Business Solutions

In the Eye of the Talent Shortage Storm

This article originally appeared in the November 2018 edition of Mobility Magazine.

Could rotational assignments get us safely to the other side?

In any storm there is an eye, the moment when sirens blare and your favorite weather forecaster warns to take cover. Yet the multigenerational workforce waters have been swirling since 2011, when an average of 10,000 baby boomers began turning 65 each day, and some 75 million baby boomers set their sights on hard-earned retirement.

Currently in the eye are 53 million Gen Xers left to “batten down the hatches” with predictions of a “silver tsunami” for any organization that has not significantly increased its younger labor pool. This labor gap of 22 million is real, resembling the calm before the storm that may end with a destructive aftermath for companies that are not proactively accelerating the development and growth of their millennials to not only take, but succeed in the big jobs that baby boomers are vacating without enough Gen Xers to fill.

Today’s workforce spans four generations (ages 18 to 80); 35 percent of those are millennials, making them the largest generation in the U.S. labor force according to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Juggling the exodus of key business acumen, knowledge, and company experience from baby boomers with millennial expectations is either an HR/recruiter nightmare or the rainbow at the end of the storm.

Related: The Perfect Storm: Talent Mobility Professionals Decode the Future

Positive Reasons for Loyalty

Younger workers often cite concerns about impressions that they are not loyal or hardworking. According to a Deloitte 2018 millennial survey report, younger workers need positive reasons to stay with their employers; they need to be offered the realistic prospect that by staying loyal they will be materially better off in the long run. They are, in fact, exactly what their baby boomer parents hoped they would be: strong, willing to take risks, and prepared to work extremely hard to achieve their goals. The Deloitte study further revealed the following “wish list” from millennials:

  • Financial rewards/benefits
  • Positive workplace culture
  • Flexibility (e.g., hours and location)
  • Opportunities for continuous learning
  • Well-being programs and incentives

The Dow Chemical Company has embraced the changing workforce dynamic by instituting key initiatives to not only attract but also retain a workforce that can and will lead the future of its multinational organization. The initial talent strategy was developed by business units roughly eight years ago to address the need for high-potential candidates, resulting in 15 policies.

In 2016, Nicole Rickett, HR domestic mobility partner, subsequently led an open forum with key groups—including boots on the ground (HR), rotational leaders, and recruiters—to evaluate and address topics impacting their rotational programs. She recognized that aligning these teams with mobility was a key strategy for accelerating the growth and development of high-potential employees, in addition to achieving their recruitment goals.

The evolution of and need for rotational program parameters has been widely discussed in the industry. In a recent Aires Pulse Survey, 64 percent of companies responded to having a formalized policy for rotational employees, yet half of the respondents stated that the formality of those programs was evenly split between the utilization of short-term assignment policies and business traveler policies versus specific guidelines that address the unique circumstances of this type of move and program.

Relating to the evolution of Dow’s rotational program, Rickett said, “The one thing I felt was that we had to go on the journey with them, be a part of their experience while remaining market-competitive.”

To accomplish that, candid dialogue among stakeholders at the open forum was essential. Key topics they addressed included:

  • Duration – Exact timing of rotation programs by business.
  • Location – Cost of living, addressing remote or rural locations.
  • Cost of talent – Areas where housing would be needed in order to be successful.
  • Simplify – Ease administration burden.

The result of their discussions was to consolidate policies into two tiers developed by business and/or project. Their approach changed to recognize the experience needed by the employee and the long-term training goals of the program.

“For example, rotations of less than a year may need housing because in many areas it is difficult to find a short-term lease, or younger employees may need more hands-on guidance,” Rickett said. Halfway through the first assignment, rotational leaders at Dow begin working on the next leg, ensuring business leaders are engaged and that employees have clear expectations.

“At Dow, there is a great deal of visibility in the program as we work to develop the strategic mindset of these employees by letting them lead and make a difference in the organization while we work to master talent with mobility,” Rickett added.

Need for Flexibility

Often, companies initially utilize a mix between short- and long-term policies as they develop their rotational program; however, the unique nature of these moves quickly reveals the need to be more flexible within its parameters.

It is important to understand the complexities for a person or family moving to multiple locations and into multiple job roles and perhaps be more accommodating than one would be in a traditional global mobility assignment. Assignment or rotation types vary by company and industry, presenting some logistical challenges for most. It is essential to deploy a criterion for these candidates of high-potential jobs to ascertain whether they have the sophistication and maturity to be able to quickly adapt to the evolution of the process itself. Well-defined expectations must be set at the outset of the program, and employees reminded within each leg of the rotation. For example:

  • Employees should not expect to replicate their current way of living at home and from country to country.
  • The personal income tax process may be complicated.
  • Various matters may arise related to school-age children and potentially those with special needs.
  • Same-sex partners may not be officially “recognized” in all locations.
  • Candidates must be able to adapt to location norms, especially as related to temporary housing and the limitations in some locations.

David Abrams, CRP, mobility manager at Gap Inc., reminds companies to “design a rotational population that includes people from the field with knowledge that is transferable, and allow them to participate in the program.”

Related: Think Bold: Controlling Mobility Costs with Flexibility

Read the rest of this article in the November 2018 edition of Mobility Magazine.

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