The secret of Gen-Y staff retention

I borrowed from the army in my approach to staff training and it worked. BRENDAN LEWIS

Brendan Lewis

By Brendan Lewis

Having run a number of businesses full of Gen-Y staff, I found that they were very focused on managing their own career. Topics such as loyalty normally drew blank faces, as the industry norm was career advancement through job hopping.

In fact many of my competitors refused to train staff as they knew it meant the employee would immediately start applying for jobs paying a higher amount now that they had a new skill or qualification. Many of these courses were very expensive as well – it wasn’t unknown to be paying about $2500 for a three-day course in networking or system administration for big-end-of-town IT solutions. There was a plethora of courses to choose from.

I decided to approach staff training in a slightly different way, and got dividends I didn’t expect.

The different approach was one I borrowed from the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. What I did was create training diagrams. Diagrams that showed all the courses on the path to each of the qualifications. These training diagrams also represented that some courses, and/or series of courses, were pre-requisites to more than one qualification.

What I did was then two fold.

First, I would work out a training budget for each staff member. (In my case $7000 a year.)

Second, I sat down with each staff member, and mapped out a training program with them using a standard template. We put a course date in each box of the training diagram (depending on the budget, course cost and timing), and then the employee signed off on their training program and took a copy with them.

Employees then knew what course they were scheduled to do later in the year, and which courses they would be offered in future years.

Turns out, unsurprisingly, they felt like they owned their training program and had a really strong incentive to stay. We had staff turnover down to 5% in an industry where it appeared to be closer to 50%.

Of course delivering as promised was part of the deal; and meeting with staff on a six monthly basis to review, among other things, their training program. Sometimes a course would be cancelled by suppliers. Employees weren’t stressed by this as I had built up a level of trust so they knew they would simply be booked on the course the next time it came up.

Economically it made good sense as well. I was spending around $7000 a year per staff member on training, but replacing them via a recruitment agency was going to cost around $7000.

Anyway, the unexpected dividends alluded to earlier were:

  1. Staff that were recommending our company to their peers as a great employer (reducing my recruitment and employment costs).
  2. Happy customers whom had constant reminders (through missing staff) into how dedicated we were in having highly trained and qualified staff at their establishment.


Brendan Lewis is a serial technology entrepreneur having founded : Ideas Lighting, Carradale Media, Edion, Verve IT, The Churchill Club, Flinders Pacific and L2i Technology Advisory. He has set up businesses for others in Romania, Indonesia and Vietnam. Qualified in IT and Accounting, he has also spent time running an Advertising agency and as a Cavalry Officer with the Australian Army Reserve.

To read more Brendan Lewis blogs, click here.


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