This past August, the unemployment rate in France reached 10.5%. This means more than 3.5 million French are without work, making this the worst labor market in more than 25 years.
In response, French politicians have been proposing emergency job creation plans. This will be a difficult task in an economy that has been profoundly reshaped by digital technology. Old economic models have been upended, and traditional occupations transformed, making old skills obsolete.
In this scenario, the question facing lawmakers and employers is critically important: should we hold on to a world that is falling apart, or prepare for what lies ahead?
Every technological revolution sees some professions eliminated and others take their place. The Facteo program within the postal system allowed French mail carriers to forge a new future by embracing digital technology. Now, the carriers provide services beyond the scope of their original jobs, such as checking utility meters, acting as intermediaries for insurance companies, and checking in on dependent persons. It is much the same situation at Groupe Schmidt, a kitchen specialist company, which is creating new jobs in Alsace by turning its workers into operators capable of running automatic devices and robots.
To remain relevant in today’s business world, employee skills must grow and evolve. Neglecting employees – failing to prepare them for the skills they will need to remain employable - will lead to a worst-case scenario for employers. On the one hand, they will have employees that cannot keep up with technology demands. On the other, employers will face extensive and costly occupational retraining that often comes too little, too late.
The solution? Professional mobility is both the antidote to unemployment and a powerful tool for building a sustainable and adaptable workforce. Professional mobility starts with anticipating a company’s future skill needs while also responding quickly to employees that seek autonomy from retraining and upgrading.
Most people understand now that lifetime employment with the same company is becoming increasingly less realistic. To prepare for more frequent professional transitions, employees will have to devote more thought to their career path, including a plan for continuing education. They most also be ready to consider varied alternative forms of work (self-employment, entrepreneurship, freelance or contract engagements,) to ensure consistent, gameful employment.
Digital tools are already widening the sphere of possibilities for internal mobility within a given organization. And in terms of external mobility, countries like France have created a legal framework that allows employees to test new career paths with less risk.
In France, as of June 2013, employees in companies with more than 300 employees are able to take protected leaves of absences to try new career paths. This is a very progressive measure that allows for advancement of both individual skills and job experience.
To be fully realized, professional mobility must include collaboration between businesses, subcontractors, suppliers and customers, municipalities, training organizations, and business incubators to share and lend skills. We must make better use of social networks and “matching tools” to connect potential employees with employers. This is particularly the case in the use of smart data that reveals hidden employment market opportunities.
Far from being a constraint to be imposed on employees, professional mobility should become a new standard for human resources policies. It is not only good for employers – providing better value from internal talent – it is also good for the broader job market by ensuring that employable people are given every opportunity to find work.