HR 5 September 2018

Retaining your workforce in the age of the portfolio career

A portfolio career usually means having multiple jobs and employers at the same time

With portfolio careers being hailed as “the future of work”, businesses must look to training and development to retain an agile and dynamic workforce writes Samantha Caine, managing director at Business Linked Teams.

Portfolio careers were once seen as a means to get by for students and academics balancing multiple part-time jobs with their studies. A bar shift here, some data entry there – throw in some private tutoring and you’ve got a comfortable means of staying out of the red while you develop through your education.

Today, portfolio careers are seen by many as a long-term lifestyle choice, with some going as far as to suggest that portfolio careers are the future of work. There are countless articles by entrepreneurs describing how they continue to enjoy the varied portfolio careers that led them to success. For businesses however, portfolio careers present a threat to sustaining an agile and dynamic workforce.

No business wants to plough additional time, money and resource into constantly filling roles in a revolving door of inconstant staff, nor do they want to lose those with the entrepreneurial streak who – with the right training and development – have the potential to lead the business in the future.

As portfolio careers begin to develop from an interesting talking point to a widespread lifestyle choice, businesses must think about the steps they can take to retain a loyal workforce.

Training and retaining

From the employee perspective, a job should now be about personal development as much as it should be about career development. One reason so many are attracted to the prospect of a portfolio career is the opportunity to develop exponentially through various roles worked simultaneously.

Businesses will have no trouble outlining the different experiences staff will have the opportunity to enjoy across the business, but the reality is that employees will require the right training and development to unlock these experiences. Even as globalisation aids business growth with access to new and unexplored markets – and exciting opportunities for staff – the right training and development is essential to both the business and the employee making the best of those opportunities.

An effective training and development programme must identify the skills gaps in the workforce as well as in the individual employee and the programme’s content must be tailored to fill these skills gaps. This is where businesses can emphasise the value of a long-term tenure.

While portfolio careers seem an attractive option for gaining different skills and experiences, there is less opportunity to develop in part time roles where portfolio workers could effectively ‘plateau’; working multiple functions without progressing in any of them.

A sustained impact

Ensuring the programme is sustainable and long-term with a focus on long-term goals will make career progress within the business a bona fide possibility instead of an empty promise.

Blended development programmes are designed to instil desired skills and behaviours in employees over a sustained time period, empowering learners with a wide-range of skills developed in one single job instead of having to work multiple jobs in the hope of learning multiple skills.

By emphasising that your business wants to take its staff on a training journey rather than simply providing them with the occasional training ‘event’, you will quickly accentuate the value of a long-term career in the business.

Businesses needn’t view the sustained training journey as window-dressing that empowers the employee, inspiring them to stay with the business but ultimately bringing little value other than retaining the workforce for longer. The training journey should be beneficial to the business and building the development programme around the business’ core objectives will make an equitable exercise for both employer and employee.

Striking the right balance

The blended learning journey is all about striking the right balance. Portfolio careers are attractive because they provide people with more control over their work-life balance. As employee wellbeing (including work-life balance) becomes more a prominent point on the HR agenda, training and development programmes should reflect this.

A blended learning journey will empower employees through self-directed study using online training modules that can be accessed as and when it suits them, enabling them to learn in bitesize chunks. Face-to-face learning is still an important element and an effective blended learning journey will incorporate valuable face-to-face group activities alongside self-directed online modules.

While portfolio careers have been championed by some, they won’t lure everyone – especially those who value the stability, security and consistency of a full-time role. Businesses that can promise long-term training programmes that include self-directed study will thrive through the promise of stability, consistency, personal development and new opportunities within the business.

By placing employee development at the top of the HR agenda alongside advanced employee wellbeing, businesses needn’t sweat over the prospect of valued employees leaving to pursue portfolio careers.

Samantha Caine is managing director at Business Linked Teams

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