How the Balance of Power is Shifting Toward Skilled Tradespeople

Upskilling has become a buzzword, but how do we make employee training more meaningful?

It used to be the case that companies held all the cards when it came to hiring, developing, and firing employees. This meant that once someone was hired, it didn’t matter whether they felt challenged or fulfilled by their work or not because they knew that if they no longer wanted the job, there were 10, 50, or 100 others lining up behind them to step into the role. But with a mass exodus underway in all of the skilled trades, the tables have turned, and much like a housing market that shifts from sellers to buyers, the economy has tilted in favor of workers. Let’s look at how this has happened and what it means for employee education and development over the next few years. 

Inaccessible Expertise Means Frustrated Workers

One of the biggest problems facing companies that are trying to keep their skilled workers satisfied is that potentially useful data gets stuck in siloes. This could be in the form of human expertise that isn’t captured and distributed in a formalized way or data that gets stuck in disparate siloes across the organization. According to the 2018 Workplace Knowledge and Productivity Report, only 13 percent of respondents stated that, “It’s almost always easy to get the information I need to do my job well.” In contrast, 35 percent noted that it’s sometimes tricky to obtain what they need to perform at their peak, while another 25 percent stated that doing so is usually difficult or even impossible. How did this make them feel? Frustrated, overwhelmed, lost, and confused. 

This means that there are an awful lot of dissatisfied employees out there who are wasting countless hours looking for specific details that they cannot easily lay their hands on. The second part of the issue – that expertise remains stuck inside experts’ heads – is equally problematic, if not more so. The authors of the same report stated that in tech companies, annual turnover is around 16 percent, and cited a Business Insider stat that stated the average tenure is a mere two years. In the skilled trades, employees typically stick with their employer for longer, but the turnover rate in recent years has skyrocketed because Baby Boomers are retiring in droves. This means that by 2032, a whopping 41 percent of the current workforce will have walked out the door for the final time, per research conducted by The Cornerstone

The resulting loss of productivity will be bad enough, but the fact that most of the experience these workers have acquired will leave with them is even worse. And it’s not like the skilled trades have much if any time to prepare for losing so much accumulated wisdom, as The Cornerstone’s data shows that 29 percent of employees will have retired by 2026. As such, employers need to come up with a plan and execute it within the next five years to capture all this expert-level knowledge, categorize it, and make it available to train new workers and upskill current employees. Failure to do so will result in the turnover rate going even higher as new recruits quickly become dissatisfied with their lack of educational opportunities and mid-career professionals look elsewhere for employers that are more committed to ongoing development. 

Improving Employee Retention and Satisfaction Through Training

The sobering reality for companies is that employees now hold the whip hand in such situations. Due to the accelerated rate at which older employees are retiring, workers know that the seesaw of job supply and demand has tipped in their favor. If they have an adequate skillset for their desired position, there will be multiple employers eager to snap them up the moment they re-enter the job market. With this in mind, organizations must try to double down on employee retention strategies that get new workers up to speed as soon as possible and empower mid-level individuals to grow. 

One of the best ways to do this is to find a way to capture, organize, and disseminate expertise in an organized way. Providing a similar over-the-shoulder view of experts at work via video allows employees of all experience levels to develop skills at their own pace and complement what they’re learning in the classroom and via traditional training programs. A learning platform like DeepHow via Stanley X accelerates this process by using a powerful AI engine to segment videos into bite-size chunks, make them searchable, and provide captions that reinforce what workers are seeing on the screen. 

As Dennis A. Kelley wrote in an article for the American Management Association (AMA), “Well-trained employees are productive and loyal.” On the other hand, he noted that, “If you reduce the training available to them, you will find your company struggling to remain competitive. A skilled workforce is not a luxury anymore—it is a necessity.” 

Gathering tribal knowledge before it’s lost not only preserves the hard-won knowledge of experts but also makes it available to those who are following in their footsteps. As a result, a business achieves continuity while amplifying its educational initiatives and keeping the most important resource – its people – happy, motivated, and effective. In an economy where workers are in a power position, nothing could be more vital.