Tackling transferable skills for employee career progression

In today’s competitive recruiting climate, empty career progression programs can not only cost you existing employee retention, but can also harm future recruiting if the company reputation is one of false promises.

Companies often espouse their support for internal mobility when it comes to career development for existing employees. However, the reality for many employees is that the words are empty promises when it comes time to try and make a career change. 

Several factors could be influencing hesitancy around internal career movement, including hesitancy to fill a role with an existing employee and then having to backfill their current position, or the need to upskill or reskill the employee if they haven’t worked directly in the type of role they desire to move into. 

Talent management and skills achievements go hand in hand. When job descriptions list vague, overarching tasks and responsibilities but fail to detail specific skills needed for success in a role, this puts internal candidates and hiring managers at a disadvantage. 

If you need to hire a recruiting specialist, make sure to detail the specific skills needed, such as proficiency with an Applicant Tracking System within a particular type of HRIS. However, the key here is to also get hiring managers and recruiters more comfortable with transferable skill sets. If an internal candidate working in the customer service department consistently demonstrates their comfort with technology, ability to multitask and prioritize, and communicates well with strong interpersonal skills, but has never used an ATS directly, many hiring managers may overlook them for internal career movement to the recruiting position and seek external candidates instead. 

This is where talent management plays a critical role. Working with leaders and stakeholders across all functions of the organization, build an internal skills library correlated to specific jobs that provides clearer pathways for employees to know which skills are needed to pursue new positions. 

Collaborating on skills and talent strategy with front-line hiring managers is a wise course of action. These managers know first-hand how and where to identify gaps in skills and talent. This is a perfect opportunity to align the needs of the team and the needs of the organization. 

Once you have the skills library and designated skills for each job, you can better group those skills into overarching competencies and begin to develop training and development opportunities to teach employees those skills. Simulations, job shadowing and getting employees involved in special projects gives them time to practice what they are learning. Your talent management partners can document their progress so if a future position in that area opens, the employee has already demonstrated competency in the required skills for success to share with the hiring manager, in addition to their other transferable skills. 

Often organizations primarily focus development on soft skills – conflict resolution, delegating, adapting communication styles – all important skills, but this can leave development programs lacking tangible technical skills development pathways. 

You can also consider different levels of skill building for each role so employees can not only demonstrate skill obtainment, but they can also show achievement of advancing skills. Gamification can be a fun way to engage employees and create a desire to keep progressing with new skills development and unlock “new levels” of achievement. 

In the earlier example of a customer service representative wanting to move to a recruiting position, let’s consider if the talent management group had a clear pathway of skills training available to help this employee learn, then demonstrate to the hiring manager how they are now proficient in creating job descriptions, posting open roles and reviewing applicant data in the ATS, identifying compliance concerns with interview questions, and crafting offer letters to be sent to the top candidate via the ATS at the selection stage. 

Even though the customer service representative has never been in recruiting and done these tasks as an HR professional, they can now demonstrate they have tangible skills relevant to the role they desire, in addition to their other transferable skills. Badging can be a convenient and engaging way for employees to demonstrate various levels of skill achievement quickly and easily to an internal hiring manager as well. 

Some employees may never pursue internal mobility because they feel the process is not designed to support them in obtaining new skills to help them demonstrate their capabilities for success in a new position. If they are expected to already have the skills for a new role from previous positions or from being in a similar role currently, but the organization is not offering specific skills training to allow for role movement, this can lead to frustration, lack of engagement, low morale and eventually turnover. 

It isn’t enough to say your organization supports growth and internal movement for existing employees if the actions don’t back that up. If your organization’s idea of supporting transferable skill sets and skill growth for career progression really only means highlighting open positions to internal candidates and encouraging employees to share interest in new roles if they already have previous experience in that area, without providing tangible pathways for the required skill development or consideration of transferable skills value, your employees will take their time and talents where they feel respected, invested in and valued. 

Within the scope of managing current talent, this is another great opportunity to partner with hiring and front-line managers. The role of the manager is to contribute to future performance of employees, including preparing employees for internal roles and growth. By integrating guidance, coaching and mentorship, managers can retain and grow employees for maximum organizational and team efficiency and effectiveness.