There are two big problems rocking Arab industries today – recruitment and retention.
With the global talent pool shrinking and hitting the region hard and fast, the Middle East must sit up and shake itself awake to this problem. The Middle East has a new problem lurking in the not-so-distant horizon: There is a fast-growing population in the Arab world that is all set to enter the workforce over the next decade. We are talking big numbers here – and as many as 75 million jobs will need to be made for this ever-increasing population.
The region’s economic future depends on its ability to:
- Create jobs for people
- Make people ready for these jobs
- Move to a more stable employment strategy
And then there is the problem of retention.
A common accountant’s mantra is “Every dollar spent on salaries and wages is a dollar off your bottom line!” This is the main reason that wage rates in tight margin businesses like grocery retail, fast food, budget clothing and other high-volume, low-margin businesses are always cut to the bone and are often at or below the legal minimum. The rationale being that it is not rocket science to collect trolleys from a car park, stack shelves, fill bags or handout hamburgers.
Zero-hour contracts in these industries are also becoming the norm. A worker is not guaranteed any regular hours at all, and can sometimes be rostered for two periods in the one day. It also means in some jurisdictions that holiday pay, sick pay, pay raises and security of employment are nonexistent.
Employee churn is a direct effect of low pay rates. Employees stay only until they find something better, with the side effect that after a while low pay positions are filled by employees that cannot find employment further up the chain. They are unmotivated, unproductive and thoroughly miserable and contribute very little added value to their employer.
In a store in Joplin, Missouri (USA), something is happening that could change all that. The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart, the retail giant, is engaged in an ‘upskilling program’ that will train entry level employees comprehensively and pay them more than before. Not just entry level either, supervisors will be given proper training and be given direct responsibility for their team’s productivity. The initiative, called ‘Pathways’, is aimed at reducing ‘churn’, improve employee morale, increasing productivity and giving a better shopping experience to its customers.
According to Kristin Oliver of Walmart US, industry data shows that in the grocery trade ‘churn’ accounts for 50% of new employees at six months. At an average cost of $5,000 per employee, if Walmart can extend this to even 12 or 18 months it would save tens of millions of dollars every year.
Previously new inductees sat through a few days of orientation and safety drills, mainly to satisfy government regulations – the only real knowledge gained was through working with more experienced people. Now there is an ongoing training program throughout a six month period, using short snappy videos dealing with every aspect of store operations and also dealing with the bigger company picture as well. At the end of the six-month period there is an assessment – and an increase in rate reflects the assessment results. The assessment is also a gateway to higher positions such as supervisor (and even higher for talented people).
In addition to this, certain grades would be eligible for certified training, which can be carried forward with them when they move on, but the whole thrust of the Pathway operation is to train and empower personnel to increase their responsibility, their remuneration and therefore their job satisfaction – making it less likely for them to move on.
At the time of writing, McDonalds, Starbucks, Gap and UPS are starting to operate their versions with the same aims and methods as Walmart, and once these market leaders embark on something like this, it is only a matter of time before this becomes commonplace, even for organizations further down the food chain.
This represents a huge opportunity for the eLearning industry. The industry traditionally waits for a demand to come to them and then satisfies that demand. The winners this time will be the eLearning companies that have a product ready when the small- and medium-sized operations come calling on them. The fight for the big contracts will slash margins to the bone, but further down the ladder there will be a lucrative margin for the first companies to have off the shelf product available.
It’s a lesson worth learning – albeit from a country far, far away from the Middle East – because at the end of the day the problems we face at the workplace are the same; the needs are the same; and the solutions to these problems lie in being able to learn from one another.
About the author: (
Heera Edwin is a writer and educator who is actively involved in the design and development of content, marketing strategies and communications at 24×7 Learning