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Focus on staff training and retention

Published on Friday, 20 May 2011
Charles Caldwell
Human resources director, ESF

How do companies attract and engage quality staff?

We often hear people talking about the "war for talent" and, in my opinion, it is alive, well and getting worse. Therefore, if employers and human resources (HR) professionals hope to build strong organisations and achieve long-term success, they must be far-sighted and proactive in order to attract, train and engage high-quality staff with the potential to become future leaders. 


Demographic factors and economically driven changes mean that countries in Asia have to prepare for a very different future. Mirroring trends already seen in the West, it is clear that populations are ageing. If we look ahead, that means a leadership drought of possibly major proportions is on the horizon for nations in the Asia-Pacific region. It may be a few years off, but to prepare effectively, the English Schools Foundation (ESF) believes it is vital to focus on employee engagement, retention, and leadership development. 

Effective action  

One of the reasons I came to ESF was to apply certain lessons I learned about employee loyalty and engagement while working for a United States-based multinational. Now, instead of looking at the commercial world, I am studying global teacher trends and best HR practices in educational institutions. Not surprisingly, the data shows that high levels of teacher engagement correlate with better learning environments for students. It is essential to recognise that improved engagement leads to higher retention, happier employees and better results for students.

In working towards those targets, we have put various measures in place. One is to help us determine more objectively where each school or part of the overall organisation sits on the employee engagement spectrum. A second is to remain aware of the importance of so-called intangibles.

That is something emphasised in research by the firm Towers Perrin, which indicates that employees at every level need to be noticed, recognised and appreciated for their efforts. Like the report, we, too, realise that "this is clearly a universal human need regardless of global location or culture".

There are many ways to recognise employees. These go from a simple "thank you" to providing constructive formal feedback. We are now making sure that recognition for a job well done becomes part of our culture.

We are also making extra efforts to arrange opportunities for professional development. Such initiatives help employees become more successful in their jobs and, in doing so, increase their general sense of loyalty and engagement. 

Methods and outcomes  

Within the ESF, we see HR as a facilitator for employee engagement. In part, that involves assisting line managers to become more effective supervisors and encouraging them to provide regular, meaningful feedback to staff. Other tools include the introduction of recognition programmes and working with leaders to shape the work environment and culture. At the end of the day, the focus should be on successful outcomes for the children studying at ESF schools and on giving them the best possible start in life.

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