What is talent mobility?
Talent 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.
With an average job tenure of 3.3 years, Australia’s workforce is seeking mobility more than ever before. An average Australian will have five careers and 17 employers during their lifetime, with younger employees frequently changing careers, retraining, and moving.
Individuals may change jobs for many reasons, such as when they no longer find it enjoyable, when their strengths aren’t being used, and when they aren’t growing their careers. All these issues can be addressed by providing your employees a mobility pathway where they can develop their career in the direction of their choosing. You must offer career development opportunities — or risk losing your best talent as your employees seek to develop their career elsewhere.
Public sector organisations can more respond better to internal and external change by facilitating talent mobility to priority areas when needed. Whether a significant shift in public policy, increasing adoption of new technology, or a refocusing of an agency’s priorities, change continues to occur.
We have all seen the pain of a senior manager struggling to get his department to respond to a new change because they didn’t have the right people in place. Even when you can attract people with the right skills, they take time to integrate into your culture and become effective. Or worse, when a senior manager loses their top talent to another employer because they have outgrown their role. As a HR leader, one of your jobs is to ensure your senior managers have a capable workforce that can adapt and thrive with ongoing organisational change.
Traditional strategies to increase employee attraction, hasten on-boarding, develop, and retain staff are all key to getting this job done. Leading public sector organisations are implementing talent mobility programs to help employees thrive and, as a result, help the organisation adapt to change and thrive. Empower your employees with greater control over their career development, helping broaden their skill sets, and sharing their knowledge and experience. All this comes in addition to the substantial direct and indirect financial savings that effective talent mobility can provide.
Rather than constraining employees’ career paths, employers can instead encourage employees to gravitate towards the positions they are best suited for. This is easily done with proper implementation of the capability framework. Over time, this will lead to a more productive workforce, in which employees are able to develop their skills and careers based on the changing environment and their own personal goals. This is important in areas of the public sector that are currently experiencing rapid change or foresee a reform.
In the public sector, effective talent 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. In our experience, providing employees with career development opportunities empowers them which leads to an overall shift in productivity.
Using talent mobility to develop an adaptive workforce
Talent mobility can be utilised within your organisation to develop an adaptive workforce while simultaneously retaining and growing your talent. Particularly true for the public sector, new technologies including automation are changing the employment landscape in Australia. As a result, the need for individual roles is changing more frequently. Some roles disappear, some change significantly, and new roles are created. If your organisation has a culture of acknowledging and building on transferable capabilities, you can resource for much of this change internally. But, an organisation with poor mobility will tend to look outside for new and changed roles, which often could be filled by an internal candidate. Talent mobility does not replace external recruitment, it just reduces the need for it.
Retaining your top employees
The 2017 People Matter Survey indicated that 41% of NSW public sector employees are currently looking for or thinking about looking for a new role. The main reason cited for this is that the want to broaden their experience. This indicates that the opportunity to develop one’s career internally is becoming a defining feature for employers of choice.
As employees grow, their personal goals change, and it is not always easy to align these goals with their current positions. When employees can take advantage of a mobility pathway, they can move into new roles where they can grow and continue to contribute to the organisation. As a bonus, these employees often become more engaged.
Leading HR organisations develop development pathways for staff to move through key role types as their need for career development arises. This leaves the organisation with highly capable staff, experiences in multiple areas of the organisation, and highly engaged in what the organisation is striving to achieve.
Strengthening the sector
The NSW Government ran a Mobility Pathway from the Department of Family and Community Services to other state government agencies. Indeed, the NSW Government has a policy of talent mobility across the sector to create a more adaptive and professional workforce.
The opportunity to work in different government agencies provides employees the opportunity to learn new ways of completing objectives. Additionally, it gives each employee a solid foundation on which to work, as they will have a better understanding of the ‘bigger picture’. This benefits organisations by reducing the risk of ‘group think’, strengthening links with other agencies, and creating empowered employees with a broader vision of public service.
Adaptive organisations thrive
As work in the public sector is often project based with roles being filled by external contractors, it can be challenging to develop your workforce. However, by using operational staff for project roles, your organisation can provide them with a huge development opportunity while retaining significant project knowledge in-house once the project is complete. A talent mobility program allows your organisation to create a pool of temporary project roles and other secondments as development opportunities for those interested staff. Through improving this workforce mobility, organisations are better able to create a pipeline of talent and future leadership, improving your ability to respond and adapt to change.
