5 Strategies for a Stronger Future Workforce

Ask any growing business today what their biggest challenge is and most will tell you, “Hiring”.

Finding people with a combination of the right skills, the ideal personality/attitude and ambition is difficult. The unemployment rate hovers at 5% nationally and 4% locally which means fewer people are available for work. According to the Center for Workforce Research and Information, that means that in Maine, of the 675,000 people in the workforce, only 27,000 are available. That should be enough to fill the positions open; but think about the skills necessary for the jobs. Are these people qualified? Chances are since they are the last few unemployed, they lack skills.Worker & boss

Nationally and globally, the situation is very similar. The boomers are retiring, the millennial population cannot fill the need and those in between are working. Maine has not been the place for younger people to settle in. We are in an employee market. They have the upper hand of where they work, how much they make, how many hours they work and/or how long they will be with you.

Many ideas have been bantered about of how to fix this labor deficit. How do we attract young people to stay, return or move to Maine? Or is the other question, “how do we hire refugees, train them and make them productive members of our communities?”  We have spent many years discussing how to retain young people for our future workforce. Once they experience life elsewhere, especially in larger cities, they tend to find things about life there that is missing here. Maine has never had a large city. When we boast about our largest cities, we are still talking about cities that are under 100,000 people. Cities with populations over a million do have more to offer in terms of entertainment, social life and business/work opportunities.

Then we resort to our natural beauty of mountains, forests, ocean and seasons. These make us a nice place to visit. Ironically, we have refugees moving here that believe here is the best place to live in the world. They settle in, begin their own businesses, become a part of the communities they live in and afford us the opportunity to hire them. There are language and culture barriers that need to work themselves out, but any community willing to invest the time (yes, it does run into years) will soon have an added diversity and industrious employees.

Globally, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has been addressing this workforce dilemma. The challenge they have identified (which we are all familiar with) is a skills lag. The skills needed today in the modern workforce will not be the skills needed for tomorrow’s workforce. Not unlike Moore’s Law of integrated circuits doubling in capacity each year, the skills needed for 2020 will be different from those needed today (see chart).

How do we ready a workforce for skills that are dependent on future technological developments?

Top 20 Skills Chart

Here are five strategies you can start implementing today for the future:

1.      Small Businesses must emphasize employee development as a priority strategy. Employees that will be needed in the next 5 to 10 years must be planned for and pursued.  It is no longer a matter of placing ads, posting job openings or reliance on recruitment of competitor resources. Train, provide HR support and begin looking ahead.

2.      Small business manufacturers must cozy up to their equipment suppliers, learn what they see for future technological and mechanical requirements and work with them to develop their employee skills. Service businesses must do the same and keep their staffs educated on current and future software. Partnerships will form between businesses and their suppliers to educate workforces through training and maintenance.

3.      Retail businesses must adapt to transaction technology as soon as possible and work with financial institutions to assist in employee training. As Paypal advertised during the Super Bowl, the new money is paperless transactions with multiple media to accomplish it. It is a means of supplying payment equipment with appropriate guidance by vendors for retail clerks to perform safe and secure transactions that protect the end users.

4.      Educational institutions are not exempt here. From elementary to high schools, any school district that has not updated their curriculum annually is supplying unprepared graduates to the workforce. Students are far more digital than their teachers. That needs to turn around. Curricula must reflect a balance of traditional education with digital competence accelerated.

5.      Governments, both local and state must support educational changes that are coming. They can no longer react to technological changes that are archaic by the time the students graduate. Grades 1 to 12 are twelve fast years that have the potential to require a change in educational methods 4 to 5 times. Keeping up is mandatory for communities to stay afloat in the global marketplace. At all times including those of economic uncertainty and budget cuts, emphasis must be placed on education above all other needs to cultivate a community’s future prosperity.

If you are in education, you know what STEM is. While years ago, the future was in just going to college, today’s future is in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics regardless of how you get there. Schools must change to adapt to the digitally enhanced way of learning. Brick and mortar institutions must adapt.

