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Collaborating to Fill Skills Gaps

Saturday, June 2, 2012
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On this long and winding road to economic recovery, the skills gap in the world's labor force is the pothole that impedes progress, and all private and public entities -- indeed, even competitors -- must work together on talent-mobility initiatives to smooth the way forward.

At least that's the sentiment behind a report by the World Economic Forum -- in conjunction with New York-based consultancy Mercer -- that calls talent mobility "much more than" just international assignments.

"Talent mobility is an enabler for private companies, governments, academic institutions and NGOs to close skills gaps and remedy talent shortages while also moving more people to employability and employment," according to Talent Mobility Good Practices -- Collaboration at the Core of Driving Economic Growth.

Haig Nalbantian, senior partner and co-leader of Mercer's Workforce Science Institute who worked on the report, says one of the first positive steps an organization can take in regard to its talent-mobility challenges is to broaden its definition of the term.

"Traditionally," he says, "talent mobility was only associated with expat assignments ... But that's too narrow a definition these days."

The other side of people mobility, he says, is job mobility: moving jobs to where the people are.

"It's really surged in the last decade," he says. "In 2010, 2 million jobs were created through foreign direct investment, jobs associated with organizations that go into other countries and invest there."

Nalbantian says that "jobs-to-people component" is trending upward, and Mercer does a lot of site-selection work to help organizations decide which labor markets to enter.

"It's been very striking to us over the past decade to see how 'workforce' has moved up the list of criteria to decide" what regions to move into, he says.

And often in such cases, he says, "firms that would otherwise be competitors are adopting a broader mind-set that 'the talent pool won't grow unless we collaborate.' "

He cites Wal-Mart's move into Brazil, where "perhaps the biggest impediment is a lack of talent to drive their business plans. And it's not the type of talent that you can import, but the type you have to find locally."

In order to build that talent base, he says, the retailer collaborated with in-country school systems and local government agencies to train young people for future work in retail.

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"Some people in remote areas who may have never heard of or dreamed of a retail career, are now being trained to be good employees," he says. "And they do this with substantial numbers of young folks, knowing full well only a small percentage will become Wal-Mart employees."

He says Wal-Mart wouldn't be as effective developing local talent if it targeted just its own potential employees.

"They need to collaborate with school systems and they need to accept that their competitors may benefit as well," he says.

Barry Hoy, an associate professor of human resource management at St. Leo University in St. Leo, Fla., says collaborations between competitors can happen on U.S. soil as well, but only if all parties agree to the spirit of the venture.

"I think the merger of ideas and approaches can be beneficial for all participants," he says.

Communication is the key to any successful collaboration, says Keith Seven Chan, an enterprise architect at the Better Business Network in Tarrytown, N.Y., noting that when organizations don't work well with your partners, it is transparent.

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