2019 Davos Update: Insights for Mobile Talent Management By Olivier Meier, Mercer In his Introduction to the 2019 Davos annual meeting, World Economic Forum (WEF) founder Klaus Schwab describes how “the challenges associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution are coinciding with the rapid emergence of ecological constraints, the advent of an increasingly multipolar international order, and rising inequality.” The WEF identifies 7 areas for workforce changes in its mapping of global transformation – most of them have profound consequences for talent mobility and international HR management in general. Julio Portalatin, president and CEO of Mercer, summarizes these changes: “Managing the workforce transformation of Industry 4.0 puts an emphasis on enabling effective workers through reskilling, shifting the traditional concept of work, and creating financial security in a future landscape that looks very different from the past.” If organizations want to avoid widening mobile talent gaps, they will need to: Encourage greater collaboration between the different actors: companies, governments, academia, and NGOs. In practical terms, this collaboration means different things: companies working with their peers and competitors (co-opetition) to provide solutions to support mobile employees as well as with suppliers and clients to share a pool of talent (talent exchange). This collaboration can be done at multiple levels and not just by top management: at the HR team level, collaboration could be about pooling resources to support assignees in countries where infrastructures are limited, attracting locally hired foreigners with specific skills or finding a job for the spouse of an assignee. Partnering with universities is important to facilitate upskilling and align business requirements and learning. Academics also have a role to play to facilitate the introduction of fact-based approaches and dispel preconceptions about talent mobility. Finally, collaboration with governments and NGOs are needed to find solutions to facilitate mobility (e.g. work permits, especially for spouses) and address issues such well as diversity. Overcome biases and challenges subjective perceptions: awareness of gender parity issues and diversity issues in general has grown but the unspoken perceptions that women cannot perform certain types of jobs or go on assignment in certain countries are more difficult to shake off. These conscious or unconscious biases are affecting management but also candidates who might dismiss themselves due to the lack of perceived support and role models. Age can also be a factor of discrimination. Organizations need to challenge stereotypes about aging. Acknowledge the workforce demographic shift and integrate the different age groups in the mobile workforce. The challenge is not only to accommodate the needs of the millennials but foster an inclusive corporate culture that also use the expertise of older assignees, takes into account their priorities (e.g. saving for retirement) and their specific needs, such as caring for elderly parents. This might require flexibility in mobility policies and reconsidering how benefits are provided. Revisit the portability of benefits: benefits – even flexible ones – are of limited value for internationally mobile employees if they are not easily transferable from employers to employers and from country to country. The traditional benefits model is very much designed for in-house employees with a clear career path. Expatriates traditionally suffer from fragmented pension history and the risk of incomplete coverage. Securing long-term savings could become an issue for mobile employees. The risk is even now greater for international gig workers and new generations willing to market themselves globally and changing employers frequently. Governments and companies are exploring ways to increase the portability of benefits that workers can take from job to job. It is a complex issue to solve at a local level and becomes even more challenging in an international context where the impact of tax, legal, and currency issues (among others) can limit the usefulness of these portable solutions. Combine digitalization and the human touch: market pressure is forcing organization to accelerate the pace of digitalization and rely on data-driven decision making. Striving for more data-driven HR decisions and less assumptions is a step in the right direction but it could lead to a widening gap between those who master technology and those who don’t. It could create a divide between departments in organizations and within the HR community itself. A risk exacerbated at a time when part of the mobility function is threatened to be made irrelevant, outsourced, or automatized and struggle to become more strategic. The ever greater use of AI and analytics should, on the contrary, lead to a transformation of the workforce rather than a displacement of workers. As organizations gradually realize that the objective is to combine humans and machines in the workforce harmoniously, they will seek a balance between technological and soft skills and put a premium on people who can master both types of skills. Adapt to the skills-based economy: the new reality of the business is about attracting people with the right skills, paying for these skills (rather than purely for a role), and maintaining/upgrading the skills of the employees. Job titles and rigid career models becomes irrelevant as the boundaries between in-house workers and freelancers is becoming blurred. Skills are linked to the concept of employability: one of the fundamental questions for companies and employees when moving people from country to country or jobs to jobs is: are the moves increasing the employability of the people and their value for the company? The debate is shifting from guaranteeing jobs – something companies often struggle to do with international assignees – to ensuring long-term employability. In other words, the company is promising to help the assignees (who increasingly could be gig workers or in-house employees not planning to stay long with the same organization) develop their skills/experience and secure they will remain in the organization’s wider talent pool – by being willing to do a further gig with the same employer or to rejoin the organization at a later stage. Upskilling is major challenge for HR and global mobility teams as they should be agents of change within the organization and facilitate the upskilling of the workforce (e.g. through developmental moves) while also upskilling themselves to respond to new business and technological challenges. Redefine certification and training: Measuring skills from people from very different backgrounds and tapping into a wider talent pool can be a challenge. Companies will need to assess talent without formal education or from countries where the credibility of diplomas is hard to evaluate. New ways of assessing objectively the potential of employees such as gamification are increasing used by companies as they try to hire a more diverse international workforce that doesn’t share the same educational background as typical HQ employees. Distinguishing between essential core skills and skills that can be built up through developmental moves and ad-hoc training will become increasingly important.