Opportunity Marketplaces Show Workers Growth Options

Technology driven by AI helps employees make internal moves

By Dave Zielinski June 25, 2020
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​A lack of internal growth opportunities is one of the most common reasons talented people leave their organizations. While bad bosses or unhappiness with pay get attention as causes of attrition, an inability to provide clear career paths or internal development opportunities is the "silent killer" of employee retention, according to a panel of speakers at the recent EmTech Next conference co-hosted virtually by MIT Technology Review and the Harvard Business Review.

Some talent leaders are addressing the problem by creating "opportunity marketplaces" in their organizations, technology platforms driven by artificial intelligence (AI) that allow employees to find side projects, short-term gigs, mentors and even new full-time jobs within the company to help further their career goals. Deloitte Consulting and the MIT Sloan Management Review recently collaborated on a study of 4,000 global business executives and managers on the concept of opportunity marketplaces, said Jeffrey Schwartz, a senior human capital partner at Deloitte Consulting.

"We're in a time when we're accelerating the future of work and opportunity marketplaces are a part of that," Schwartz told the conference audience.

Robin Jones, a principal in Deloitte Consulting's human capital practice, said the research found a significant disconnect between what organizational leaders and their workforces want.

"In our survey, 74 percent of organizations believed developing workforce skills was important to their strategies, yet 34 percent of executives and employees combined reported feeling dissatisfied with the current levels of organizational investment in them," Jones said.

The research also found evidence of a new approach to workforce investment focused on the idea of internal opportunity, she said.

"This is more than just matching people to extra side gigs in their organizations," Jones said. "It's about intentionally connecting managers, employees and the workforce as a whole to a diverse range of opportunities that go beyond the current jobs they perform every day."

Such opportunities could include project experiences, informal learning opportunities, connections to mentors, networking opportunities or contributing to communities on behalf of the organization, she said.

Rather than taking a passive approach to career pathing and development, the use of opportunity marketplaces "elicits agency in the workforce," Jones said. "It gives workers more control and choice in their careers and allows them to see their organization through a wider lens."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing Employees]

Case Study: An Opportunity Marketplace in Action

One such opportunity marketplace has operated for two years within Schneider Electric, an energy technology and automation company in Boston. Andrew Saidy, vice president of talent digitization for Schneider, said the company created the internal platform in response to some eye-opening data it discovered on internal turnover rates.

"The data showed us that 47 percent of those leaving Schneider were doing so because they couldn't find another opportunity within the company," Saidy told the audience. "They weren't leaving because they didn't like their boss, their pay or the company mission, but because they couldn't find another opportunity to grow."

The Schneider Electric platform is powered by AI that can match employees to desired short-term projects, special assignments, mentors and full-time roles, Saidy said. "It allows employees to drive and own their own careers, which is one of the core values of our company. It doesn't dictate a career path but rather gives workers the resources to make their own choices and apply for roles or projects that align with their ambitions."

Creation of the opportunity marketplace didn't come without resistance, Saidy said. Middle managers, in particular, pushed back because their top employees would now more easily be able to find new work in the company.

"It put them in a position where they essentially no longer 'owned' employees' careers," he said. "That was hard for middle managers because they had to go through a mindset change."

The marketplace also had to battle misconceptions—amplified during the COVID-19 outbreak— about the motivation of Schneider employees who applied for or posted side gigs or short-term projects on the platform.

"There was a misconception that if you take on other projects or gigs besides your full-time job, you are underworked, and if you ask for help on the platform, it means you aren't managing your time, department or job properly," Saidy said.

COVID-19 led to an increase in workload for some Schneider employees, but some workers suddenly had less to do, he said. The opportunity marketplace helped to mitigate that imbalance. "It helped with workforce agility during COVID-19, enabling us to accelerate the re-employment of workers to critical roles and to uncover some worker capabilities we didn't know existed before."

Another factor that helped Schneider employees embrace the marketplace was the support of top management. "Our CEO and CHRO both publicly came out and encouraged employees to use the marketplace, which was a game changer," Saidy said, since it eased resistance from some corners of the organization.

The marketplace also has served as an important symbol to employees during the COVID-19 crisis, Saidy believes. "Our CEO has liked to say during COVID-19 that the future is not canceled," he said. "Nothing reinforces that message better to employees than letting them know their career development is still top of mind for company leaders."

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.

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