These increased changes in the employment landscape requires organisations to continually adapt. Those that can adapt to change well deliver their corporate strategies better, and become an example for other agencies across the sector. Adaptive organisations create more engaged employees; employees who are interested in growth, advancement, and agility. Agencies that develop a mobility pathway become more adaptive to change and a leading contributor to the improvement of the public sector.
Ultimately, a talent mobility program will aid your employees in fulfilling their own professional workplace goals, while giving your organisation an agile, knowledgeable, and well-trained talent pool to draw from. Through better mobility, your organisation’s senior managers will be able to acquire, develop and train talented employees while pivoting towards new focuses and directions.
Misconceptions around talent mobility
Despite the benefits of talent mobility to organisations however, there is still hesitation within the public sector to implement mobility programs. A great deal of this hesitation arises from common myths and misconceptions that surround talent mobility and cross-sector hiring.
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 talent 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 to be on par or better than anyone who might be promoted within the agency.
Myth 2 – agency 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 organisations
While internal talent 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.
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 talent mobility program between agencies.
By improving talent 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.
Talent 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 talent 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.
Further reading: Myth-busting public sector mobility.
Getting started: 6 steps to creating an effective talent mobility program
Step 1 – explain the benefits of talent mobility to all stakeholders involved
Mobility can be difficult to understand. Not only is it a non-traditional concept relating directly to the modern workforce, it’s something that needs to be adopted both at an industry level and an organisational level to see the most substantial benefits.
Since mobility offers a tremendous variety of benefits, getting stakeholders on board requires those benefits to be communicated effectively to all levels of the organisation. For your employees, individual career goals will be easier to achieve. For managers, employees are more likely to be productive and engaged. For your organisation, mobility increases motivation, and develops well-trained and well-rounded employees.
Stakeholders must be excited and engaged: they must view mobility initiatives for what they are, an opportunity. Stakeholders need to understand not only the benefits of mobility but also how it will be achieved within your organisation. Each stakeholder must have their own responsibilities, be engaged, supportive and contribute to ensure success.
Step 2 – provide clarity and help your management team with implementation
For the program to be successful, your senior managers need to act as champions of mobility. Employees will take its cues from upper management. A full management buy-in is needed to build a supportive culture around mobility, and to openly value the process.
When your managers are engaged and supportive of the mobility process, it becomes successful. You help managers become engaged when they understand the mobility process, and its benefits for themselves, their team, and your agency. Examples of this may include:
- When a position becomes vacant or a new role is created, managers should advertise the opportunity internally before seeking a new, external employee.
- When recruiting for higher-level positions, managers should consider offering training to existing employees before hiring external employees.
- When reviewing employee behaviour and career development, employees should be invited to discuss their own career goals.
- When identifying the skills and experience necessary for new positions, managers should only include aspects that are truly necessary. This is key and common mistake made by hiring managers.
These are only a few examples of how your internal processes and procedures can be re-designed to support mobility. Each of these process changes have a direct benefit to both your employees and the organisation.
Step 3 – implement a user-friendly platform to facilitate mobility
Potential opportunities should be visible and promoted to employees, to plan correctly and to avoid being drawn to other organisations. If your employees don’t enjoy their current role or want to grow their career, this platform will identify which opportunities are open to them. Whether this is hosted on a custom platform or internal intranet, your entire organisation needs to be aware and active. Not only do employees need to be able to quickly and easily review relevant opportunities for them, but managers need to ensure each new role they are recruiting for is posted.
With the appropriate platform, you can better manage your organisation’s talent pool, and reach out to potential candidates who have the right skills and/or capabilities. On an organisational level, you will be able to find employees with transferable skills, who are already familiar with your organisation. You can also easily identify which individuals are interested in mobility, while employees will be able to recognise there are career development opportunities available to them. Additionally, depending on the quality of your platform, organisations should be able to review and report on their workforce’s capability, skills and any gaps that require attention.
