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Five lessons on building an internal talent pipeline



Between the great resignation, an ageing population and Brexit, a perfect storm has formed in the UK labour market, leaving the country with almost 1.7 million active vacancies in April.

This problem is only expected to worsen due to the fast-paced and unmetered growth of technology and AI.

A multifaceted problem, one possible solution is for HR to focus on its internal talent pipeline rather than looking to recruit elsewhere in a competitive market.

More on internal talent:

How to build a culture that supports internal talent development and mobility

Can we delete talent from the HR lexicon?

Internal recruitment could stem the career itch

To explore how to connect aspiration and opportunities internally, HR magazine convened a panel of experts for an HR Lunchtime Debate, in partnership with Cornerstone. Here are some pointers on how to promote skills growth and internal mobility on a global scale.

1. Each career path is unique

To improve an internal talent pipeline, it is essential to understand what the employees are individually driven by, according to Scott Leiper, founder of Learning Lab.

“It’s about understanding that everyone’s career goal looks different,” he said.

“Not everyone is driven by progression – they might want a different position, a change in geography, or even just to learn new skills.”

Leiper argued that if hiring teams understand employees as individuals, they will be able to offer a more realistic approach to upskilling and mobility.

“It’s about a personalisation of learning plans that fits into people’s lives, not just their roles,” he added.

Mike Hardy, group talent and development director at logistics firm Wincanton, said promoting colleagues’ individual career journeys can help communicate the opportunity for mobility.

“We try and give individuals who have moved around the organisation visibility. We use case studies to show how you can have a long and varied career in the company,” he said.

It is important that individuals are allowed to progress in a way which suits them, Hardy added, rather than focusing on rigid career paths.

“We need to be bold and give people the opportunity to spread their wings,” he said.


2. Technology and tunnel vision

There is a plethora of technology that can be used in internal recruitment, including career pathing tools. However, these must be regarded with caution, said Chris Wragg, senior strategic account manager at Cornerstone.

“Career pathing tools are clear and easy to interact with, but they only work in some environments,” he said. “It can create a bit of tunnel vision or limit an employee’s ability to step sideways.”

To avoid this, Hardy said the team at Wincanton has focused on transferable skills when building the company’s career mapping tool.

He said: “We’ve put a lot of time into our mapping and learning management system. It’s important that people understand they can move sideways by using a skills-based approach to applying to different roles.”


3. People are the priority

In many organisations, line managers are given the responsibility for regular conversations about the career aspirations of their colleagues. However, under the pressure of heavy workloads, these conversations can be unjustly deprioritised, according to Leiper.

He said: “It think it’s insulting when conversations about career progression get kicked down the road. We need to remember that there’s nothing more important than your people.”

He said traditional manager-employee dynamics can hold progress back in this area.

“Managers can become gatekeepers rather than enablers,” he added. “When we say someone is an employee, we feel a sense of ownership. But we need to have the mindset that they’re on loan to our team and treat their career moves with respect.”

4. Allow for cultural diversity

When implementing talent strategies, Wragg said, it is vital to keep in mind how teams in different locations may implement them.

He said: “I particularly notice that North American and Asian markets turn to technology with recruitment processes, whereas Europe relies on managers having conversations around career aspirations.”

Leiper agreed, adding internal mobility is not one-size-fits-all.

“People apply programmes in different ways, both from country to country and individual to individual,” he said. “For example, there can be noticeable differences in the time things take to implement across different locations.

“This is why you need to have bespoke solutions that people can access in different ways.”


5. Opportunity from anywhere

In a post-pandemic world, employers need to cultivate opportunity for remote workers as much as they do in the office, said Leiper.

“Somebody’s ability isn’t diminished by being a remote worker,” Leiper said. “We need to foster a culture of being present from anywhere.”

A loss of spontaneous conversation in ‘watercooler moments’ is often cited as a reason that remote workers miss out on opportunity. However, Leiper said this shouldn’t be the case.

“Conversations are different online, but they don’t have to be less powerful. We just need to make sure they happen,” he said. Wragg added that making sure remote workers are connected to company culture is key to ensure they can access internal opportunities.

He said: “Two thirds of our staff are site-based or out on the road. But we’ve introduced some really effective technology that can connect people through their mobiles and through apps, if they want to do so.”

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