Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Internal mobility: Navigating labour market challenges through upskilling

Few organisations would dispute that hiring new staff remains extremely challenging and the situation is showing few signs of easing up. One solution is increasing internal mobility through upskilling, according to Bar Huberman, content manager, HR strategy & practice at XpertHR.

More than three-quarters (79%) of UK businesses are facing challenges with recruiting staff, according to a recent survey by the British Chamber of Commerce. XpertHR’s latest survey points towards poor quality applicants (78%) and skill shortages (77%) as the leading contributors.

One reason behind this is down to the rate at which modern workplaces are evolving. Rapid advancements in technology – particularly in artificial intelligence – have changed the skillsets employers need in their workforce, with a bigger emphasis being placed on digital skills. However, with a lot of this technology being so new, there is a limited pool of talent able to satisfy this demand.

Meanwhile, organisations around the globe are continuing to face an unprecedented mass exit from the workforce. While not solely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, over the last few years the so-called Great Resignation has seen employees reassess their lives following deaths and instances of serious illness. People are reconsidering the role of work and this changed mindset has motivated some to seek new opportunities.

Today, employees want to feel they are part of a business that offers them a chance to grow professionally and feel valued, and challenges them in a supportive way instead of simply punching in and punching out. This is where internal mobility comes in.

Upskilling for the future

Internal mobility is the vertical and lateral movement of employees to new career and development opportunities within the same organisation. It is comprised of, but not restricted to, training, promotions, new positions, secondments, project work and mentorships. The end goal is creating a more agile workforce that is better positioned to manage a whole host of different scenarios – for instance, employees taking on additional project work for a period of time alongside their existing role to help contribute towards a high-priortiy task.

Using and developing existing skills is hardly a new concept, but the challenges facing firms when it comes to finding talent, combined with the eye-watering expense of recruitment, have brought it to the forefront for decision-makers. But to make upskilling a success, what are the critical steps businesses need to take? 

  • Before firms start implementing measures to leverage internal mobility, they should take time to understand exactly which skills are a high priority for the organisation, both now and in the future.
  • Without insight from - and agreement among - leadership, deploying workers to roles and responsibilities outside of their current responsibilities could be an inefficient process that poorly matches their existing skillsets.
  • Ask your employees what they want. Too many employers implement training they think will suit their colleagues’ skills. Let colleagues opt in and ask what training and development they think will benefit the organisation and their own growth. The best ideas and most valuable feedback often come from front-line workers rather than managers.
  • Don’t simply sign an employee up for a course and expect instant competency – initial training is only the first step of the upskilling process. Be clear about an individual’s role and deliverables when implementing high-priority training and ensure they have the time to benefit from it.
  • Be clear. Where an employee is being deployed to another team, set them up for success by defining and sharing well-documented responsibilities, timelines, deliverables, and success metrics. Ensure leadership is available to answer initial and ongoing questions and remove roadblocks to success.
  • Define responsibilities. Be sure that the leader of any high-priority work takes ownership of work management and people development responsibilities. Leaders must be aligned regarding the employee's responsibilities and who is supporting them.
  • Reassess. Track your training processes to see what is working and what is not. Regular and transparent communication on goals and strategies can help remove uncertainty about expectations. There is no single correct way to increase internal mobility, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

The rewards of internal mobility

The financial cost of recruitment – to say nothing of the time decision-makers have to commit – varies from business to business and sector to sector, but it can run into the tens of thousands even before considering the new employee’s salary.

Internal mobility is a low-cost and time-efficient alternative to engaging a recruitment consultant, and a commitment to training employees equips them with the skills they need to give customers the best service possible and drive the organisation forward, and makes them feel valued. Not only can that help to keep turnover to a minimum, but its broader effects on company culture can also be profound, positioning firms as employers that are there to support their people and their development for the long-term.