Developing skills and managing talent is vital if Australia is to overcome the challenge of increasing productivity.
Enterprises, governments and individuals all invest significantly in education and training. However, developing skills is only part of the story. Ironically, at a time when skills shortages are headline news, many employees believe they are over-skilled for the job they do.
In a small-scale study published in 2009, 42 per cent of Australian workers reported that they felt they were moderately or severely over-skilled. Many employers agree. Another study, from last year, found 37.1 per cent of employers viewed the skill level of their employees as above what is required for the job at hand.
Organisations of any size or sector can lift productivity by better utilising employees’ full range of capabilities. Skills utilisation is about how well employers harness and develop their workers’ abilities and talents to gain maximum value. Skills Australia’s Better use of skills, better outcomes: Australian case studies showcases 11 organisations’ tailor-made initiatives to benefit both the business and employees themselves. By adopting effective practices, organisations can lift profitability, improve staff retention, and deliver better job satisfaction and rewards for employees who show personal initiative.
Designing work to maximise the value of employee skills and experience can make workplaces capable of generating innovative business processes and ultimately enhance competitive advantage. With this culture employees are more likely to be satisfied at work and motivated to perform at their best. Skills utilisation benefits employers by directly affecting businesses’ bottom line.
Of the showcased organisations, all reported improved productivity and/or profits and reduced operating costs or better retention. Small employers benefited from their ability to be flexible, adaptable and innovative, while large employers were able to provide employees with a diversity of job roles and experiences.
Enterprises seeking to harness and develop their workers’ abilities should address how work is organised and how their skills are aligned to the needs of the business.
Many of the organisations profiled have developed a supply of skilled staff despite chronic skill shortages in their sector.
Other examples of improved business outcomes include significant cost savings due to decreased staff turnover and decreased work-related injuries and lower insurance premiums.
The organisations involved in the research use a multitude of practices to make the most of the skills of their employees. Initiatives undertaken across the case study organisations can be summarised into five broad steps:
- Know the skills and talents you have and may require in the future by conducting a skills audit.
- Develop existing skills and acquire relevant new skills through training and mentoring.
- Apply new skills in practical ways.
- Give employees flexibility and autonomy, and involve them in decision-making.
- Change the job to suit the range of skills you have in your workforce.
Robin Shreeve is CEO of Skills Australia, which published ‘Better use of skills, better outcomes: Australian case studies’ in March. To access a copy, go to www.skillsaustralia.gov.au.
Critical success factors
- Provide strong leadership and support.
- Be open to communication.
- Align culture and values.
- Pursue HR excellence.
- Be transparent and accountable.
- Establish integrity and trust.
- Seek continuous improvement.
- Develop partnership and collaboration.
- Respect and cultivate difference.