The great stagnation: Workers feel replaceable amid hiring push

A disconnect between employer perceptions and worker realities around advancement points to an opportunity for worker upskilling, a report said.

Published April 4, 2024

By Carolyn Crist

A businessperson gets coached by their leader

In the current talent climate, employers are struggling to find skilled external candidates, yet current employees are eager for learning and development opportunities, according to an April 2 report by the University of Phoenix Career Institute.

More than half of workers said they feel easily replaceable in their jobs, the survey of more than 5,000 U.S. adults found, and 64% said their company doesn’t offer opportunities for internal mobility. At the same time, 44% of employers said they haven’t found talent in the past year due to a lack of well-qualified applicants.

As U.S. companies cut jobs and reduce expenses, they are fixating on the next best thing available to them outside of their organization to drive growth. This perspective is perpetuating a stagnant talent environment,” John Woods, provost and chief academic officer of the University of Phoenix, said in a statement.

“Our Career Optimism Index illustrates that business leaders are overlooking the immense potential of the workforce within their own organizations, who remain resilient and optimistic despite the macro environment,” he said. “These workers possess a significant desire to advance and acquire the skillsets employers are seeking to fortify their businesses for the future.”

The survey revealed a disconnect between employers and employees around skills and advancement. Although 62% of employers said their company offers opportunities for internal mobility, only 36% of workers agreed.

In addition, 90% of employers said their company provides workers with opportunities for career development, but only 69% of workers agreed.

Even still, workers said they see a need for upskilling — and they highly value employer investment in skills opportunities. Nearly three-quarters said they need to learn new skills to stay ahead in their career, and about two-thirds said they’d be more likely to stay with a company that offered avenues to upskill, reskill and apply new skills. With a lack of career support, however, workers reported feeling stagnant. 

With ongoing talent scarcity, companies will need to focus on reskilling, retention and AI to fuel growth, according to a report from The Josh Bersin Co. Investing in employee development and cross-functional career pathways will become critical, the firm said.

As employees remain concerned about their skills and potential layoffs, empathetic leadership and career support can help, according to a Lee Hecht Harrison survey. Exploring alternatives to layoffs, such as reskilling, upskilling and redeploying employees, can address skill shortages and help employees to move forward in their careers.

lack of career development can also lead to a loss of talent, especially among women, who are 1.5 times more likely to leave their companies to advance, according to a DDI report. In contrast, employers that retain and develop women leaders tend to create more inclusive cultures and stronger financial performance for their companies.

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