The Talent Gaps That Need to be Filled in 2019 and Beyond

What has the year 2018 taught us and how can global mobility management move forward? Many changes in recruitment bring about a mixed bag of heightened employee expectations, hopes of better management practices, and business uncertainties that prompt HR teams to reassess their practices, according to Mercer. A more flexible value proposition is envisioned in the years ahead.

Oliver Meier of Mercer says it is important to look closely at talent mobility practices, where a number of unresolved issues, or “gaps”, appear. There is a discrepancy between initial objectives and the reality of mobility from diversity, technological, generational, and talent management perspectives.

Whether talent mobility will deliver its promises (or not) will depend on future strategies and choices being made at the organizational, departmental, or individual levels. Here are some challenges to evaluate to resolve some of the gaps:

Diversity talk must move from moral to business benefits

Talking about diversity in the mobile workforce, there has been slow progress, even if awareness has increased. Women and some minorities are underrepresented in the mobile workforce, opportunities in terms of career progression at managerial level remain limited, and pay parity has not yet been achieved.

Some comments to complement what Mercer reported in previous articles:

  • The perception of the problem must move from purely moral to pragmatic (business benefits) perspective. However, the business benefit of diversity at a managerial level need to reach a certain diversity threshold – the increased participation of women and minorities in the workforce.
  • While companies might struggle with the practicalities of the diversity concept, others that have made the most progress can attest the business value of the gender parity and diversity – L’Oréal is a good example of a success story.
  • There is no easy fast track to diversity, unless you want risk frictions within the workforce or even reverse discrimination. Building a strong talent pipeline takes time and training. Reskilling is a priority, as is opening up new opportunities for women and minorities joining or rejoining the workforce after a temporary career break.
  • Finally, it is important to move from diversity to real inclusion: It’s not just the number that matters, but the active participation of women and minorities and their contribution to business at a strategic managerial level that is the goal and a sign that the gap is finally closing.

Could technology help bridge the diversity gap or widen it?

Solve unconscious biases in analytics

The use of talent analytics can help remove decision biases, but the reality is more complex: unconscious biases can spill into the analysis and be eventually reinforced by the results. For example, the success criteria used in the analysis are based on a specific existing group profile and could disadvantage individuals from other groups.

This should, however, not lead to knee-jerk reactions and a strong rejection of technology and analytics. Striving for more data-driven HR decisions and less assumptions is a step in the right direction.

Another potential downside of analytics is that a gap could emerge – those who master analytical skills (or at least understand analytics) and those who don’t. It could create a divide between departments in the organization and within recruitment management.

In Mercer’s survey “How global mobility is responding to new dilemmas” from August 2018, 77 percent of respondents reported that implementing mobility metrics, predictive analytics, and tracking ROI of assignments was a major issue or at least somewhat of a challenge. This is a newfound sense of urgency to reskilling and master the basics. A misconception is that only IT or data experts will be needed while the actual requirements are about connecting technology with business needs to drive change.

Technology is also impacting the debate about generations.

Minding the generational gap of the young and old

Young people are embracing technological developments that have left many employees over 50 worried about job security. But while younger generations are earlier adopters of new trends and technology, they are not without vastly different skills or aspirations as their elders.

Older professionals represent a significant talent pool. In the context of a talent shortage and shrinking workforce, attracting and retaining older professionals will become increasingly important.

Younger talents may be more digitally savvy, but older workers offer essential core skills – from international business management skills to engineering – that can plug the growing skills gap that multinationals are experiencing.

Breaking the divide between insiders and outsiders

While companies have long valued length of service as a sign of loyalty, current business models based on the acquisition of new digital talent and on borrowing talent – freelancers and gig workers – increasingly reward new newcomers as opposed to employees who have been in the company for many years.  

On paper, the gig economy model – in which workers take on temporary work to perform specific tasks or projects – looks like a win-win for the company and for the employees. In practice, companies need to avoid having a fragmented workforce with employees on one side and the gig workers on the other side.

Replacing developmental moves with project-based assignments done by gig workers and a generally greater reliance on gig workers, as opposed to building up the internal workforce, could lead to a less skilled talent pool in the long run.

HR teams are not equipped to follow the careers and evaluate the performance of this new category of professionals. This raises questions about the relevance and consistency of performance review and career management processes.

Breaking the divide between insiders and outsiders will require a specific talent strategy to integrate the newcomers and avoid demotivating in-house employees.

Could talent mobility itself be widening the gap between employee groups?

Not all assignments are equal

What type of moves are really beneficial for an individual’s career: not all assignments are equal and we often see a mismatch between the talent agenda of the company and the realities of talent mobility?

Right now, mobility might be presented as a boost for an employee’s career while in reality it poses a challenge. Former expatriates could be passed over for promotion due to their lack of visibility and absence of networking internally. They might stagnate in their current roles and not use their newly acquired skills.

This could take the form of virtual moves, short-term international training, or new ways of flexible working. Another way to bridge the gap is take a wider view of mobility and consider job mobility, i.e. bring jobs to people as opposed to bringing the people to the job.

Connecting realities of mobility practices

A clear story needs to be set. This story could be one making talent mobility the cornerstone of a career in the company, or on the contrary admit that mobility will be supported by the company, but is not essential.

The important point is consistency. Organizations are rarely completely off the mark with their compensation structures and policies, but they often fail to connect the realities of their mobility practices and their promises to employees.

Setting a clear communication implies having a long-term vision, more than just short-term management.

Vision gap in long-term vs short-term management

Companies might have to take a step back and simplify some of their practices. The long-term vision, if any, might be drowned in the urgency of short-term changes and reorganization.

Recognizing this rollercoaster experience and integrating it into the management thinking is a first step. But striking the right balance between short-term priorities and the long-term vision of what the mobility function is about, and what it should bring to the business, as well as what mobility should mean for the employees and their career is the real objective.

This balance should in turn be reflected in the way people are managed: looking at mobility as an important step in the overall career of an employee, rather than an isolated event managed from a purely short-term practical perspective. From a business perspective, it means reflecting on the role mobility should play in the important challenges a company will face, such as talent sourcing, new market acquisitions, and organizational agility and its capacity to adapt to future changes and trends.