Article: Is mobility the answer to talent shortage?

Strategic HR

Is mobility the answer to talent shortage?

The demand-supply mismatch in skills can be addressed by the right focus on talent mobility

There are many good practices in talent mobility. But a common theme that emerges, is the need for collaboration among stakeholders


Talent, undoubtedly is the fuel that drives the global economy engine. In this backdrop, the physical mobility of talent within or across organizations, industries and globally, along with mobility of workers across occupations or skill sets, can help balance global human capital markets and stimulate economic growth in both developed and developing countries. Thus, understanding and harnessing talent mobility becomes ever so critical for organizations across the world to correct the mismatch between the skills people possess and those demanded by today’s businesses. While on one side, there are talent shortages, on the other side, there are high unemployment rates and the employability challenges slowing down economies.

To address these imbalances, Mercer and the World Economic Forum (Mercer/WEF) collaborated on a new report – ‘Talent Mobility Good Practices: Collaboration at the Core of Driving Economic Growth’, which reached out to a broad audience across diverse geographies, industries and stakeholders, to capture the global good practices in multiple dimensions of talent mobility, including India’s leading IT industry association, NASSCOM, and Walmart’s India joint venture with Bharti.

The four impediments

Among the key findings, is that the mobility efforts of most private organizations remain anchored to narrow concerns around expatriate assignments and leadership development. At the same time, public sector actions often reflect parochial interests, rather than a spirit of collaboration in the service of a greater good. But, after examining hundreds of private and public sector practices worldwide, we found that good practices in mobility directly address one or more of the following four key impediments:

Widespread unemployability due to the lack of basic employment skills, particularly among people in underprivileged communities. This has exceedingly negative consequences for the individuals, shut out of the labor market, the societies in which large groups of people lack economic opportunities, and the businesses that need skilled people to drive growth.
Critical skills gaps that exist between what employees possess and what businesses need. Because of these gaps, businesses cannot find the talent they need when they need it and individuals may find themselves ill-equipped for the jobs of the future.

Information gaps that make it difficult for labor markets to match workers to jobs effectively. Workers lack information about current job openings or future skill needs, while employers seeking talent cannot perfectly observe the actual capabilities of prospective employees.

Public and private constraints on mobility that impede the ability of markets to balance supply and demand by adjusting wages or the number of workers. These include common government interventions, such as imposing minimum wage laws and visa restrictions, and private ones, such as imposing union rules or professional credentialing restrictions.
The research found that a vanguard of organizations – both public and private – are effectively employing talent mobility practices to overcome the foundational issues described above. Their efforts underscore the exciting opportunities that mobility practices provide to organizations in all sectors and in all regions of the world.

Talent mobility best practices

Organizations and governments are using a range of talent mobility practices, like training and educating those lacking the basic skills necessary for employment, to increase labor market participation. Along with governments today, academic, non-profit and private companies are also taking initiatives to grow human capital in certain labor markets. In fact, these practices that evolve out–of-collaborations with employers are more beneficial, as they focus on providing training as per employer needs, and therefore, increase the likelihood of employment by sponsoring organizations. Critical skills gaps are being addressed directly through practices aimed at retraining and upskilling employees, inside organizations and industries and throughout the labor market.

The Mercer/WEF report cited NASSCOM’s work towards upgrading and standardizing the portability of skills across the industry. In 2008, it partnered with state universities to create a standardized skills assessment and certification program to streamline the application process for the industry. Since its creation, about 100,000 college graduates have taken the entry-level test, and up to 250,000 students per year are expected to take it in the future. Another example is Walmart Stores, Inc., which entered the Indian market in 2009. With a current workforce of about 8,000, the company’s Indian JV partner, Bharti Walmart, expects to mushroom to 60,000 associates over the next 5 years. Even before opening its first store in India in 2009, Bharti Walmart began discussions with the Chief Minister of the State of Punjab about partnering to train young people for jobs in retail to help develop a pipeline of talent ready to step into positions in retail.

This mutual interest led Bharti Walmart and the State to open its first skills training center in Punjab in December 2008, followed by centers in New Delhi and Karnataka. The centers prepare 125 low-income high school students per month for positions of floor and sales assistants or supervisors. Over the past 3 years, nearly 8,000 students have been certified through Bharti Walmart training centers, and nearly 2,900 have been placed in formal jobs, including almost 500 in Walmart stores.

Constraints and lack of information

Often the gaps that cause mismatch between supply and demand are due to absence of adequate information to individuals and employers. Private and public sector organizations are addressing information gaps by mapping skills to multiple occupations to help individuals understand the breadth of jobs for which they may be qualified. There are also others that are conducting disciplined workforce planning to forecast future workforce requirements.

Collaborative practices can improve talent mobility by facilitating migration and integration of immigrants through ease of visa requirements or granting work permission to international students who have completed their degrees in a host country; and implementing programs that ease the integration of immigrants into the host country. Mobility within the organization can also be an effective means of closing talent gaps. There is a need to improve existing systems for matching talent to job openings; crafting the right inducements to persuade employees to move; and moving jobs to people to balance the supply and demand for labor by locating in developing countries.

As the Mercer/WEF report reveals, there are many good practices in play around the world. But, a common theme that emerges, is the need for collaboration among stakeholders on all sides of the employment equation.

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Topics: Strategic HR, Talent Acquisition

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