Businesses must urge their local education boards to design curricula appropriate for workforce development pertinent to their community and place education at the top of the priority list for their towns and cities.

Companies will learn that they need to become talent destinations. That will only happen when the shift to talent development becomes part of the company culture. Investments in employee development, ongoing training and broader and more creative benefits will retain the best and the brightest.  Profitability and success will depend on it.

5 Must-have Strategies to Crush Your Competition

Tired of clichés?

“It’s a win-win deal”; “To be honest with you…”; “Put lipstick on a pig”. Why not teach your employees to talk effectively instead?

You can always tell when you are having a conversation with someone trying to sell you something. The clichés come at you like the tapping of a dot matrix printer printing the bible. Why not remove the clichés from the conversation and deliver a direct hit story that applies to your customer.

Use fewer words that have more meaning. Overused clichés tend to get customers indiscriminately nodding their heads in approval but don’t mean anything. Anyone can use those clichés and deliver nothing. As a customer, don’t nod your head in approval. Instead, just keep asking “What does that mean?” until you get an answer that you can actually understand and they can put in writing. If you still don’t understand after that, walk away.

When you train your sales folks (you do train, right?), do you include communication style? What they say and how they say it is critical to the end result of a sale. Let’s look at a few different scenarios of who and how:Haystack of sewing needles.

  1. Retail store clerks – the interaction here is between a clerk (at the register or on the sales floor) and the customer. The conversation is usually short and can be initiated by either party. The clerk’s ability to answer a question without having to check with someone else is important. Add to that, the clerk’s ability to offer a solution to an out-of-stock product, direct the customer to the right location of a product or wisely give a non-cliché answer will please the customer. Stay away from acronyms, corporate jargon and answers not pertaining to the question. It’s not important to show how smart you are, it’s important to answer their question.
  2. Service Technicians – that’s right. Your technicians that service customers’ equipment are part of your sales team. They have face-to-face contact with customers and their performance is key to returning customers. They must be quick on their feet and have the freedom to go above and beyond to exceed the customers’ expectations. The same parameters that apply to the retail clerks apply to technicians.
  3. Delivery drivers – another often overlooked segment of your sales team. Again, they have contact with customers and their attitude can tumble your customer satisfaction rating into single digits. Include them in your customer communications and sales trainings. Something as simple as bringing in the empty garbage cans on trash day go a long way for a special touch.
  4. Inside and Outside sales people – obviously, these are the ones we always include in sales training. They have the most customer contact, should have the highest quality contact and the most enduring relationships. Their conversations must be team oriented supporting the people that will follow them in servicing the customer. Coach them on what and how to talk with customers. The use of product and manufacturer acronyms is strictly forbidden with retail customers (applies to many industry customers as well). They mean nothing to them.
  5. Others – receptionists, custodians, back-office people, fork-lift drivers and anyone that touches the product or meets the customers. They all need to care. Their involvement in communication may not be with the customer, but the conversations with each other affect the customer indirectly. The way they treat each other carries through to the customers and the products.

In each of these cases, training on speech and communication is imperative. Role playing is despised by most but really puts them in a responsible light to perform. Coach them on direct communication that does not sound hurtful, commanding or misleading. Speech should be in a moderate tone, confidently delivered without using “like” or “you know”. Smiles should accompany the speech and eye contact delivers authenticity.

Yes, this does mean training all your employees. The investment will turn into gains in customers who return to buy more from you.

What are your favorite clichés? Share them here and replace them with a proper statement. Best one wins a free one-page business plan.

4 Powerful Tools for Irate Customers

Customers are diminishing your profits. They come armed and ready to deal. Are you ready?

By Paul Beaudette, President- Leading Edge Business Strategies

Angry Customer

The typical customer of today when purchasing goods and services comes armed with more information than even your sales clerks or sales people have. Your clerks and reps. must learn an entire inventory of products and services. Your customers learn specifically about the one product they are looking for. They research the internet for specs and prices, they read reviews and check competitors. They know what they need to pay or expect. And, they understand your product guarantees better than you’d like them to.

