Matthew J. Daniel
June 22nd, 2022
There's no doubt that in addition to good pay, employees want to work for companies that offer the opportunity to develop their skills and career growth.
And when employees feel like they can't advance at their workplace, employers often end up paying for it.
Companies with low internal mobility have an average employee tenure of 2.9 years, while those with high internal mobility have an average tenure of 5.4 years, according to LinkedIn data. In a 2022 report by Harvard Business School, 62% of low-wage workers indicated the "prospect of upward mobility," when asked what would get them to stay at their current company.
Career mobility gives workers the belief that they have a chance to land a job that’s more fulfilling and has higher pay. That belief is one of the driving forces behind retention. But in order for that belief to hold any water, companies need to actually create mobility, as well as be able to measure it and market those successes.
Creating mobility at scale is complex, but a company’s approach to it should provide flexibility to meet short- and long-term needs. By leaning on two vital concepts — pathways and pipelines — companies can make big strides in operationalizing a culture of opportunity within their workforce.
Short-term: Targeted reskilling pathways
To solve the most urgent talent shortages of today, creating targeted career pathways, particularly for frontline workers, allows companies to focus on the areas with the greatest need. Investing in skills is a capital investment that yields either returns or losses.
Because of this, employers need to be more hyper-intentional about what sort of skills need to be developed in their workforce, and that it’s a good mix of both perishable and durable skills. When done right, companies can shore up high-priority and hard-to-fill roles.
Perishable skills (using a new software tool, learning a new programming language, etc.) still matter a lot, but L&D leaders can often get lost in the myriad of content that aims to upskill workers only to a level where they can get by for the next few months.
But arming frontline workers with durable skills (critical thinking, leadership training, communication, etc.) and helping them recognize that their past or current job experience has already helped articulate these durable skills, will better prepare them for the long run as well.
Upskilling and reskilling for a career pathway won’t mean much, though, if there is no start to the path.
As a result, it’s vital for companies to invest in what are known as gateway roles — jobs that put people on a path to promotion. It’s also important to promote people into such roles, and skilling entry-level workers so they can succeed in a new field.
Gateway roles are critical for flexibility as the supply and demand for talent fluctuate. They also contribute to a more stable workforce, diversify the pipeline of entry-level workers, and improve retention.
By investing in pipelines into and out of gateway roles, your workforce has the flexibility to pivot to the needs of tomorrow instead of only reacting to the talent shortages of today.
Long-term: Large-scale talent pipelines
A robust talent pipeline allows companies to address ongoing talent needs — tomorrow’s talent shortages.
Doing so also lowers the risk of unfulfilled roles and provides the flexibility to pivot with changing business priorities.
Unfortunately, the traditional talent pipelines companies usually depend on are struggling.
College enrollment has gone down since the pandemic and other institutions like HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions are being tapped by the same competitive companies over and over again.
Companies cannot buy themselves out of a talent shortage, nor can they reshuffle the same kind of talent multiple times. Instead, employers should focus on frontline workers.
There is an immense amount of talent that sits within organizations that remain untapped, and companies should combine skilling and mobility efforts to create talent pipelines.
For one, it signals to potential or existing staff that they have a future if they come or stay at the company. This improves retention, engagement, and attraction.
Second, it creates a more agile workforce that can respond to a dynamic market so that employers can anticipate and address skill shortages in real-time.
It also addresses potential automation or displacement of existing talent, and a company can preserve its brand value as an employer of choice during such disruption.
Finally, it solves talent shortages in high-demand areas, which saves on recruiting costs in a highly competitive market.
Investing in workers when they need it
When employees want to quit, they’re not just looking to leave — they’re looking for opportunity.
Whether or not workers stay or go depends on the opportunities their current employers provide for them.
Career mobility is one such incentive that benefits both parties, and it happens when workers have the support they need to navigate the policies, processes, and platforms to get the positions they want.
There is no miracle cure that companies can take overnight that will make mobility simply happen. But by focusing on pathways and pipelines, companies can pull two vital “levers” that will jumpstart the worthwhile endeavor toward mobility at scale.