“My talent sees no future here”: Identifying and eliminating barriers to mobility

As companies struggle to retain workers, talent leaders must help transform barriers to mobility into accelerators.

This sentiment about the future is coming up in exit interviews, engagement surveys and conversations with employees across departments, levels and job families. Unfortunately, it will only worsen if employers don’t take mobility seriously.

The COVID-19 pandemic is now in its third year, with the Omicron variant fueling a recent spike. Meanwhile, there are 6.9 million unemployed people but 11 million job openings. Airlines have canceled hundreds of flights because they can’t staff full crews. Retail stores and restaurants are closing their doors because of a lack of customers and employees. And supply chains around the world have been crippled due to workforce shortages.

Throughout all this, one thing is abundantly clear: Our economy depends on the dedicated frontline employees who keep our businesses going. 

In this new labor market where workers have more power, employers must respond to this crisis by offering more than just a paycheck and barebones benefits to their frontline staff. Employees are looking for hope of a future and employers have it within their power to offer that hope, if they take mobility seriously.

Through extensive research at Guild Education, we know career development and the opportunity to move up in the ranks within one’s company is key to address these issues. This data has lent new insight on the employee experience in relation to mobility and revealed the common roadblocks companies often unknowingly adopt that discourage mobility.

Employees see career development as a top priority 

My team, the Career Mobility Center of Expertise, is gathering and synthesizing research to fully grasp the state of internal mobility today. Through interviews with core stakeholders, reviews of countless articles, white papers and podcasts, some of our most important findings so far include: 

  • Internal candidates given an interview are half as likely to leave a company.
  • Internal candidates rejected before an interview are twice as likely to quit.
  • Employees who were promoted within three years of being hired have a 70 percent chance of staying on board. Those who made a lateral move have a 62 percent chance of staying. Those who were not promoted and who did not change jobs internally have only a 45 percent chance of remaining.
  • 75 percent of employers believe career development drives employee engagement and employers with engaged workers report 2.5x higher revenue growth. But only four in 10 employers think their current approach to career development and talent mobility is having a positive effect on employee engagement levels.
  • High-performing organizations are twice as likely to prioritize movement of internal talent. Low-performance organizations are 2.5x more likely to say the movement of talent doesn’t matter, reinforcing the link between mobility and market performance.

How companies can foster and accelerate internal mobility 

To be clear, we’ve seen some companies make moves to strengthen their internal talent pipeline. Many employers are purchasing standalone talent marketplaces or initiating similar endeavors regarding their human capital management platforms. These are valid efforts and one of several entry points into tackling internal mobility, especially if what your organization needs is a better way to see opportunities. 

However, these solutions only scratch the surface of larger barriers to mobility. We’ve observed a few critical barriers that stand in the way of mobility for employees, especially for frontline and non-exempt workers, where turnover is currently the highest. Here’s what talent leaders can do to help:

Hiring policies and processes

  • Audit your existing roles for both experience and degree requirements. Take a critical scalpel to those that continue to exist. You simply can’t continue to act the same way in this job market that you did five years ago. Desperate times call for different measures.
  • Open new job requisitions at more junior levels in job families where the highest demand sits. You can’t afford to only hire a “Data Analyst III” with five to seven years of experience. It’s time to build your talent from a more junior position, better segment tasks by role and get meaningful work done with more junior talent in the meantime.
  • Dump the discriminatory policies you currently have, such as refusing to let employees skip levels, only offering relocation packages for external hires, making internal job postings require manager approval and underpaying internal transfers compared with external hires. If those aren’t policies but understood cultural norms, crush them. In addition, many of the mobility and talent marketplaces initiatives companies implement overwhelmingly target white-collar workers. HR practitioners are failing frontline workers who have been publicly touted for the past 18 months to be the backbone of the economy. Yet most of the innovative ideas have been tailored, inequitably, for the most privileged audiences. 

Employee coaching and preparation

  • Occupational identity, the idea of positively identifying oneself as a worker with purpose, has a real impact on mobility. Put the infrastructure in place to help employees see their destination or new role as a part of who they are becoming.
  • Ensure career coaches are available to all employees and the coaches have contextual awareness of the talent needs of the organization to steer toward both individual and organizational needs. Empower coaches to talk about company policies, processes and culture.
  • Give employees a risk-free environment in which they can practice interviewing skills. Your internal employees shouldn’t be punished for the lack of interviewing experience that comes from being faithful to your organization and its mission.

Reskilling programs and pathways

  • Credentials and certifications don’t always paint a complete picture of the full potential of employees, but they are still critical signals to hiring managers about the seriousness with which a candidate is willing to reskill. Your organization should fully fund credentialed programs that allow employees in every role to reskill for the future.
  • Readily market reskilling pathways to the entire organization especially for roles with the most transferable skills. That marketing should be transparent about the steps needed to obtain that role (including intermediary roles and credentials) and with clear pay increases to help incentivize the type of long-term transition needed. Employees need a clear picture of the on- and off-ramps they will take on their journey.
  • Provide programmatic coaching to employees as they complete their learning. Before they’re ready for career coaching, employees can overwhelmingly benefit from success coaching. It’ll be particularly valuable for frontline employees, who need assistance navigating the number of reskilling programs available, understanding how certain programs benefit them and motivating them throughout their reskilling journey during challenging times.

If you’re hearing from employees that they don’t see a future, it’s time to make some changes. Whether you decide to address these barriers with nuanced solutions, remove them altogether or implement new policies that will accelerate mobility, be sure to make any changes publicly. Make them loud, execute with a keen eye to scalable experiences and do it with gusto. 

All the while, when you do enact these changes, do so in a way that is equitable in your organization. This ensures at every level, position and department, you are creating opportunity for all employees and addressing the Great Resignation head on. In short, while this work may seem daunting, this is the kind of change that both the business and our employees are looking for us to lead during such challenging times.