How to Help Employees Develop Career Paths They Want

Employees perform better and longer in companies offering clear career path opportunities. Here’s how to support career development for their sake and yours.

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How to Help Employees Develop Career Paths They Want

Do you have career paths for your employees? Essentially, a career path is an expanding cluster of positions that leads a person to a specific role. Each subsequent job on the path requires more skills, experience and/or education to help the employee succeed and advance.

It’s important to try to understand your employees’ own career goals, because some may perfectly suit your company’s current or future needs. Exposing employees to the many career paths available and supporting their way forward could set you up for the win-win. Among other things, employees who thrive in their careers report more job satisfaction and longevity. And employee development can improve your business’s productivity and innovation and reduce costs associated with resignations.

To help employees develop and advance appropriately within your organization, you might need a learning and development (L&D) strategy. Some experts call it a talent strategy. You can provide career paths for all your positions and employees via upskilling initiatives. According to a 2021 report by Statista, 55% of executives surveyed worldwide said their company had a talent strategy. And 33% believed that the responsibility for employee development should be shared and not fall solely on HR departments.

What is an example of a career path?

Consider 2 hypothetical scenarios within a growing automobile dealership.

A new employee studying business information management in college is hired for administrative support. Upon gaining more experience with the company and graduating, she’s promoted to the position of BIM, business information manager. Through the organization’s on-the-job training and upskilling programs, she’s eventually promoted to general, operations or human resources management and beyond.

A new high-school grad hired as an entry-level sales associate learns and performs exceptionally well on the job. Management sees real potential. With time and training, he’s groomed through the ranks to assistant director of sales. With more time, training and experience, he advances to the role of chief marketing officer for the organization.

The benefits of creating career paths

the top 2 primary reasons U.S. workers reported leaving jobs in 2021 were low pay (37%) and lack of advancement opportunities (33%)

The company above may have hired someone looking to earn some experience and extra cash before landing their dream job. Having a desirable career path for your employees illustrates that your company can provide them with that dream job. It also outlines your intent to retain them for longer than the national average. The median years of tenure for workers 16 and older was only 4.1 in 2020, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The truth is that employees leave for a variety of reasons. According to Pew Research, the top 2 primary reasons U.S. workers reported leaving jobs in 2021 were low pay (37%) and lack of advancement opportunities (33%). The third reason was disrespect in the workplace. These statistics might affirm what you’d already understood about retaining top talent and helping your business succeed. Paying employees what they’re worth, helping them advance their careers and respecting them as people and professionals is all vital.

When you provide examples of career paths, you show new hires that they can reach their career goals with you. You demonstrate that you are vested in their short- and long-term growth and in helping them climb the career ladder. Those employees who best understand and appreciate the value of this often return the investment in loyalty and performance.

Create pathways to success

At this point, you may be wondering how to create different career paths within your organization. It’s easy once you start assessing the jobs in your company to determine how they relate to one another.

1. List all the jobs and create job descriptions

To create career paths, you need to know what jobs your company needs now and in the future. This means that you need to list every job and the skills and experience needed to do that job well.

2. Create an organizational chart

Once you have all the jobs and job descriptions listed, create an organizational chart that includes job clusters.

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Examples of job clusters and career options

Your job clusters and career options will depend on what your business does and how you plan to facilitate expansion. Let’s take a look at 2 growing industries:

Architecture and construction. This industry is all about designing, building and maintaining buildings and structures. Example career paths include construction, design/pre-construction and maintenance/operations. Clusters may involve trade school, on-the-job training or apprenticeship, and/or formal education in math, art, drafting or engineering disciplines. Example career paths might include:

  • Construction laborer → carpenter → drywaller → survey and mapping technician → cost estimator → project manager
  • Architecture and civil drafter → civil engineer → geodetic surveyor → cost estimator → lead architect
  • Mechanical systems helper → electrical assistant → electrician → HVAC technician → mechanical systems supervisor → mechanical systems director

Business management and administration. This diverse occupational track is all about managing and growing business. Career paths include administrative support, business information management (BIM), operations management, human resources management and general management. Employees pursuing a specific path might build skill sets through positions like account executive, assistant manager, project manager or executive assistant. Foundational or continuing education might involve subjects in legal, communications, financial-analysis, marketing or management realms. Sample career paths might include:

  • Bookkeeping→ accounting → executive assistant → account executive → chief financial officer
  • Customer service → data entry → team lead → computer and information systems manager → assistant director
  • Mailroom → advertising sales associate → advertising assistant → advertising and marketing lead → account manager → chief marketing officer

3. Identify skills training for each path

Once you’ve identified your basic career paths, it’s time to determine what, if any, skills training your organization already provides. Where might you need to add training and learning opportunities? Review your job descriptions to determine what skills you expect employees to have when they join your company. Then solicit feedback from your current employees, asking them about what skills, training opportunities, and mentoring programs are needed.

Review your job descriptions to determine what skills you expect employees to have when they join your company. Then solicit feedback from your current employees, asking them about what skills, training opportunities, and mentoring programs are needed.

4. Learning and career development programs

Once you’ve gathered all the necessary information, it’s time to expand your learning initiatives and create new L&D opportunities. You can begin starting the programs based on what’s most critical. For example, if you’ve noticed a shortfall in your computer systems training, you might begin that program first. Consider initiating mentoring with experienced computer pros or partnering with a local college to provide additional computer training. You can also use free and paid education opportunities by Google and other well-known sources.

When it comes to creating great training opportunities for your current and future employees, remember the basics. Keep the programs dynamic, listen to employee input and map your employees’ progress to determine if the programs are delivering. Encourage self-assessment for insights you and they might not otherwise gain. Reassess any programs not performing as expected and revise them as needed for better results. For fresh insights and more help, check out Zenefits’ Workplace Guides. We help HR and management leaders stay ahead of the curves in an ever-changing world of business.

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