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Talent Activation
Unpacking Skills Throughout the Employment Lifecycle
By Adina Sapp

With unemployment rates at record lows, employers are looking to strategically capture the untapped skills of their current workforce rather than seeking new talent elsewhere. The year 2018 closed with an unemployment rate of 3.9% — the lowest it’s been since 2000. Prior to 2000, the rate hadn’t been that low since 1969.1 Business growth is difficult when the unemployment rate is this low. Companies looking to expand their workforce have difficulty finding good workers because the talent simply isn’t available.

Even when new talent can be found, hiring and firing is expensive. As Mike Prokopeak, editor in chief of Chief Learning Officer, put it, “It has always been more expensive to find talent to fill gaps. It may be more advantageous to develop the people who are already in your workforce.” The law of supply and demand means it is difficult to find good employees, and so employers want to retain the ones they have and provide them with the skills the company needs.

This is where organizations like DeVryWORKS come in. DeVryWORKS is the partnership team of DeVry University and works with employers to transform talent development. It does this by breaking traditional university coursework into effective online, collaborative modules that provide a workable skill set more tangibly than a traditional university course of study.

To explore the important topic of talent activation and how to tap into the right skills at the right time throughout the employment lifecycle, DeVryWORKS sponsored a panel discussion at Chief Learning Officer’s Spring Symposium. The discussion was based on the findings of a 2018 study by DeVry’s Career Advisory Board. Panelists included Kimberly Isley-Pesto, HR manager at United Airlines, and Adam Morettin, senior director with DaVita Kidney Care, along with Joe Mozden Jr., vice president of DeVryWORKS. The discussion was hosted by Prokopeak.

Talent Activation vs. Training

A common mistake is to confuse talent activation with training or upskilling. As Mozden put it, the definition of talent activation is easy; the hard part is that everyone comes with their own idea of what that means. Mozden defines it as a corporation designing and then prescribing a very specific series of talent activation experiences for an employee over the employee lifecycle: recruitment, onboarding, employment and retirement. “Talent activation moves away from training (a one-time event) and asks how you create engagement for an employee through the entire employee lifecycle,”2 Mozden said.

Talent activation attempts to unpack those skills that come at a certain point in time during the employment lifecycle and release them into the organization. — Joe Mozden Jr.

This is different from what has typically happened in the HR space, because it’s about what employees are doing, not what they’re feeling. Employees aren’t always engaged throughout their employment lifecycle due to personal events and other temporary situations, but that doesn’t make them bad employees. The key is for them to still be productive and learn even during times of low engagement. The takeaway is that talent activation is a series of experiences throughout the employee lifecycle.

The Benefits of Re-Skilling

Re-skilling is another component of talent activation. When you have good employees whose skills are no longer relevant, re-skilling can be a rich option for both the employer and employee. In addition to cost savings, the primary benefits of talent activation are risk mitigation and building employee loyalty and engagement.

Unpacking Skills Throughout the Employment Lifecycle

Successful Rollout to the Organization

There are two essentials to successfully rolling out talent activation: budget and executive buy-in. Additionally, you must determine the right balance of prescriptive and self-driven learning.

There’s an ROI on talent activation that’s easy to grasp from a short-term perspective as it solves a hiring need; all HR executives are familiar with what it costs to hire and fire. Making a case from that perspective is how you will capture the immediate budget. To succeed in attaining a long-term budget, you must continue to track the long-term data.

Executive buy-in is essential, as best practice training should come from the top down. People won’t engage with an optional set of best practices.

Finding the right balance of prescriptive and self-driven learning depends on the culture of your organization. Meet individuals where they are in the employee lifecycle, but also require them to take initiative. Mozden said, “I’ve seen successful talent activation programs go two different ways: prescriptive and self-serve. They were both correct because they matched the corporate culture.”

Research and simple observation show us that employees all have innate skills, but there are also skill sets that comes with time. Talent activation attempts to unpack those skills that come at a certain point in time during the employment lifecycle and release them into the organization. This creates engagement and productivity for the employee, and it also creates loyalty between the employer and employee. The result is a competitive advantage for the corporation.

For more ideas on how to approach your talent activation program, be sure to view the Talent Activation recording at video.closymposium.com/category/videos/clo-symposium-spring-2019.

1 Amedo, K. (2019). “Unemployment Rate by Year Since 1929 Compared to Inflation and GDP.” The Balance.
2 Joe Mozden Jr., from the 2018 panel discussion “Activate Talent and Unleash Potential”
DeVry Works

At DeVryWORKS, we understand that some of the biggest challenges for any business are related to the workforce—hiring skilled people, retaining strong talent, and developing the leaders of tomorrow. DeVryWORKS seeks to truly understand your company’s talent strategies and goals, so we can help you build a brilliant workforce and drive success across your organization. Look to us as the resource you need to support your talent development, skills gap training and talent acquisition initiatives. devryworks.com