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Myth-busting public sector mobility

By Nicola Vass - 10th April 2018  |  Government , Mobility

Workforce mobility refers to an employee’s ability to change roles within their organisation and across the sector. This role variety allows individuals to adopt new skills and bring with them improved processes and a broader-scope outlook.

The average Australian changes jobs approximately three times every decade, with an average tenure of 3 years and 4 months in each position. Individuals may change jobs for many reasons, but if you don’t enable mobility, your organisation will miss out on valuable external talent. And, you will also lose capability and talent as your employees seek to develop their career elsewhere.

In the public sector, effective mobility creates a pool of cross-trained employees who are more confident, productive, and efficient. Mobile employees understand their roles within the shifting landscape of government. Consequently, they are better able to deal with the challenges and opportunities that arise. Organisational mobility leads to increased staff loyalty, improved retention, and active informational exchange as employees reach their potential faster.

Even so, implementing a mobility program can be challenging. Some agencies are hesitant to hire from an external talent pool. Employees wanting to transition to other agencies may face obstacles and become set in their roles, limiting their potential. HR managers may, over time, evolve sets of requirements that are not strictly necessary. Innovation and improvement can falter, as these agencies become insular. All these challenges arise from some common myths and misconceptions that surround mobility and cross-sector hiring.

Here I bust the top 5 major myths — and the actual truth about them.

Myth #1 – Potential candidates can’t transfer skills.

It’s inarguable: work in one field can be spectacularly different from work in another. An IT manager for a central agency is likely to have a quite different experience to an IT manager for a hospital. This doesn’t mean, however, that candidates can’t transfer skills. The truth is these disparate experiences are often an advantage rather than a disadvantage.

To enable mobility when filling a position, hiring managers must focus on candidate skills that are transferable — rather than agency-specific knowledge they may not have. In the above example, the IT manager from a central agency may not know much about healthcare regulations. But, their network and security expertise is likely on par or better than anyone who might be promoted within the agency.

Myth #2 – Our agency’s roles need agency-specific experience.

While you may prefer agency-specific experience, it’s important that your recruiters differentiate between the capabilities they need and the experience they desire. Subject matter knowledge is easy to learn, whereas role capabilities will take time to develop. It’s fine to state that you prefer candidates with agency-specific experience, but make sure this is only one aspect of the complete role requirements.

A good rule to have is that a lack of agency-specific knowledge should not be enough to disqualify a well-qualified applicant. If agencies refuse to consider individuals without agency-specific knowledge, they run the risk of turning away skilled individuals who could inject a valuably different perspective. This forwards the objective of removing barriers for individuals interested in developing their career in a new field within the sector.

Myth #3 – The role needs 10 years’ experience.

Public sector roles often require 10 years of experience to fulfil a role, which can scare off or eliminate potential talent. Often, these requirements are purely arbitrary; they’re intended to weed out unqualified candidates. Instead, they should be putting more thought into which candidates could be qualified for the position.

Recruitment officers and hiring managers must focus on recruiting based on demonstrated capabilities (skills, knowledge, and expertise) rather than arbitrary requirements. True skill-sets needed to fulfil a role, rather than agencies relying on domain-specific experience as an all-encompassing metric.

Myth #4 – Hiring managers won’t work with mobility across the sector, only within their own organisation.

While internal mobility is worthwhile to develop, cross-sector mobility is also important. Many hiring managers do not understand the benefits of mobility, how it works, or how it supports them. Rather, they may be focused on the workforce as it relates to their organisation and internal hiring directives.

When explained well by your HR Business Partners, and shown evidence, hiring managers will be more willing to engage with mobility candidates. Mobility relies on information sharing and integration with a network of agencies within the public sector. By facilitating mobility, all public organisations can reap the benefits of a well-trained, versatile, and dedicated workforce.

INS are currently running a Mobility Pathway project for the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS). The introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has replaced the existing state-based disability system. This has resulted in 1,000 FACS employees facing redundancy due to reform. Through the Mobility Pathway, to date over 250 FACS employees have been placed in new roles in different NSW Government agencies. A number of these employees gave gained quite different roles, using transferable skills evident from capability-based assessments.

As organisations see the direct advantages of increased mobility, it’s likely that many more will begin to adopt these strategies. According to the Council for Equal Opportunity in Employment, employee turnover rates alone cost 50% to 130% of the employee’s salary. This can be reduced through better mobility procedures.

Myth #5 – You shouldn’t hire excess employees.

In the public sector, there is substantial stigma towards hiring excess staff. In the past, agencies often made underperforming staff excess when they were unable to terminate them. As you’ll know, this has almost disappeared given performance-based termination is enabled in legislation and policy.

These days people are frequently made excess due to organisational changes, like restructures and outsourcing. These skilled individuals can disappear from the talent pool entirely without a Mobility Pathway to another agency.

By improving mobility and broadening skill sets, excess employees become valuable additions to their new agency with training in agency-specific knowledge. Mobility programs make it easier for employees to fit into a variety of roles, and make it easier for agencies to find talent. The NSW Family & Community Services Mobility Pathway project demonstrated this in its’ hundreds of employee transfers.

Final thoughts: Main challenges anticipated

Mobility is on the increase as agencies, HR, and hiring managers have these myths busted. There are some basic policy and process changes that your organisation will need to implement — and tools and resources that you need to explore — before you can take advantage. Mobility must be part of your agency’s change management plan. You’ll need to educate your employees and stakeholders about the benefits of mobility, and the process of transitioning towards a highly mobile workforce.

Once implemented, a mobility program can drastically impact the utility, versatility, and productivity of the public sector workforce. As additional agencies and organisations begin implementing their own mobility programs, the impact of mobility solutions will become even more significant. This will increase the number of talented, skilled individuals in the workforce, employee satisfaction, and productivity.

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