilling programs resulted in positive economic returns and improved morale. These are the kind of concrete results everyone appreciates.
These suggestions are intended as launching points to help you make the most of your investment in entry-level talent. With these development factors as a framework, your learning programs can make a measurable and lasting difference in workplace communication, productivity and innovation. Most importantly, this kind of investment can help you build a stronger team that will be invigorated and inspired to move forward together. Everybody wins.