Addtionally, the customer knows how to handle your clerks and sales reps. quite handily. If they have the slightest inkling that you are not going to negotiate, that you will not accept a return or that you are not meeting their expectations, the assertiveness rocket kicks in. The tone of the conversation elevates and the customer is now in control. The threats start, the historical disappointments fly and the clerk is now in the passenger seat. It used to be that the person on the other end of the phone or behind the counter was respected for what they knew and how they treated the customer. Now, the customer assumes control by putting the company down, reliving a series of disappointments over the years or even demanding to talk with the President or the CEO. The ultimate outcome, depending on the level of unreasonableness of the customer will be a refund, a break on the price or they will no longer be a customer. Whose loss this ends up being is left to each party to decide. The company has lost money or a customer or both. Depending on the genuineness of the customer, yes, some customers are worth losing.

What can you do? Try this:

  1. Arm your salespeople, service people and delivery people (they all come in contact with customers) with knowledge. They must be trained and maintained to be knowledgeable about everything you sell and service. You’ll spend money doing it, but it will still be less expensive than dealing with irate customers and the accompanying high percentage of returns and credits.
  2. In the same vein, arm your employees with your competitors’ information. Depending on your products or services, this could vary as to what degree they need to know. When I worked for a heavy equipment manufacturer, they trained us in not only our equipment, but also in the competitor’s products as well. We actually got to sit in each type of equipment, run it and compare ours with the competitors. Knowledge is power.
  3. Train your sales people to deal with irate customers. They are not mad at them, but mad at the company. So, the need to retaliate is unnecessary, and the best thing to do is listen and if the company has done something wrong, apologize and develop a correction. If the company has not done anything wrong, don’t apologize. Just be empathic and offer a way to make the situation right. Irate customers can be verbally abusive especially if over the phone, texting or chatting. A simple statement, “I would very much like to help you resolve this, however, we need to be civil with each other. If you would prefer calling back when you are calm, we’ll be glad to help you then.”
  4. Guarantees can and will be abused by some customers. With lifetime, customer satisfaction and unlimited guarantees being promised today, many people are taking advantage of them to an extreme, much to the disadvantage of the retailer. For example:
    • Eddie Bauer – For 50 years, “100% unconditional lifetime guarantee.”
    • Zappos – “If you are not 100% satisfied with your purchase from Zappos, you can return your item(s) for a full refund within 365 days after purchase. (Returns must be unworn, in the state you received them, and in the original packaging.”
    • L.L. Bean – “Our products are guaranteed to give 100% satisfaction in every way. Return anything purchased from us at any time if it proves otherwise. We do not want you to have anything from L.L. Bean that is not completely satisfactory.”

The bottom line with these warrantees is they put the cost of returns back into their products. We, the consumers, are paying for this. With some of these guarantees, 20% of the cost could be an anticipated return. If you’ve used a wearable product for 10 years, should you expect a replacement at no cost to you? Some people do. Some go longer than 10 years. Unfortunately, these companies have created these customer expectations and this level of ethical discernment. Just because you can, does it make it right?

With as many people who make no compunction about taking advantage of these guarantees knowing that satisfaction does not mean any product will last your lifetime, but maybe the expected lifetime of the product, companies are sacrificing millions of dollars of profit to appease these customers and live up to their word. The net result is customers who now expect the same from many other companies and don’t hesitate to let them know, sometimes at the top of their lungs.

The era of the customer is always right is approaching the finish line. The population is growing and retailers will soon find out that there are too many good customers out there that can reciprocate a good transaction. Verbally abusing sales people and clerks will not become the standard.


Leading Edge Business Strategies, LLC is a consulting firm for small business. Paul Beaudette is the President and has over 30 years of successful business experience managing companies to sustainable profits and leading employees to being productive and aspiring to growth.

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” ~ Stephen Covey