Step 4 – track your workforce capability gaps and future needs
Managers need to understand individual employees, their strengths, weaknesses, and goals. An internal talent mobility program with an appropriate platform allows you to track employee skills and capabilities, thereby making it easier to quickly analyse your organisation’s needs and potential gaps.
If your management team understand the resources available to them, they will be empowered to address any staffing issues and fulfil any gaps through training and development.
Higher rates of talent mobility aid your organisation by translating different skills into different departments, and by providing a broad picture overview of the organisation to all employees. As mobility increases, managers will find themselves working with employees who already have significant knowledge of the organisation’s processes and procedures, rather than working with new, external employees over time. Managers with a better understanding of their mobile workforce will be able to better leverage this connection, rather than attempting to chase specific skill sets in external hires which is also made worse by the high cost of recruitment.
Step 5 – reward and recognise your team’s mobility efforts
To encourage employees to engage with a mobility program, you should showcase individuals who have used mobility for personal or team development. Managers who have been able to successfully utilise mobility on the organisation’s behalf should be recognised and rewarded. You should ensure employees who have successfully moved into other areas of the organisation are given continued support, training, and resources.
By rewarding and recognising this behaviour, you can create a culture that is focused around deploying employees to their most successful and satisfying positions, utilising the skills that they have and building the skills that they don’t.
Step 6 – consider cross-agency partnerships that might be mutually beneficial
Creating partnerships with relevant organisations or other internal business units, can ensure you secure the motivated and ambitious employees needed to succeed and provide an opportunity for useful understanding and better collaboration between partnerships.
Cross-agency partnerships don’t need to be permanent; when two agencies work together on a project, it may make sense for an employee to be transferred to the other agency for the duration of the project. Through this, both organisations can achieve better results, and the employee will return to your organisation with renewed confidence and knowledge. As an example, Transport NSW and Sydney Trains are closely connected. A mobility partnership would benefit both parties, as employees could cross-train and gain an understanding of the processes and procedures of each other’s agency.
Through talent mobility programs, organisations can achieve their own workforce development goals, increase capability at a much lower cost while improving employee satisfaction and retention. In a mobile organisation, employees will be highly skilled, well-trained, and confident in their abilities. However, it can be difficult to develop a mobility program from the ground up. A systematic approach and the appropriate tools can make it easier — especially when guided by experienced, knowledgeable professionals.
Using work-based assessments to aid talent mobility
There are barriers to transferring staff between agencies: departments and agencies have different role descriptions for the same type of role, and recruitment and assessment processes differ. To remove these sorts of barriers in NSW, the Public Sector Commission introduced the NSW Public Sector Capability Framework.
A Capability Framework defines the behaviours, skills and knowledge that an organisation and people need to succeed. It establishes a common language, so HR managers can communicate easily across diverse teams — including across agencies — and expresses a workplace’s (or a whole sector’s) culture, expectations and values.
The NSW state government framework includes 16 capabilities across four core groups: personal attributes, relationships, results, and business enablers. The NSW Government Services Employment Act 2013 contains mechanisms for transferring staff between agencies, including the capability framework.
Work-based assessments have proven to be a highly reliable recruitment method. They save hiring agencies time and money, while preparing candidates for new roles. They save hiring agencies time and money, while preparing candidates for new roles. Work-based assessments are a useful, cost effective recruitment tool that can help predict a person’s performance in a given role, enabling hiring managers to recruit with more confidence. INS develops and delivers work-based assessments that simulate common work situations to effectively evaluate a candidate’s capabilities. The candidate participates in a series of tasks related to the role they are applying for.
They help hiring managers avoid the heavy cost of poor candidate selection. Hiring managers use work-based assessments to identify or confirm candidates’ capabilities and levels prior to employment, in a way not possible with traditional interviews or psychometric testing. Work-based assessments require the candidate to show, rather than tell, their capabilities in action.
Work-based assessments expose candidates to new situations and require them to adopt a new mindset as an employee of a fictitious organisation. Candidates are required to adapt and function under unfamiliar circumstances. Work-based assessments also provide the candidate with insight into the demands of the role and inform whether they are able to fulfil role expectations, are attracted to the role, and/or would need additional support.
Further reading: Using work-based assessments to assess employee capabilities.