The growing wage premium enjoyed by highly skilled workers has sent a powerful signal that education and training matter. At the same time, senior management has been consistently sending the message that employees must assume responsibility for the development of their skills. These messages have not been missed. There is mounting evidence that workers are voting, with their feet, by leaving.
They are assuming responsibility for developing their own skills, in large part, by quitting those organizations where their prospects of development seem poor in favor of organizations with more promising career development opportunities. The paradox is ironic. As a result of years of preaching self-responsibility in the domain of skill and career development, competitive advantage is now accruing to those firms that take this development most seriously. This is obviously very good news for practitioners of workplace learning.
It suggests that there is no need to be shy about the strategic advantage that workplace learning represents. Among the many contributions that learning makes to an organization, the central role it plays in helping to retain employees is becoming increasingly clear. The fast pace of technological change has brought about an unprecedented level of demand for highly educated skilled workers. The wage premium enjoyed by the most highly educated employees is at an all time high, as is the increment in earnings associated with receiving additional training at work.
All of the available evidence points to the clear conclusion that the demand for the most highly skilled workers is outstripping the supply. After years of downsizing, rightsizing, and outsourcing, the labor market has shifted from a “buyers’ market” to a “sellers’ market. ” At the same time, workers have heard the message that their employers have preached for years: workers must take responsibility for their own skills development. They have taken that message seriously.
The implication is that in job markets that are very tight (a sellers’ market), workers are beginning to demand excellent training and career development as a benefit of employment. Increasingly, workers cite career development opportunities (or the absence thereof) as a primary determinant of their decision to stay with (or leave) their current employer. Major studies recently released by Aon Consulting, William M. Mercer, and the Hay Group all point to the same conclusion. The authors of the Hay study analyzed responses from half a million employees in more than 300 large organizations.
Their results show ‘that despite the common wisdom and feelings about job security and high workload lead people out the door, there is virtually no difference in the ratings on these items given by the committed group and the group that says it is likely to leave. ” Although many people finding new jobs in the current tight labor market do report receiving higher pay, pay is not one of the top three or four distinguishing factors between the groups–though it is important.