Internal mobility: a skills management issue
The retirement of the baby boomers is near. The oldest among them are reaching 60. In several sectors, there will not be enough youths to take over…an impending shortage. Internal mobility constitutes a way of satisfying this shortage.
Companies employ various methods of ensuring the transition from one position to another. At the Régie des rentes in Quebec, “we are evolving in a context of government regulation where employment equality is fundamental, as well as clarity in the decisions we make,” highlights Micheline Breton, coordinator for staffing and mobility at the RRQ.
The Charest government had announced: to the government, only one departure in two is replaced. “Before filling a position, notes Micheline Breton, we first check if there are any suitable staff available. If this is not the case, we offer the position to all employees. If the position is still vacant, we open it to external applications.”
This government organization consists of 1 200 employees. Each year, 15% change position, two thirds via horizontal mobility, the other third via promotion. From some 180 staff changes, 86% concern those already employed, which leaves 25 external job openings.
It is the number of retirements which is creating the most movement. “Each time a team leader or trainer leaves, it creates a chain reaction, explains Micheline Breton. They are replaced by information clerks or filing clerks. The former work directly with the public, with the tough hours involved. The latter benefit from less demanding scedules.”
“Our employees form groups of six to eight, specifies the coordinator. This allows us to plan their start date and training groups. It is mainly in this way that we ensure we don’t lose expertise.” When an information clerk transfers to filing clerk, the employee will benefit from three months training: six to eight weeks in class and 4 to six weeks supervision.
A range of resources
Bell Canada aims primarily to fill positions internally. “Our company is in transition, highlights Maureen Bell, careers adviser. The local telephone and interurban service are in decline, while services such as Bell Mobility, Sympatico and Express Vu are increasing.” This situation creates a significant staff shuffle. “Each year, 20% of employees change positions” states the adviser.
“A company the size of Bell consists of several business units, highlights the HR Manager. We can see a tendency to overlap boundaries. We want to ensure movement between the business units to avoid this happening”
The company has therefore created a corporate program which reimburses part of the business unit training costs, when they fill a position with a Bell employee rather than externally. This program lasted 2 years. “In the face of the operation’s success, this part of the program no longer seemed relevant,” justified Maureen Bell.
This program is only maintained today when a business unit hires a person working in a position which will soon be axed. “In three years, it has allowed more than 2000 employees to be redeployed who would otherwise have lost their jobs”, notes Maureen Bell.
Bell offers its employees training resources and job search tools. The company’s internal portal houses an employee development center. You can find a hundred or so lessons offered online or in class, professional development tools related to CV writing or interview preparation. Job seekers benefit from an alert system advising them when a position corresponding to their profile opens.
The company offers an online mentoring program. “This method can be useful for guiding the employee on what skills to acquire to reach the position he wants,” highlights Maureen Bell. The portal offers resources to the mentor and the person who benefits from these services. The former will learn constructive retroaction techniques, while the latter will find what they can expect from their mentor.
Internal mobility can become more delicate when dealing with a super-specialist in the company. Solutions Director at Technomedia, François Guillotte has been through this, notably when he acted as an external consultant for a large construction materials company.
“An employee who worked for 12 to 15 years in a very technical job in engineering-marketing, explains François Guillotte. He wanted a career reorientation, indeed he wanted to go overseas. Since he occupied a specialist position, it caused some worry within the company. They wanted to keep the expertise that the employee had developed” The employee kept his job, but was transferred to an Eastern city in the US. Today he has a job where the marketing aspect outweighs the technical aspect. To dull the impact of this change, the company created a structured sponsoring program and a knowledge management portal.
“If you simply tell people to pass on their knowledge without guiding them, they don’t know where to start, warns François Guillotte. It is important to establish a structure, a strategy and a specific approach.”
This is what Technomedia has contributed: fixing precise objectives, making sure the company gives the mentor and their mentoree time to go where the action is and helping them to identify their expectations.
As for the knowledge management portal, it has reunited a network of experts to exchange projects and challenges. It pooled expertise from various experts carrying out similar projects. “All our methods have contributed to reducing the impact of staff mobility,” claims François Guillotte.
The transfer of specialists is not always so delicate. It sometimes presents a more natural evolution. Jean-François Legault, Vice-President and head of legal services at Bell Canada, addresses the transfer of the role of lawyers towards management.
“For lawyers in a company, as for the practice in general, you find little mobility from one field to another, he points out. For example, a lawyer specialized in litigation does not have the necessary skills and knowledge to work in a field such as mergers and acquisitions. What you tend to find is transfers to managerial positions.”
Therefore, a lawyer specialized in work and employment law, who intervenes in support of industrial relations groups, could be offered a position as Director of industrial relations. “Over the years he has learnt about the groups issues, the interactions with unions and the people involved.”
One of the success factors for such a change: being comfortable with the tasks description. “In becoming a manager, the lawyer goes from an advisory position to a decision maker, highlights the Vice-President. Leadership quality is essential.”
A person interested in a management position would do well to get involved in coordinating projects aside from their main role: installing new file management software, for example. They will therefore develop practical experience which could be complemented by project management theory.