Internal Mobility: The Rise of Talent and Opportunity Marketplaces

Pressure on organizations to improve their internal mobility programs was felt well before COVID-19 disrupted the workplace and accelerated digital transformation among corporations worldwide. Yet, that pressure amounted to limited results even as employers increasingly acknowledged the value of internal mobility to both talent attraction and retention.

Following the onset of the pandemic, numerous organizations found themselves in the position of having to address dramatically-shifting human capital needs as a result of significant changes to the business—a scenario offering another justification for internal mobility. The good news is that employers do appear to be answering the call. Surveys conducted by Willis Towers Watson in April and May reveal that 63% of respondents had or were planning to “redeploy (and potentially reskill) workers to support another function” while 54% intended to focus on expanding “training opportunities to help employees reskill.”

Talent & Opportunity Marketplaces Replace Traditional Internal Mobility Programs

While most organizations recognized a growing need to look internally for talent, especially if they wanted to retain their top performers, what they found were numerous barriers to internal mobility success. Among them, the reluctance of managers to see their best team members move to other departments to a focus on specific career paths that meant growth opportunities were often limited to only a small percentage of an organization’s employees.

Now, with rapid advances in AI and automation spurring massive changes in the skills and abilities that workers will need alongside lessons learned during the pandemic, employers must do more to develop the critical skills required for the organization to not simply survive but thrive—a scenario that sets the stage for the shift to talent and opportunity marketplaces. Whereas traditional internal mobility programs were designed around pre-determined career paths, marketplaces emphasize the development of skills that support greater mobility across roles and departments.

As Josh Bersin outlines in Talent Marketplace Platforms Explode Into View, a talent marketplace strategy evolves in three stages: Planned, Facilitated and Agile. It’s the latter that’s needed to meet today’s talent demands and, as Bersin states, reflects the new model of work in which people move around continually. “This takes place when people work on multiple projects, they join various teams or initiatives, and the company operates more like a professional services firm and less like a hierarchy of jobs and functions.”

MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte evolve the approach further, arguing in Opportunity Marketplaces: Aligning Workforce Investment and Value Creation in the Digital Enterprise that while talent marketplaces do take a broader view of internal mobility, there remains a tendency to focus on transactional labor needs because workers are usually categorized by type (e.g., employee, contractor or contingent), fostering a relationship in which workers “sell” and companies “buy” labor as needed.

Thus, while talent marketplaces can offer value to both organizations and individual workers, opportunity marketplaces emphasize an investment in the workforce. It’s a broader view of an organization’s ability to facilitate career advancement that benefits both the employee and the employer while strengthening a company’s ability to meet changes in the skills that are paramount to success. It’s about empowering workers to “evaluate, choose and act on opportunities” while driving “greater efficiency, value and productivity.”

HR Itself Will Require Reskilling

The HR technology market already offers numerous point solutions promising to transform an organization’s internal mobility efforts into a marketplace approach, many of which use AI to improve the matching of employees to mentors, cross-functional projects and stretch assignments.

HR will certainly play a major role in evaluating how well these technologies align with an organization’s reskilling goals, but teams should also acknowledge that HR roles will themselves require reskilling to support continually-fluctuating talent demands. In their vision of tomorrow’s workforce, Jeanne C. Meister and Robert H. Brown identify 21 HR Jobs of the Future, including the “future of work leader” who keeps the organization informed of the ever-evolving skills needed to advance their workforce quickly and effectively. It’s a reminder of how the changing workforce landscape presents HR with another opportunity to lead.