The war on retention in the Upstate

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By Chris Yarrow, co-founder and managing partner, The Hiring Group

There is no denying that, across the country, the war on talent for IT and engineering jobs is forcing companies to rethink their hiring and recruiting strategies. As demand for highly specialized IT and engineering jobs increases, organizations must continue to evolve to remain competitive.

Here in the Upstate, there’s a different type of employment challenge. Because of the concentration of manufacturing and engineering organizations, the workforce is different from the high-tech, Silicon Valley-type areas of the country such as Boston, New York, and Chicago. The average technical or engineering resource has a longer tenure and is more seasoned than the likes of the tech startup environment.

There continues to be a war on talent here — attracting and recruiting technical talent to the area to continue to support our economic growth. The “war on retention,” however, is the biggest challenge facing enterprises here in South Carolina. These organizations are feeling the pain. Because of the ultracompetitive IT and engineering job market, key technical resources leave to take positions that offer new opportunities, better management, richer compensation and benefits, or better work-life balance. We’re in a job seeker’s market, and negative unemployment for these critical technical roles leads to deficit recruiting.

Deficit recruiting occurs when any position that is filled creates a void — or deficit — for someone else at another company. In the Upstate, every technical role in IT or engineering contributes to this deficit recruiting cycle. It’s a domino effect forcing companies to build strategies for taking a more proactive stance to keep their technically skilled employees from considering greener pastures.

How do you stop deficit recruiting?

Here in the Upstate, what can organizations do to keep their IT and engineering resources from leaving and accepting other positions outside their current company? We’ve compiled a list of best practices to consider when you begin to assemble your retention game plan.

Management training should be a top priority

It is common knowledge that employees most often leave their current job because of an ineffective boss or manager. In many cases, managers aren’t properly trained or are ill-suited for a management role. Sometimes, managers are promoted for the work they did as an individual contributor, not for their ability to potentially lead and manage people. If there’s a management disconnect, this can spell disaster for a productive team — and it can be toxic to a company. This happens at every level of companies of all sizes.

Management training is also important when it comes to performance development across the landscape of your employee base. Every employee isn’t an A player — but turning your C players into B players offers more value than replacing them. Having managers who are trained to help underperformers go from C to B players can increase productivity and work throughout. In addition to performance improvement, managers who develop their employees and build an effective rapport also increase employee engagement and loyalty, which are both huge retention boosters.

In addition to coaching underperformers, consider offering them a chance to work in a different department. An employee that underperforms in one area might excel in another. Find a suitable mentor in the other area for the employee to shadow and set a timeline to determine how the employee is performing during the evaluation period.

Health and wellness benefits

Are you providing the best health-benefits package possible to your employees? Health care costs continue to rise, but providing these benefits to employees is critical. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, of the 738 respondents, 95 percent indicated that health care benefits rank the highest in importance to their employees. Providing richer health care benefits costs more, but that cost is negligible compared with the cost of recruiting, hiring, and training/retraining employees.

Flexible work schedules

Today, your employees are “always on” — they are connected via mobile devices that can get network access anywhere. Companies are increasingly adopting varying degrees of flex work as a means of reducing turnover. Small changes, such as allowing personal appointments during business hours or working from home every other Friday, can have a tremendous impact.

Paid time off

Most companies provide their full-time employees some type of paid time off package, whether it’s an aggregate number of PTO days, or vacation, sick, or personal days. Companies that stand out as the front-runners in terms of employee engagement are those that have embraced a culture where PTO is encouraged. Whether you’re a contractor or a full-time employee, time away from work is important to “recharge your batteries” by spending time with family and friends and doing things you love. Explore what other similar companies are offering to their employees and see how you could implement a more generous time-off policy to improve company culture and lower attrition.

Wealth opportunities

If you are not factoring a 401(k) offering and additional wealth opportunities into your retention strategy, you risk losing your top employees and potential candidates. Providing employees a means to prepare for retirement through a company-sponsored 401(k) is an excellent way to help build loyalty and gain buy-in to the company’s mission. Additional performance-based bonus plans, incentive-based pay, company 401(k) match, and profit-sharing are also ways to boost loyalty and engagement across your workforce.

In summary

While companies continue to attract and hire new talent to the Upstate from other parts of the country, we must also do the best we can to keep our long-term, more seasoned technology and engineering talent here in the area. This means managing them better, paying them more competitively, giving them more time off and better benefits, and offering a big carrot to boot.

As a local business owner who has faced each of these challenges, I know exactly what it feels like to think, “Sure, I can do this, but how do I also make a profit or keep my shareholders happy?” The undeniable truth is we all must adapt to the market and react decisively as it changes. Locally, we are in an exciting time as companies continue to recognize the Upstate as an ideal place to call home. Business is strong, and the job market is on fire.

All these recommendations might seem to carry a hefty price tag, but the cost of losing your best technical talent in the “war on retention” could have far greater financial consequences. The organizations that creatively adapt their hiring and employee retention strategies and adopt aggressive approaches to train, engage, motivate, and retain employees will be the companies that achieve the most success.


Chris Yarrow is co-founder and managing partner of The Hiring Group, a technical staffing and recruiting services firm.

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