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Where's the Technology to Address Internal Mobility Needs?

October 04, 2022 Learning and Development
Lance Haun
By Lance Haun

HR technology is booming, as last month's HR Technology Conference and Exhibition proved. There was intense focus on talent development and workforce management technology, particularly the potential for integrating AI in HR applications. Yet few of the vendors I encountered seemed interested in discussing the underlying legal hurdles and challenges.

There were also good conversations around remote- and hybrid-friendly communication and collaboration tools, though frankly not as many as I had anticipated, as well as natural adaptations of formerly in-person activities like mentoring, coaching and employee development. 

But there was another trend that was persistently talked about at the show. It had little to do with AI and was around long before we all became amateur epidemiologists. And chances are, you've heard of it before: it's called internal mobility.  

The Rise and Fall of Internal Mobility

The concept of internal (or talent) mobility has existed for as long as jobs have. While mobility may have traditionally referenced the idea of progressing from apprentice to master, and then later climbing the corporate ladder, it has become more complex. 

A few things are driving that complexity. For one, it’s increasingly rare for people to hold a job in a single industry or company for their entire career. The idea of moving up the ranks, while still persistent in a few industries, is slowly fading away. 

That’s being driven by another macro trend: The shelf life of skills is getting shorter and shorter. New technologies are revolutionizing even the smallest operations, across all jobs. Companies around the globe are finding their workforce needs shifting rapidly to keep up with innovation, disruption and growing competition.

This is forcing many companies to lay off large numbers of people whose jobs have become obsolete. But at the same time, these organizations must fill newly created skills gaps that sometimes haven't even been around for more than a couple of years. What we're left with is on one hand a group of workers whose skills are outdated seeking employment and on the other, a group of companies seeking employees with skills that haven't been clearly defined yet.

Leaders are now exploring ways to bridge that disconnect by engaging those employees whose jobs are being eliminated to prepare them for jobs that have yet to be created. The question now is, can it be done? Climbing a corporate ladder used to be straightforward, but what happens when the vertical climb goes sideways? 

Related Article: The Talent Marketplace: A Skills-Based Revolution in HR

Mobility Challenges: Hiring Meets L&D

Internal mobility seems like it could be a sound investment for companies looking to retain workers, acquire new skills and lower hiring costs, so why isn’t every organization doing this?

The main reason is that there just isn’t anything obvious to invest into. Internal mobility hasn’t experienced the same level of technology development as other HR functions. Talent acquisition companies like Jobvite and Avature would like recruiting to take the lead with an internal job board solution. Talent marketplaces like Fuel50 do a better job of reaching employees, but don’t connect to the skills they should be developing today to prepare for future roles. Specialty solutions for internal mobility like WORQDRIVE exist, but they are still a nascent technology.

For recruiting-centric solutions, the challenge is closing the loop with what has happened with an internal applicant since they’ve been hired. Assuming an ATS or similar solution has an accurate view of the candidate up until the day they start, they need to figure out what skills they’ve been building at the company. 

For learning and development solutions that hope to capture some of the attention of internal mobility champions, they have the opposite problem. While they may have an accurate view of what an employee has done at the organization, they often don’t have great visibility into the types of jobs that are being left unfilled or that might be opening up soon. 

Related Article: Talent Shortage? Tap Into Transferable Skills Within Your Organization

What’s Needed: Context and Discovery

Internal mobility is now in a place of weakness, but it shouldn’t be this way. Most organizations have dozens of systems collecting information on employees. Failing to recruit an internal candidate for a valuable role while an external recruiter can see the potential in that same person is not just misusing that data, it’s also downright embarrassing. 

A truly valuable internal mobility solution needs to have two features to solve this gap. One is context. Before going outside of the organization, a recruiter should be able to gather all of the contextual information about employees they may want. It shouldn’t be easier to assess someone’s skills and experience by looking at their LinkedIn profile than looking at the company's own internal data. Yet, many recruiters tell me this is still the easiest way they have to search for potential job fits and get contextual (though, of course, self-reported) data.

The other feature is two-sided discovery and matching for both employees and talent acquisition. Recruiters shouldn’t have to search for internal talent. Using a job description and the employee data at its disposal, the system should be able to automatically identify people inside the organization who would be a great fit for the role. Leaving this critical step to the recruiter or to employees themselves — assuming they regularly scan the company's internal job board for openings — is failed opportunity.

But the same discovery, exploration, and matching should be built for internal talent as well. Not many employees are searching their internal job board every single day. Instead, those best-fit jobs should be presented to internal candidates proactively and automatically. To go beyond talent marketplace offerings, these solutions should also be tied back to learning and development to uncover the skills employees should be developing that are currently (or will be) in high demand.

In essence, it’s a place where people should be able to plan out their career at the organization and have the resources to make it happen. It’s about creating something with more depth than a two-sided transaction.

Related Article: Learning Platforms Are a Goldmine of Business Data

A More Holistic Experience

Ultimately, what is needed is a more closed-loop experience, where skills, accomplishments and other such information about employees are collected on a continuous basis so that organizations can build rich databases filled with accurately updated profiles of their workforce.

As organizations continue to struggle with hiring talent, they might find that their best candidates are already on payroll. Just think of the potential savings in time and effort if you can identify them without having the employee jump through a number of redundant hoops. 

Until we get there, recruiters and learning and development professionals should work closely on an alternative approach to bridge the gap while the technology vendors create this solution.

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