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Mississippi businesses investing in employees

In today’s tight labor market, businesses have more reasons than ever to provide workers with incentives to stay on the job. Strategies to retain workers can include helping them develop personally as well as professionally.

Earl Hollingsworth, director of training for BellSouth, said that many of the skills taught to improve workplace performance also can be pertinent in an employee’s personal life.

“I think the team building and negotiating skills that you learn at work are pertinent to home life, also,” Hollingsworth said. “It can also help with family interactions. Negotiation skills can come in handy at times making sure family members understand each other’s point of view.”

At BellSouth managers work with employees to develop performance objectives. Development activities can include team skill building, communications skills and behavior modification. In addition, employees are given access to personal financial planning tools that provide assistance with budgeting and planning for retirement.

Another important way to allow for personal as well as professional development is tuition reimbursement. The program at BellSouth allows employees to pursue degrees in whatever field they choose. It doesn’t necessarily have to be directly related to their present job.

Mississippi Power Company is another business in the state that provides tuition reimbursement.

“We offer reimbursement for college classes and professional certification classes and exams,” said Kurt Brautigam, spokesman for Mississippi Power Company (MPC). “We also offer extensive industry specific course work through the Southern Company College, which offers a wide variety of short (one- to five-day) classes that allow employees to learn more about either their own areas or other aspects of the company. That program is designed to allow employees to progress through a series of related courses that build upon each other in order to really cover a given topic or issue.”

Brautigam said MPC also puts a strong emphasis on assisting employees with their personal development so that they can improve themselves and enhance their ability to do their jobs.

Hancock Bank is currently planning to offer Internet training programs through the American Institute of Banking for the benefit of employees who are parents and don’t want to be away from their children to take evening courses.

“We’re probably just a couple months away from doing that,” said Barbara Atchley, vice president and director of corporate human resources for Hancock Bank. “It’s a little more expensive, but it is more family friendly. And it doesn’t prevent someone from being able to advance in their career just because they have a family.”

Although the training is very specific to the banking industry, Atchley said that professional development often also enhances personal development.

“If you learn something in one part of your life, it can be used in multiple parts of life,” Atchley said. “Anything you learn can help your personal life.”

Atchley believes that skills training helps make employees feel higher self-esteem in addition to giving them opportunities to advance in the company. When employees have access to training that can provide opportunities for advancement, they are more likely to stay with the company.

“Skills training helps to retain employees, which is a very big issue,” she said. “We can take someone straight out of high school and provide training for their whole career. It helps people view us as a place for a career, not just a job.”

Hospitals are another industry where training is considered critical to helping retain quality employees.

“Facilities are viewing education as an organizational priority for employees and patients,” said Eddie Foster, executive vice president/chief operating officer of the Mississippi Hospital Association. “It has become an accountability issue for management and a key driver in low turnover rates and successful employees.”

Foster said personal employee development has become a priority among hospitals and health systems. Services provided to employees include career counseling, financial planning, employee assistance programs, wellness programs, and stress management.

“Employees who are provided with personal development opportunities become better people, more productive and better citizens to their communities,” Foster said.

Wayne Stonecypher, associate executive director for programs, State Board for Community and Junior Colleges, said that while most businesses don’t have programs just geared toward personal development, the skills training that goes on benefits both the business and their employees.

“The more training that a company can provide an employee, the more probable it is that employee is going to stay there,” Stonecypher said. “Anything that enhances that individual makes them more productive for themselves as well as the company. So in that sense it does enhance them personally.”

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Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

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