Career Mobility: The Holy Grail of Talent Management

Increasingly organizations are finding that investments in re-/upskilling to feed an internal talent pipeline are much less than the combined costs of recruiting and onboarding.

Guy Raviv, Global Product Manager, Talent Mobility
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For many HR professionals, it’s the Holy Grail of talent management: a motivated workforce, keen to acquire new skills and in so doing, meet their employers’ insatiable need for future-proofed talent.

Regrettably, for many organizations, this Holy Grail remains just beyond their grasp. 

Far too many employers are trapped in a fire-and-hire cycle where they only look externally to fill job openings. This leaves them vulnerable to overpaying for talent in a seller’s market, or relying heavily on “boomerang” employees, which refers to the rehiring of workers to whom you may have already paid severance and separation benefits.

Or they are investing in re-/upskilling opportunities but have trouble generating uptake among existing employees. This leaves many companies starved for next-generation talent with the knowledge there simply aren’t enough people on the open market to fill their needs.

The good news is that a solution is within the grasp of most talent-starved companies. Welcome to the world of internal talent mobility.

Getting more value from an untapped reservoir of talent 

Simply put, internal talent mobility is a strategy whereby companies look to existing talent within their ranks to fill new or emerging jobs. It often involves re-/upskilling and other learning and development programs. And for those companies tactical enough to establish an internal career mobility portal, you should also know that it’s wildly beneficial to your bottom line.

Although the metrics around learning and development have typically been soft – utilization and completion rates for example – increasingly organizations are finding that investments in re-/upskilling to feed an internal talent pipeline are much less than the combined costs of recruiting, onboarding and – at the other end of the talent pipeline – severance and separation benefits. 

And there are other benefits to internal career mobility. Research has made a direct-line link between internal mobility and investments in re-/upskilling, particularly if that training comes with the promise of increased opportunities for promotion and retention. 

A 2020 SHRM analysis of more than 32 million active Linkedin users found that, as many have known, retention rates drop considerably the longer an employer stays with a company. After one year, an employer has a 76 percent chance of retaining an employee; after five years, that drops to 38 percent. However, employees who were promoted after three years had a 70 percent chance of staying with their current employer. Those who found opportunities for lateral moves were 62 percent more likely to stay put.

If you haven’t seriously considered a strategy to renew your workforce and address your skill shortage, you should know that your competitors probably already are.

A World Economic Forum survey released in 2021 found that 44 percent of respondent organizations made it easier to share and move talent internally during the first year of the pandemic. Those findings were echoed in a 2021 survey of employers by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) that tracked a 20-point increase in internal hiring and mobility since the beginning of the pandemic. At the same time, half of respondents to the SHRM survey said their budgets for recruiting would decrease, while investments in learning and career development would stay the same or grow. 

The internal talent mobility primer

Shifting focus from fire-and-hire to internal mobility will be a large leap for some organizations that simply haven’t considered looking within to fill job openings before going out on the open market. As is the case with many critically important HR initiatives, internal mobility requires a top-to-bottom change in culture and strategy.

Creating a culture of internal mobility

Before you can tap into the hidden reservoirs of talent in your organization, you need to create a culture that recognizes internal mobility is the first line of defense against a skills shortage. Far too many organizations do not require hiring managers to look inside before going outside to fill job openings. Many of those same organizations stand by idly while managers hoard talent and discourage the people they lead from pursuing new internal opportunities. Often, these talented individuals become frustrated by lack of growth and end up leaving the organization to pursue new opportunities. Managers need to engage their employees in meaningful career conversations, and in doing so, create a safe place for employees to articulate and pursue their career goals. In other words, managers must be full partners in internal mobility.

Creating functional career mobility pathways

A key element of internal mobility is designing and implementing pathways so that employees can get from their current job to another role that may require additional or different skills and certifications. Some employees will be able to move from job to job rather easily, either because they have untapped skills and education, or because they are moving into a role that is similar to the one they hold now. Others, however, will need additional, more significant support to re-/upskill. One of the best ways to make re-/upskilling attractive to internal candidates is to allow re-/upskilling to become part of their normal work day, rather than something that has to be done during evenings and weekends. Coaching support and stretch assignments that allow someone to interview for a different role, can also be key elements of a mobility pathway. And above all, make sure that people know that they are not re-/upskilling just for the sake of adding a new skill to their resumé, but will have an opportunity to use the skills. A true mobility pathway makes direct links between learning opportunities and new, future-proof jobs.

Identifying people with the appetite and aptitude for mobility

A portal for internal mobility opportunities will attract some of your employees, but not all of them. Many working people have trouble imagining the path to new and more future-proofed roles. Others may desire the opportunity to make a change but are hesitant to take the first step in a career development journey. Although individuals still bear an equal responsibility to further their careers, employers can do a lot to make it clear just how important re-/upskilling and internal mobility is for the future of work. This can be done by training managers on the intricacies of conducting a meaningful career conversation. These conversations can be very straightforward: opportunities to ask employees where they want to go in their careers, and provide information about which current jobs are vulnerable to technological or business transformation. Once employees know they have support from their managers to develop their careers, and see which skills and jobs are being outpaced, the re-/upskilling and internal mobility discussion takes on a new urgency. Most of your people will be energized by the opportunity to develop their careers and take on new challenges. They may simply need some guidance and encouragement.

Target up-/reskilling to fill specific gaps and capitalize on opportunities

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to talent mobility. Some individuals need to rebuild their skills from the ground up, almost as if they’re starting a whole new career. Others may only need some coaching and training, along with a carefully designed stretch assignment. It’s important to realize that if the individuals are not motivated to learn new skills or are indifferent about the new job they may be moving into, then internal mobility will not succeed. The best results will come from careful, individual assessment to ensure the right people are being developed to fit the right roles.

There will always be a need to recruit externally, particularly when specific professional or academic credentials are needed. However, there are myriad scenarios where investments in the people you already employ will pay off. Both immediately, and well into the future of work.

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