Close your own skills gap: Hire from within


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Powered by their soldier recruiters and HR professionals, companies are fighting the talent wars on multiple fronts.

First, there’s the battle to attract candidates who possess the skills you need. Many employers are fishing from the same pool of experienced engineers, data scientists, and others with sought-after skills. Plus, with technology itself changing so fast, it can be hard to know if a person with the right skills today will be an equally valuable contributor as time goes on.

Even if you’re not hiring technical talent, the workplace is a fluid environment these days. It’s not easy to find employees in any field who have the soft and hard skills it takes to successfully adapt to the speed and conditions of business change.

Second, there’s the battle to retain the talent you already have. Keeping high performers consistently engaged isn’t straightforward since different employees have different motivators and expectations. They may not give any signals they’re disgruntled and will catch you off-guard when they jump ship. Udemy recently conducted a survey and found “boredom at work” is a factor for nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of employees who say they’re “likely to change jobs in the next 3-6 months.”

At Udemy, we’re adding headcount every week. Being headquartered in San Francisco gives us access to a deep pool of qualified candidates but also pits us against Silicon Valley’s most desirable employers. Our Employee Success team works hard to keep everyone engaged, but we also encourage people to tell us where they want to go in their careers and how we can help.

This has required us to be creative, flexible, and, most of all, open-minded. When an awesome product manager says she’d rather work in operations, which really happened, it might seem more prudent to keep her in the role where she’s already excelling. But that would result in our losing amazing talent. Instead, we’ve shuffled employees around quite a bit within our four walls, and it is working really well. We retain great people; ambitious employees get to pursue their passions; and new hires have a better on-boarding experience, with their predecessors on hand to ease the transition.

Of course, business objectives still need to be met, and required skills are still required. There are, however, things your talent management team can do to strike a balance between letting employees develop in their direction of choice and ensuring you have the right skills where they’re most needed.

Have a conversation
Before anything else, you need to create an environment where people feel safe saying they’re not satisfied in their current role or want a new growth opportunity. At my company, we eliminated traditional performance reviews and have implemented “the Udemy conversation,” wherein managers and their direct reports have a continuous dialogue about career development. Together, they can craft a plan that keeps workers involved in projects that interest them without leaving gaping holes elsewhere.

Mix it up
If you still associate job rotations only with big consulting firms, think again. Like many companies today, Udemy is a highly matrixed organization and most projects require cross-functional teams. It’s not actually that risky or unusual to put someone on a project doing work outside their “official” job description, and if they really love it and do well, we can consider making a more permanent shift in their responsibilities. We also encourage employees to do monthly desk swaps and get exposed to other parts of the business they’re curious about.

Set them up for success
Training is another critical piece of the puzzle for successfully hiring from within, and we strive to hire people who embrace learning new things. Providing high-quality learning resources, including cross-training in other fields and job functions, shows you’re invested in your employees’ long-term career growth and don’t just see them as static resources. That alone is incredibly empowering to ambitious professionals who might otherwise seek opportunities with a new company. Again, pulling from our 2016 Workplace Boredom Study, an overwhelming 80 percent of employees agreed that “being given opportunities to learn new skills at work would make me more interested and engaged in my job.”

Real success stories
The example of the product manager who moved into operations is just one case where Udemy filled a job vacancy with an eager current employee. Our instructor community manager joined our corporate marketing team just last week, and the community role was backfilled with someone formerly in the support department.

Another employee went from growth marketing to support to business development over the course of two years. He’s an intellectually curious person who likes trying new things and, since he does well at most of them, we’re happy to let him decide the best fit.

One of my favorite stories of an employee stretching herself into new areas — and blowing us all away with her results — concerns someone who started as a paralegal on my team. Now, she’s working in support, but at the same time, she’s been taking data analytics courses on Udemy and is about to start a fellowship at the nonprofit one of our seasoned data analysts runs on the side. Afterwards, she’ll be prepared for a full-time role in data, if she’s interested.

Giving employees freedom to move into different roles is a winning proposition for everyone.

This article originally appeared on VentureBeat.