auremar - Fotolia

Southwest Airlines upgrades its internal mobility

Southwest Airlines wants to improve its internal hiring. It is now applying external recruiting practices internally in the hopes of growing employee awareness of new jobs.

Southwest Airlines Co. hires about 6,000 people externally a year, mostly full-time. It also moves many existing employees into new jobs. But it wants to do more with its internal mobility. It is now applying some of its external recruiting practices to internal hiring. 

Promoting internal employees to new roles is a "core" value for Southwest, said Greg Muccio, director of talent acquisition at the Dallas-based airline. This internal mobility, or the hiring of employees for new roles at Southwest, accounts for an additional 1,500 to 1,800 hires annually. That is the average range over the last three years. The company employs about 60,000 people.

Internal mobility is getting more attention in HR because of a tight labor market, Muccio said. Indeed, at recent HR conferences or peer meetings, internal mobility is often a topic of discussion, he said.

"I think folks are rapidly seeing the need to be able to curate their own individuals and not necessarily rely on the open market the entire time," Muccio said.

Internal mobility has room to improve

HR managers can do better with internal mobility, according to recent studies. Nearly 60% of respondents to a Deloitte survey found that it is "much easier, or easier to find a new job in a different organization" then within their own firm. Deloitte's survey of 2019 human capital trends included 10,000 business leaders globally, the majority of whom are in HR.

I think folks are rapidly seeing the need to be able to curate their own individuals and not necessarily rely on the open market the entire time.
Greg MuccioDirector of talent acquisition, Southwest Airlines

Gartner's research makes a similar point. It finds that internal hire rates have remained largely flat to downward in its benchmarks. The top reason for employee attrition is lack of career opportunities in the existing organization. That was cited by 41% of the 22,000 respondents in the Gartner Global Labor Market Survey. Improving internal mobility was seen by survey takers as one way to reduce attrition.

Only 27% of employees believe their organizations are making it easy for them to find new job opportunities, according to Gartner. 

Southwest has long used an internal career site. Employees can apply via the firm's intranet, but they were on their own to search and apply for open internal positions. 

The airline is using Phenom People Inc.'s talent experience management platform for its external hires, which includes texting, chatbots and analytics. Muccio wanted to use some of the same capabilities internally. Southwest deployed Phenom's internal mobility platform in January. 

Using the Phenom platform, employees create profiles on the internal mobility site. The profile includes career interests as well as HR data about the employee. This enables the platform to serve up personalized job recommendations to internal candidates. But the key to improving internal mobility is awareness, Muccio said.

Greg MuccioGreg Muccio

He wants to make it easier for employees to learn about internal mobility opportunities and to attract internal talent. He is, again, looking to external recruiting efforts for ideas.

Southwest added chatbots this month to its external recruiting site, but the airline has the capability to bring that kind of technology to internal mobility efforts. Texting will soon be launched externally, and Muccio sees that as particularly important for its internal hiring. Texting gives Southwest a means to alert employees who don't have desk jobs and don't see email.

Future plans at Southwest

Southwest's future internal mobility plans include using the platform to help employees understand what training they need for other roles and connect them with that training. 

"Internal mobility should reduce voluntary attrition by showcasing opportunities internally versus looking outside of the organization," Muccio said. He believes it is possible to increase internal hires to 2,500 a year.

Getting there will require additional technology. The tech changes on the airline's radar include creating "virtual days in the field." Southwest employees can now request to spend a day in the field to gain familiarity with a position. But, as the company has grown in size and geography, it's not always physically possible to make that a reality. Southwest's goal is to build content that can turn field days into a virtual experience, Muccio said. 

Interest in internal mobility is growing, especially in Europe, said Jonathan Dale, vice president of product marketing at Phenom. European companies are under more pressure to hire within because of labor rules. In the U.S., a firm can lay off employees with outdated skills. In Europe, that's a lot harder to do because of government restrictions, he said.

Phenom announced some upgrades last week, including "career pathing" to help ensure employees are on the right course. It will also help firms develop the workforce they need as skill demands change, Dale said.

Dig Deeper on Talent management

Business Analytics
Content Management
and ESG